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Filmed in 1976 and shelved for five years. A young man in his twenties leaves prison after a three-year sentence. He wants to start a new life in a place where he is not known and dreams only of a job, a wife and a family. He succeeds partially in fulfilling these dreams, but then runs into a conflict on a construction job between the corrupt boss and fellow workers secretly planning a strike. He becomes a pawn in one camp while remaining true to his ideals in the other. The unavoidable conflict destroys him. Written by
Polish Cinema Database <http://info.fuw.edu.pl/Filmy/>
With SPOKOJ, translated either as 'Calm' or 'Peace', Kieslowski swings back to the depiction of a common man, a lowly and ordinary worker with no special talents and limited ambitions, who never-the-less becomes a middle period 'man in the middle'.
Kieslowski collaborator Jerzy Stuhr plays a man in prison (Antek Gralak, the same name as the central character under Party interrogation in ZYCIORYS 1975) for a trifling offense who never the less is chastened by the experience and vows to remake his life. It pares it down to the essentials. He's going to get a job, a roof over his head, food in his belly and a woman and start a family.
He already has a woman picked out, a farmer's daughter who gave him a drink of water (seen in flashback) when he was working on a labor project outside the prison. His term up he returns to Krakow and, studiously avoiding his prison mates, turns around and goes back to Silesia where he gets a job for a construction outfit. He is very humbly grateful to his boss for giving him the job despite his criminal record and he develops a certain affectionate dependency on him. He finds a place to live in a boarding house. The landlady takes an interest in him, taking him for some respectable clothes and sleeping with him, but is cruelly disappointed when he proposes and is accepted by the farmer's daughter. He becomes fully integrated with his workmates to the extent of getting blind drunk with them.
He marries the Farmer's daughter and manages to to set up an apartment with a TV and she gets pregnant and Antek is actually happy. All along the way there are tiny signs that things are not all that they should be on the worksite. He turns up one morning and no one is working because the materials haven't arrived yet. They seem resentful of the boss and Antek tries to mediate. The materials arrive a bit short. Later the losses mount up and the boss tries to dock his workers to make up for the extra expenses which causes open grumbling amongst the workers which leads to an all out stoppage- a strike. Antek tries to mediate again by getting the boss to rescind the docking of the pay and the boss shows him that it really won't result in anyone losing any money because its all just shifting things from one pile to the other.
The workers hold a strike meeting scheduled for the same time the boss is giving a party. Antek has to decide which one to go to and chooses the bosses 'party' which turns out to be a planning session of the boss and his criminal associates who cynically plan to fire the 'grumblers' and blame the theft of building materials on them. Antek denounces them angrily and marches out. He goes to the workers meeting where he is marked as a traitor and beaten up.
In general, Kieslowski has denied that he was making deliberate metaphors. He believed as long as he was making films with some truth in them, that he was dealing with reality in an honest way, then it was up to people to make their own metaphors. SPOKOJ can be seen as a metaphor for the specific situation in Poland at the time, where the boss is 'the party', corrupt and inefficient, and which blames the workers for all of its problems.
Then again I saw a documentary on the Homestead Steel Strike of 1892 and the meeting at the boss's house could have been taken from the meeting between Carnegie, Frick and Pinkerton. With Kieslowski events are rendered in such a way that even though they are specific to the story they represent eternal conflicts and human behavior so they are universally applicable. It's no wonder that he would go on to make his masterpiece, DEKALOG (1988/9) where the absorbing dramas were still relevant as cautionary commandments though sometimes one wondered just which commandment was being illustrated.
It's Kieslowski's strength that decades and centuries from now, when only university Phd's know the specific political references to 1956 or 1981, that the stories will still ring true. People act this way, organizations act that way, society is organized just so.
There is what seems to be the beginning of a formal mannerism noticeable in Kieslowski's narratives, the presentation of characters with no background given, which reaches it apogee in DEKALOG (1987/8). This devise causes the feeling engendered in the viewer of -"Who is that guys and what's he doing and why is he doing that." It all gets explained eventually but it causes the viewer to either drift off and leave the film or to become a participant, to theorize and reevaluate ones initial ideas as more information becomes available.
In this story we see perhaps Kieslowski's most negative interpretation of people. The protagonist has purposely circumscribed his life to the most basic elements in an effort to achieve these limited goals and therefore to be 'happy'. He is taken to task and this would echo in Kieslowski's study of a night watchman, Z PUNKTU WIDZENIA NOCNEGO PORTIERA (1978) and find final fruition in his critical third story in PRZYPADEK (1987) (BLIND CHANCE). The boss is avuncular but a total con man and crook. The workers are ill tempered and argumentative and always on knife edge, ready to think the worst and prepared to act violently as a mob even if it resolves nothing, a criticism to be fully explored in KRÓTKI DZIEN PRACY (1981).
In the end Antek lies bleeding in the mud in his good suit muttering 'Sporoj'. There is a strange kinship with Brando in ON THE WATERFRONT (1954) also about a corrupt boss and a compromised worker caught in the middle.
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