After shooting documentaries for the first ten years of his career, Krzysztof Kieslowski decided it was time for a feature when he was already 35 years old (his first fiction film Personel was made for TV). If you know his work only from The Decalogue up, you will find some familiar elements, sure, but there will also be that feeling of something incomplete. His background in documentaries is too obvious in the way The Scar looks and feels, showing a filmmaker who was still very much in search for his cinematic angle.
A work of social realism, it tells a story set in a small Polish city of Olechov, where local executives decide that building a great chemical complex should be enough to finally bring the desired progress. The project is secured in spite of some concerns by people about the effect that sort of enterprise could have on the natural resurses of the area. For the person in charge they choose Stephan Bednarz (Frantiseck Pieczka), by all acounts an honest man who has proved his abilities enough times to be given this duty. He and his wife have already lived in this town some time ago, with some unpleasent memories, wisely unexplained, threatening to come to the surface. The movie than goes to show the events up until the factory is finished, with many different points of view on just about every different aspect of the procedings.
Man dealing with responsability and its consequences is a subject matter which didn't stop appearing in his work after this. In his later films, his hero becomes disillusioned cynic, playing God or spying on his neighbours. But here, he is still somewhat in full strenght. Stephan accepts his job with an honest belief he can make it work. We are a little dubious. It's not that he lacks ability; it's just that nobody has enough of it enough to pull something like this of. There are just too many differences of opinions, too many committiees and subcommittiees he needs to consult. Somewhere in between, there are people. At some point, they too will have something to say.
Kieslowski here demonstrates the ability to handle crowds, those in stuffy poorly looking offices where every member faces another dead end day armed with a bottle of mineral water (the official drink of communist conferences), as well as the outdoor outbursts of joy when celebrating every deceptively big success. It is in those well structured scenes that the shortcomings of the picture lie. The complex schemes of socialist bureaucracy prevent simplicity we love so much in his work to come to surface. He was still to discover that he is not at his strongest when portraying people as part of a singular society, but as independent individuals who exist outside of those bounaries.
The Scar is not a work which shows how great Kieslowski is yet to become. But as a separate piece, it has enough elements to be considered a necessary viewing for those who want to get familiar with the work of the director with more depth.