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No End
cast: Grazyna Szapolowska, Kerzy Radziwilowicz, Maria Pakulnis, Aleksander Bardini, and Jerzy Radziwilowicz

director: Krzysztof Kieslowski

109 minutes (15) 1985
widescreen ratio 16:9
Artificial Eye DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 5/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
Daunting and difficult, No End (aka: Bez Konca) compresses the political and the personal together in an ultimately depressing vision of Perestroika age concatenations. Grazyna Szapolowska plays newly widowed mother-of-one Urszula Zyro and the circumstances surrounding her widowhood are explained by the ghost of the husband (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) himself, perched on the end of their marital bed as she sleeps. Antek is dead from a heart attack in the driver's seat of the family car, as he was parked, waiting for them to come down from the apartment so he could deliver them to school. A lawyer, he was young and relatively courageous, taking cases that might oppose the current regime if too lenient a result is brought about for the client. But don't get too carried away with the ghost, he is stoical presence wandering in and out of the proceedings, nudging things into place, leaving evidence and warnings elsewhere. His presence is felt by the grieving wife, her sorrow that of a young widow in a miserable landscape, a translator who has to complete her current assignment of a George Orwell novel.
   There is little respite from the misery. Even the friend of the family who always had a yen for her does not give her too many opportunities to fall unto his direction before declaring his departure for Canada. Possible salvation would appear to come in one of her husband's cases, the visit by the wife (and, importantly, the only child, a juxtaposition on the recent make up of her own household) of a man accused of organising a strike action. With the threat of several years of imprisonment hanging over him and foreseeing the heartbreak that it would bring his loved ones, she is stirred into relative motivation. At first it is merely making a referral, from that she becomes more and more involved.
   Urszula is confused by clues of her dead husband's continuing loiter, suspecting him of stalling her car on a road in order to let the next speeding vehicle pass her by and take the fatal crash into a bus. Is the ghost interfering and so mistaken for doing so? Can the dead make mistakes? (Why not?) And that is an intriguing concept. One despondently asks if in death Kieslowski's spirits lose their lustre, retard, become less effective beyond their obvious limitation in communication, dilapidating as if in some ghostly version of a debilitating mental illness. Saving one from a fatal car crash, allowing two to die? Where ghosts are normally employed in a film narrative to promote the positive, principally a life after death, Kieslowski finds darkly irresistible the notion of the ineptitude, even the selfishness, of the dead.
   The negativity courses throughout. The result of the trial is a betrayal of hope, the last case by a septuagenarian coward who returns the husband to his family but at what personal value of face for the man and at what national cost. The observer is constantly pushed back. Any hope in the earlier details of the film is gradually whittled away. Not that the ending is as doom-laden has most see it to be, it is too ridiculous by that point to remain so bleak. A suicide is played off against the miserable wandering spiritual afterlife, a re-coupling in the gauzy meadows in heaven better than the parallel drudgery of couple in their trial of a separation, if you will pardon my play.
   Kieslowski would in 1991 produce a more dreamlike and mysterious film in the magic realist The Double Life Of Veronique, more successful for reasons perhaps more trite; the rare theme of bi-location (played elsewhere only as a horror motif), the beauty of Irene Jacob and the new comfort and self-satisfaction felt in the director through the film. In No End the fantasy is a clumsy device and ghosts with a corporeal form are a pet hate of mine. The first viewing is doubtless also the muggiest for most, with the high probability of disinterest at the political level, it is brave for Kieslowski to toy with and play reluctance and dispiritedness into the proceedings, but it doesn't half eat away at you to reach a certain point in the film and realise that every aspect is in designer retreat. Neither does it bode well for successive viewings.
   The film is at its most interesting in the earlier stages, most successful in the details of the grieving process, Urszula's catching up with the real pain and misery, the realisation of how truly hurt she is, the search for minor sensations in his personal effects and the discovery of things that a further 30 years of marriage might have had time to reveal between them in shared marital confession. A jolly disembodied voice on the other end of the telephone is stilled by the announcement of the death. It is in these 'smallnesses' that the film is most intriguing. When Marta, a female legal beagle met at a Christmas gathering, refers to her past student days with Antek, you wonder in two directions. One is of more secrets withheld for a rainy day, the other is the conspiratorial, a plot to dissuade Urszula from her support for the case. It is almost certainly the former, but No End is less convoluted in its actual plot than it is with the potential of meaning. Most scenes have an option on their explanation. There is still no saying how many viewings if would take to clear it up, if ever, though it is possible to watch it once decisively, and I wish I were one of those people, because I don't look forward to seeing this film again.
   Poland is dreary but had every right to be, the world still owes the country greatly for its unlikely geographical location and for its sacrifices, cornered by the Nazis and the communists, deserted by everyone else repeatedly, seemingly ad infinitum. Rooms are miserable, residential and office. The Zyro family are in more pleasant living conditions, clearly on an upwardly mobile path, but already, of course, a trajectory curtailed by the time we meet them. Smiles become ghosts of the future as on the face of the child and mother in the courtroom, or an acceptance that things could be worse. None of the characters are aware of better times around the corner, improvements on the way that merely make the content of the film, set three or four years earlier all the more dispossessing.
   Artificial Eye release this DVD with additional features that include Kieslowski's early student short The Office (aka: UrZad, 1966), only five and a half minutes long, an edit-up of visitors to a benefits' office, the casually informative young female benefits' officer and the far from ignorant clients. The records are seen as a steadily running frond of loose leaf, filling shelves in the back of the office. Great, disturbing and humorous play is made on the line: "State what you have done in your lifetime," barked over the baffled face of an elderly woman.
   Grazyna Szapolowska is interviewed. It runs six minutes and she clearly had less of an understanding of her director than most, contradicts, does not appear particularly interested in the film and has a low regard of it. Far more interesting is a 27-minute interview with Jacek Petrycki, a regular contributor to the films of Keislowski, a great cinematographer and friend. Though No End is spoken of perhaps the greater understanding of the feature film under review comes from the pre-history and the oppression that was so difficultly fought against and too often necessarily conceded to. The interviews take place in spare, bright locations. A fantastic winter knocking on the window, the fond smile and appreciated familiarity of the Petrycki interview bring it to a more positive conclusion. Leave the disc at this point with Petrycki describing a man we might all have liked to have known, a man whose later work rose out of the hubris and up though the positive spiritual rescue of Poland, a man talented, "loyal, precise and devoted."

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