Talking Heads (1980)

By Diana Cristolţean

If I were to pop up out of nowhere, approach you on the street and give you no choice but to answer my question – “What are you?” –, let’s say, your life depending on it, what would you reply to me? This video does exactly that, gets into people’s private thoughts, with a surprising result.

You’d think that this is yet another exhaustive documentary with some complicated social theories and concepts which will haunt you at night. Well, you’re 50% right because it will make you question your identity, but it will not tire you. It’s only 14 minutes and it is in itself a statement. It both stands for director Krzysztof Kieślowski’s response to a critic’s accusation that he is only using “talking heads” (medium shots, subjects looking directly into the camera) in his documentaries, but it is also a metaphor for life and change.

It gives you the feeling that you’re watching a child growing up. And indeed you are, because you’re actually watching Poland’s entire society replying (or mumbling, depending on the age) to the questions “Who are you?” and “What do you wish for?”, from the youngest to the oldest. The age categories of the 40 interviewees rage from a baby to a centenarian.

Through short, fine cuts, you witness how people’s views on life and dreams change from the moment they cannot utter a word, to the moment they can barely hear you. From a toddler wishing to become a siren car to an adolescent hopeing to change his behavior, to a sociologist standing for less humiliation on people, to elder people acknowledging or not their lifetime works, this documentary shows all the social classes, constructing the Pole identity back in the ’80s. Dynamic and positive, it culminates with pessimism when the talking heads are aging, with an emphasis on the inevitability of death.

The grown-ups’ discourses are at base ideological, stressing out the importance of democracy and freedom, making this documentary a true “sociological poll”. Moreover, their voices reflect the Solidarity Movement, which as a union did not only fight for bigger wages, but also for unaltered information and other rights suppressed by the communists. People hope for respect, for equal treatment, for the liberty to have religious beliefs, for a society “less elbows and backs, and more heart and mind”.

By telling what they want, they actually draw attention to what was missing in their country, what they lacked, defying in a non-violent way the regime.



“The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieślowski: Variations on Destiny and Chance”, by Marek Haltof.

“The Birth of Solidarity: Dynamics of a Social Movement”, by Tomasz Kozłowski.


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