The title telescopes Krzysztof Kieslowski's career-long motif of the paradoxes of fate, and indeed the film's triangular structure lends itself almost too neatly to a thesis format. Following the death of his father, a young medical student (Boguslaw Linda) rushes to catch the train to Warsaw, and the narrative contemplates different courses of reality that hinge on that moment. In the first, he catches the express, joins the Communist Party and unwittingly causes the arrest of his activist girlfriend (Boguslawa Pawelec); in the second, he misses, fights an officer, becomes member of an underground political group, and finds religion; in the third, he misses, marries a colleague (Monika Gozdzik), settles down respectably with family and career, and ends up in a ball of fire after catching the airplane he missed in the first two cases. Chance or choice? There are constants waving through the three movements (including meetings with outlawed militant writing and soul-weary elders carrying within them the history of Poland), though it's fickle serendipity that ultimately points the hero toward an institution (political party, religion, marriage). This being the Poland of the bleak late '70s, the oppressive government plays as big a role in the hero's trajectory as the unknown powers marionetting his destiny, although to Kieslowski the possibility of radicalism (or even of politicization) is subordinate to the same mysterious forces that cause his girlfriend to keep or abort a pregnancy, or an imprisoned radical to flee or return to his compartment. The film voices the metaphysical aspect that was always submersed below the director's robustly earthbound earlier work, and its gliding shifts into subjectivity look ahead to the etherealized interconnectivity of the later French films. If his architecture is too tidily schematized, Kieslowski nevertheless respects the old woman's dictum, so that "fife is a gift" even when it can't be fully understood. Cinematography by Krzysztof Pakulski.
--- Fernando F. Croce