Submitted 4 years 10 months ago by Jo Ely.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014 - 14:23
Set in a Polish state aid office in 1966, Urzad is a five minute documentary film by director Krystof Kieslowski and a short and evocative reminder of just how bureaucracy may be used for political ends. We look on as a young office worker (and gate keeper to essential state aid for pensioners and some fairly destitute people) follows every rule to the very letter, with the result that nobody who comes to her office seems to walk away having received the help they needed or came here for. Instead they fall into a soft miasma of form-filling and a bewildering and seemingly endless bureaucratic process (Kieslowski's documentary wryly suggesting that perhaps that is the real point of this particular office). The filmmaker observantly captures soft bleak gazes in the waiting room, as those waiting slowly lose hope. We see the flash of the office worker's diamond ring, and a woman with her hand pressed against her own mouth. As though to stop herself from speaking. Others sink exhausted into chairs, or lean against walls, helpless and compliant. Kieslowski, with his usual light, wry touch, manages to evoke the very quality of waiting. And how power really works. Urzad is a subtle documentary, the young office worker at the centre of the action (or rather, in-action) is nothing less than sweet-voiced, reasonable, impossible to hate, even as she sends an elderly woman to the back of the queue. Or sharpens her pencil in a slow and obvious power-play as an elderly man attempts to speak and then understands he must wait. Kieslowski captures the old man's soft blink of confusion, then despair, as he comprehends his situation. And allows a barely human reflection to play across the glass pane divide between them. Kieslowski hovers over the moment until an elderly man waiting for a pencil to be sharpened becomes simply heartbreaking. But if there is a villain of this piece then it's the office itself, with its opaque rules and systems. The young bureaucrat at the centre may even be an object of compassion in her own right, in some ways. There is her youth, after all. Her tragic teenage haircut. At a minimum she seems uncomprehending of her role in this psychological nightmare, or of her true role in this system. She is only following orders after all. Meantime, Kieslowski notes, the thousands of forms are lodged, unread, like a swelling mass behind her. He plays her voice at the end, in light sing-song tones, over and over: "Fill in the form. State what you have done throughout your lifetime. All questions must be answered Yes or No." As though nothing at all important is at stake in the waiting room.