BLIZNA aka THE SCAR (1976)

Running Time: 112 mins.                    Rating: xx Stars/5 Stars

MPAA Rating: NR

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski

Genre: Drama

Country: Poland

Language: Polish

Distributor: Umbrella Entertainment (Australia)

Cast: Franciszek Pieczka, Mariusz Dmochowski, Jerzy Stuhr, Jan Skotnicki, Agnieszka Holland, Stanislaw Igar, Michael Tarkowski

The Man in the Middle – Middle period Kieslowski

BLIZNA (THE SCAR) Stephen Bednarz is a successful manager who is handed a plum assignment: to construct a huge synthetic fertilizer factory and a new town to go along with it. The magnitude of the project is stunning. It involves not only the preparation, design and construction of the plant but the social services of the town built for the plant’s workers.

As dedicated as Bednarz is to his work he is alienated from his family. His wife refuses to accompany him to the town where they once lived because as the head of a local Party committee she had to fire a teacher which caused a scandal whose exact nature is never explained except through the coded use of a key year in Polish history, 1956, and she has no interest in returning to the site of her humiliation. Their daughter seems feckless and irredeemable, moving through a succession of men, residences and jobs, and, in her father’s estimation, abortions.

The committee of the locality had been petitioning the Central government for years to improve the backward conditions of the area and now, at last, it was their turn. There were dissidents to be sure. Those who bemoan the destruction of a 200-year-old forest and acres of meadows. There are those who live either on the site or in the path of the highways that will have to be built to access the site or the town, which will house the workers, and they’ll have to be removed by force. All of which, somewhat reluctantly, Bednarz has to oversee. Yet, he opines, it’s painful for some but the best for the most people.

A documentary filmmaker begins to film the project from the beginning and points out, as they watch the forest being destroyed with brutal industrial efficiency, that the next area over had large tracts of unused wasteland. But it isn’t as economically backward so the factory goes here, Bednarz replies, mouthing the official line but not sounding quite convinced but, again, confident of the overall sense of things.

There is one stumbling block at the beginning. The local party wants him to accept their choice for second in command rather than Bednarz’s long time assistant. This man happens to be the very man whom his wife fired years before. Bednarz tries to be diplomatic about rejecting the suggestion but the Party insists. Bednarz acquiesces thus setting up another of Kieslowski’s Faustian bargains and questionable ethical choices.

The plant is built and cracks in the facade begin which include dropping solid pollution in a five-mile shadow down wind. Protest graffiti are painted on the plant. Things break down. Quotas are not met. Bednarz talks with one of the higher ups and voices his doubts, that in fact it had been a seriously flawed project from the beginning. The Party official shrugs his shoulders and says that at least their consciences are clear but Bednarz disagrees, at least his conscience is not totally clear. He asks to be let out of the job. The Party official refuses, reminding him of his duty.

Bednarz carries on in a deteriorating situation. Eventually the workers organize against conditions, caught up in the wave of national discontent (1976 is another milestone year in recent Polish history) and meets the demonstrators in front of his office by agreeing with them and joining their protest.

Of course he is removed, and despite other synopsises, he seems to be quite content playing with his grandchild.

This is the bare outline but by this point in his career Kieslowski was beginning to enrich his films with layers of meaning. Bednarz is established as an earnest and sincere character by turning down a large double apartment for a two room flat. One room is for his darkroom as he is a serious amateur photographer.

The documentary filmmaker returns some years later to do a follow up documentary and acts as something of a Greek chorus to measure the evolution of both the project and Bednarz but also of wider public attitudes. The filmmaker is played by Michal Tarkowski who was the presumed sacrificial lamb in Kieslowski’s PERSONAL (1976). Bednarz assistant is played by Jerzy Stuhr who would star and co-write Kieslowski’s AMATOR (1979) (CAMERA BUFF) where he plays an amateur filmmaker turned documentarian. The conversation that Bednarz has where he attempts to resign recalls a scene in his friend, and sometime boss, Zanussi’s film an excerpt of which is seen in AMATOR, a film in which Zanussi actually appears as himself. Zanussi’s protagonists are invariably engineers and scientists.

His daughter gets pregnant again but this time will marry and have the baby. Her fiancé turns out to be a photographer, which is also satisfying for Bednerz. When the documentarian visits Bednarz he notices one large photo on the wall made during the liberation of Poland. The filmmaker notices a relative in the picture and realizes that he must be the child at the center of the photo. This trope would be developed in Kieslowski’s later film where sometimes unexplained coincidences exist, warps in the fabric of existence, where non sequitur intersections in time and space produce non consequential crossing of paths (the court scenes in THREE COLORS).

Bednarz is a typical middle period protagonist type- the man in the middle. He is trying to achieve a socially useful goal while acting as ethically as possible but torn by the needs of people below and the demands of people above. The center, as Yeats says, cannot hold, and the only recourse is disengagement which is the tragic ending though it doesn’t appear to be in BLIZNA (THE SCAR). Rather than feeling disgraced by being taken off the project, Bednarz he is content, at home with his wife, and playing with his grandchild.

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