Coffee, cigarettes and film: the punishing lifestyle of Krzysztof Kieślowski

Kieślowski: apparently smoked an “absurd” number of cigarettes. Stefan Kraszewski/PAP

Krzysztof Kieślowski, the internationally acclaimed film director, led a lifestyle that would have driven a health expert to drink, with the famed filmmaker fuelled by nothing more than caffeine, nicotine and occasional trips to McDonalds when abroad.

The revelations about the director come in a new biography on Kieślowski by Katarzyna Surmiak-Domańska. The director, who died aged just 54 during surgery following a heart attack in 1996, was powerhouse in Polish cinema and one of Europe’s most influential filmmakers, winning widespread acclaim for films such as ‘The Double life of Veronique” and his ‘Three Colours’ trilogy.

But it appears his success came at the expense of his health.

"The number of cigarettes he smoked were absurd,” said Sławomir Idziak, who was responsible for the cinematography on several Kieślowski films. “He also drank enormous amounts of coffee. Krzysiek believed that coffee was necessary, and he did not listen to anyone.”

The film director died during open-heart surgery following a heart attack. He was 54 years old.Teodor Walczak/PAP

Idziak explained that the director was always helping himself to the coffee on set.

Leonard Prochowski, a childhood friend of Kieślowski’s, said in the biography that his friend would order a cup of coffee in which the granules had settled at the bottom. After finishing the liquid he would use a spoon to eat the muddy granules from the bottom of the cup, and would then have a couple more. 

When he was in France filming ‘Veronique’ and ‘Three Colours he apparently never ate during the day, and the only substance he got was from an evening trip for a hamburger at a local McDonalds.

The director also ate little on set, leading to one friend to believe he was battling depression.Andrzej Rybczyński/PAP

Zuzanna Łapicka, a friend of the director, who died last year, recalled one incident that suggested that Kieślowski was battling tiredness and depression.

While in a restaurant in Paris Kieślowski told Łapicka that he had not eaten since the morning.

“I should eat something,” the director apparently said. “I know I have to eat but I can’t. I have absolutely no appetite.”