No End is a film by Krzysztof Kieślowski from 1984. At the time of its premiere, the film was criticized by all sides: the communist authorities of Poland accused the director of antisocialist subversion, the opposition considered the film to be commissioned by the authorities, whilst the Catholic Church criticized the anti-Christian ending.
Despite attacks in both the official and the underground press, Kieślowski’s drama was welcomed warmly by audiences. Kieślowski admitted that he had never received so many letters and phone calls from viewers who found in the film a true representation of the psychological condition of Polish citizens shortly after martial law.
The film starts with a shot of a cemetery from a bird’s eye view. The screen gradually gets darker, graves become dominated by the night's gloominess, and in a short while we can only see the glittering flames of candles. The moody prologue prognosticates that No End will be a story about yearning for those who have passed away, and about their absence and presence in the world of the living.
We may assume that the first shot presents the perspective of Antek (Jerzy Radziwiłowicz), a thirty-something advocate, who… died a few days earlier. Being invisible to the mortals left on the earth, the ghost still observes what's happening there and tries to interfere in his relatives’ affairs by giving them signs and hints. The living truly need the help of the dead. Urszula (Grażyna Szapołowska), Antek’s wife and the mother of their child Jacek (Krzysztof Krzemiński), is completely devastated and lost, as only after her husband’s death did she realize how much she loved him. Her emptiness is not to be cured by a fling with an unknown man, nor does a visit to a hypnotist help in removing the deceased from her mind.
The Urszula’s mourning thread is interwoven with a courtroom drama. The advocate not only left behind his bereaved family but also his clients – political prisoners who have very little chance of finding equally gifted and honest counsel. Importantly, the action takes place in 1982, during martial law. The case of Darek (Artur Barciś), who's been charged with leading a strike, is inherited by the older attorney Labrador (Aleksander Bardini), who chooses a completely different line of defence than his predecessor. Labrador wants Darek to conformistically hide his true motives, whereas Labrador’s young deputy Mietek (Michał Bajor) tries to convince Darek to give a radical, antisystem address.
Both attitudes – pure pragmatism and political extremism – were totally alien to Antek, who tried to address consciences by reconciling opponents. In an antagonized society divided into two adversarial sides, such a well-balanced approach is a true rarity. Tomek (Marek Kondrat), Antek’s friend who plans to flee Poland, describes the world in the following manner:
People got introverted and divided. It is no longer obvious what is good and what is wrong. I don’t want to be with the first part and I can’t be with the second. I tried to live independently but it always ends in loneliness.
The figure of an outsider coming from the afterlife is symbolic: Antek is a projection of the individual and social needs of society, a personification of an ideal. Longing for the advocate is at the same time longing for true values – love, justice and brotherhood. For those bereaved in the malaise of Poland of 1982, those ideals seemed almost impossible to achieve.
In a roundabout and poetic yet direct way the director manages to show the grief and disappointment that overwhelmed Polish society after 13th December. However, Kieślowski’s film is not only a depiction of a depressing chapter in Polish history. By describing the relation between Grażyna and her recently deceased husband, the director brings into his cinema a metaphysical layer that will become much more important in his future films. What is interesting, No End started Kieślowski's long and fruitful cooperation with Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Zbigniew Preisner, both of whom would co-create all of Kieślowski’s following films.
No End defines a strict separation line in the director’s career, who from that time on would leave the social ‘here and now’ and focus on the inner life of individuals. One can have the impression that the story presented in No End is incoherent and seems to be a set of two different stories: one of a socio-political nature and one of psycho-metaphysical importance. But this contrast is the reason why the film is so original. It is definitely not one of the best of Kieślowski’s films, but it is certainly one of the most intriguing ones.
No End, Poland 1984. Dir: Krzysztof Kieślowski. Script: Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Krzysztof Kieślowski. Cinematography: Jacek Petrycki. Muzyka Zbigniew Preisner. Scenography: Allan Starski. Cast: Grażyna Szapołowska (Urszula Zyro), Maria Pakulnis (Joanna Stach), Aleksander Bardini (Mieczysław Labrador), Jerzy Radziwiłowicz (Antoni Zyro), Artur Barciś (Dariusz Stach), Michał Bajor (Mietek), Marek Kondrat (Tomek), Tadeusz Bradecki (hypnotizer) and others.
Production: Zespół Filmowy Tor. Colour, 103 min.
Author: Robert Birkholc, April 2016, translated by Antoni Wiśniewski, April 2016