On Kieślowski, Preisner, and Musical Collaboration in Film

Upon rewatching La Double Vie de Véronique by Krzysztof Kieślowski, I couldn’t help but consider the special relationships between various arts in the creation of film. The most typical and pronounced collaborative relationships are those between the director, writer, editor, and most visibly, the actors. Each is a craft in its own right, and each is absolutely essential to the outcome of the film. The levels of control and artistic input vary from film to film, director to director, production company to company.

One relationship not frequently explored or fulfilled is the unique potential between the writer/director and the composer.

There are two distinct schools of thought on the use of music in film which can be comfortably classified, each of which can be divided into further groups. The first of these is to use music as a tool to aid the story, punctuate emotion, or serve as a juxtaposition for effect. The second is to never betray the tangible reality of the film’s world, wherein, if there is music, it appears from some source in the film’s world. Often the former has a film score and the latter doesn’t (although this isn’t true in such films as Robert Altman‘s The Long Goodbye, which uses both methods). For the sake of this argument, though, let’s assume the film score is reserved for the former of the two.

Each method has its detractors and proponents, and each have equally valid points. The lack of an abstract score from the action can greatly increase the “realism” we perceive of the film’s world, and can create an overall immersive experience. Oftentimes, too, the heavy use of an overhead score can serve as some sort of emotional propaganda to jarringly force you into feeling more than the film can otherwise offer, and in that sense it can be used to cover dishonesty – this was enormously common prior to the 1960’s. However, it can also serve as a psychological aid in films which do not attempt to create a material realism, but rather some sort of psychological realism, as in Tarkovsky’s The Mirror (Zerkalo). I feel both styles have their own uses based on the intended outcome, and respect both equally.

The standard method for composers writing a film score is for them to receive abstract instructions prior, or to compose the score afterwards, based on footage received. This is fine, and many memorable scores adhere to this – in The Godfather, for instance, much of the famous main theme of Rota‘s score came from previous films.

However, what Kieślowski does in Véronique and, even more so, Bleu, with composer Zbigniew Preisner, is unique and compelling. In both films, the creation of the film worked side-by-side with the creation of the score, and adapted to what was written. In Véronique, for instance, much of the action takes place around the solo soprano part of a long-lost orchestral piece by Van Den Budenmayer – an alias Preisner adopted more than once in Kieślowski films and which serves somewhat as a recurring character in his own right. The piece, and the soprano solo in particular, serve as a main tie between the two Veronicas.

Similarly, with Bleu, many scenes incorporate the score Preisner prepared, in a way which is even more crucial to the plot than that of Véronique. The film centers around a piece of music being prepared allegedly by Juliette Binoche’s character’s recently deceased husband to commemorate the Unity of Europe. As the film progresses, and she tries to achieve liberty from her husband’s spectre and return to her past independence, she is haunted by this piece of music as though by a demon, and continues to compose it in her head at random intervals throughout. We hear the notes develop as all visuals and other sounds disappear – creating a highly remarkable plot device in both emotional and psychological intensity.

I feel that in some ways, then, this collaboration blurs the lines between abstract score and the reality of the film. The world presented to us in Bleu is taken from her sole psychological reality, and the music which plays is entirely sourced from her mind and state. But in the creation of the film, the creative process Preisner experienced is shared with us – we see her writing notes from his actual score – as well as that of Kieślowski and Piesiewicz, the two writers. As a result, this choice offers a deep and unique psychological experience.

I’d like to see this type of collaboration more. There is a strong argument for the lack of music in cinema, but one must always consider the ultimate effect of one’s stylistic choices. Cinema offers its own ways of presenting experiences based on its innate language, and it is the success of communicating the ultimate emotional and psychological experience which really matters.


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Categories: Theory

One Comment on “On Kieślowski, Preisner, and Musical Collaboration in Film”

  1. December 20, 2012 at 12:03 am #

    Preisner’s scoring is unique. One has only to close one eyes to know the difference between his work and the usual manufactured score heard in a Hollywood-industry movie; dense, loud, brash, swirling up and down the scales, ie: everybody in the orchestra involved and having a go to ‘create’ emotion. A bit like the weather forecasters these days who talk about ‘rain later in the afternoon’ and then show a picture of rain on the picture behind them in case the audience doesn’t know what rain is. That’s why I always watch Hollywood movies with the brightness and volume fully off.

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