Krzysztof Kieslowski's Olympian first shot looks down at a graveyard, burning candles in the darkness suggest urban lights at night; Jerzy Radziwilowicz faces the camera centered in the frame, pensive and black-suited: "I died four days ago." A lawyer, he has some unfinished business on earth and ambles around invisibly while Grazyna Szapolowska, his widow, feels the weight of spiritual sorrow made weightier by political sorrow. The analysis is of A Guy Named Joe, though, since this is Kieslowski's first collaboration with Krzysztof Piesiewicz, the submerged social text is excavated -- censorship, curfews, and the Solidarity movement figure in as her husband's final client, a working-class agitator (Artur Barcis) incarcerated for organizing strikes, finds his case pending while his wife (Maria Pakulnis) meets the widow; Aleksander Bardini, the dead man's weary mentor, takes over the job. Barcis, Poland's idealist younger generation, holds on to his ideals while Bardini doles out the disillusionment (or "basic pragmatism") of the older decades; meanwhile, Szapolowska wads in anguished sexuality, diddling herself in bed or joylessly boinking a tourist Brit who mistakens her for a whore. Radziwilowicz pads around the edges, sitting on a bench, sensed only by a pooch yet maybe still able to change the world of the living -- the wife's musty-green bug mysteriously stalls, another car zips by just to be flattened in its place by an incoming bus. What soothes a person's soul versus what soothes a people's soul? Zbigniew Preisner's dirge mourns for it all, to the director the aching of a moral crisis permeates every pore, from courtroom to bedroom. Szapolowska sees her dead husband's apparition just as she is supposed to have every memory of him erased from her mind at the hypnotist's office. No Ghost connection here: the only illumination allowed her is the phantom waiting in the garden after she stares, with a slow zoom, into the void of an open oven. Dour transcendence, but, as the aged barrister is reminded, "times call for that." With Krzysztof Krzeminski, Michal Bajor, Marek Kondrat, and Tadeusz Bradecki.
--- Fernando F. Croce