i have not yet seen the extras but i’m eager to write on this, so i’ll pitch a few ideas. idea no. one: is this a comedy? what makes something a comedy? i’m sure there are people on this blog who are way more qualified than i to discuss the necessary requirements of comedy, but it was hard for me the first time around, ten years ago, and it is hard for me now to see this film as a comedy. there is no laughter. there is, instead, a lot of heartbreak. surely, though, laughter cannot be considered a necessary requirement for comedy, because laughter is so subjective and culture-dependent. simon’s suggestion is that this is a comedy because karol is a schlemiel, and since this sounds interesting to me, i’ll go with it a bit. karol is a schlemiel because a) he can’t get it up, b) he lost his gorgeous, angelic-looking, divinely blond wife and he needs to die to get her back, c) he can’t speak “the language” (that other, better language), d) he makes a ton of money, looks like an idiot in his new business garb, then throws it all away, and e) loses his wife again to his scheme of getting her imprisoned and finds himself back at square one. according to this reading, the last shot of karol bawling his eyes out would be the clincher, the confirmation of his being a true schlemiel. the schlemiel cannot win because he doesn’t know how. (truth be told, there are also true comedic moment, like when karol’s suitcase is stolen; one might also want to comment on his relentless buoyancy, his capacity to bounce back into life and good cheer — as is evident, for instance, on both the occasions on which he’s beaten up; finally, there is some broad comedy — see for instance when karol poses as a strutting security guard).
idea no. two. the time has come for me to confess that i am a schlemiel: i unwittingly stumbled into yet another exploration of masculinity! yet, i really like the way in which masculinity is explored in this film. the woman-as-object-of-desire is not degraded, which is a relief for this female viewer. she is exalted, but only by the schlemiel, who cannot see her reality. this is brought out several times, including the scene in the beauty salon in which dominique shouts at karol that he doesn’t understand her, doesn’t understand that she wants him, that she needs him. one can read this in sexual terms, as dominique’s expression of coital frustration, but the sexual metaphor requires unpacking. why does karol find himself finally able to perform only at the end of the film? presumably, because he’s made a ton of money and because he died. the two things are not separable. he made a ton of money so that he could die and bait dominique back. karol is so taken by his fantasy of dominique as the otherworldly, the unattainable, that he cannot be there for himself enough to keep himself alive. the all-consuming quality of his fantasy of dominique doesn’t leave karol room to be in the world, to be outside himself. getting and maintaining an erection, i suggest, is seen here, not as self-confirming sexual prowess, but as a sign of one’s capacity to be there for the other person (i’m not suggesting that all males who cannot have or maintain an erection are self-involved schlemiels: i’m unpacking the central metaphor of this deeply metaphoric film). the flaccid penis is not-present, not-there just like the man to whom it’s attached.
idea no. three. so when karol “dies,” this other, fuller, disappearance (another schlemiel fantasy: will they cry at my funeral?) allows him to produce a temporary, self-vindicating, vindictive as it turns out, performance. he’s already not-there, so it doesn’t matter. the erect penis means nothing because the man is dead. karol once again fails to understand dominique’s needs.
idea no. four. in the first extra, someone comments about karol’s gaze, his repeated watching of dominique from a distance. i’d like to draw your attention to the gaze with which karol looks at the sleeping dominique after they finally consummate their (defunct) marriage. dominique’s hair surrounds her like a halo and she looks as beautiful, perfect, and white as the sculpted head karol loves so much. with reverence, he takes a strand of her blond hair and, carefully, moves it from her face, then leaves her to the criminal fate he has concocted for her. this gaze confirms the false and falsifying way in which karol views dominique. notice that the director does not support this otherwordly view of the woman, but “fights” us by showing us a dominique who, far from angelic, is very capable of meanness and even violence.
unlike many other “explorations of masculinity,” i don’t find this offensive at a gut level. karol’s struggling with his manhood is not about proving himself, but, i suggest, about being a loving, understanding presence and not a self-involved, adoring absence, for the other, the woman. and, thank goodness, there’s no need in this film for the male to confront his inner violence. as all of kieslowski’s movies, this is about transcendence, not immanence.