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Poland 1988
Directed by
Krzysztof Kieslowski
85 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Short Film About Killing, A

A Short Film About Killing is part of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Dekalog series of television films inspired by the Ten Commandments, co-written by Kieślowski with Krzysztof Piesiewicz and with music by Zbigniew Preisner,

The film looks at killing from two perspectives: as the most serious and abhorred of crimes and as state-sanctioned justice. It is an unremittingly bleak film that ironically is visually quite stunning thanks to Slawomir Idziak’s cinematography. For much of the film we see events through a sepia-toned, partly shrouded images that have a hyper-real quality.  Only late in the day do we discover that these are a kind of flashback from the trial of Jacek (Miroslaw Baka) who in what appears to be an act of complete senselessness, kills a taxi driver.  He has been unsuccessfully defended by a novice barrister (Krzysztof Globisz) who is a passionate opponent of capital punishment and who feels it his duty to see Jacek die at the hands of the State, This latter part of the film is shot in a sickly grey-green and jaundice-yellow hues – not beautiful, but compelling in a kind of Eastern Bloc brutalist way.

A Short Film About Killing is not so much an argument against capital punishment as a depiction of the real contradictions of life that law and morality cannot accommodate. Jacek's behaviour is unquestionably reprehensible but the man he kills is a dubious character. Late in the piece we find that Jacek is carrying the cross of the death of his younger sister for which he feels partly responsible. And when the time comes to execute him, the guards show no more mercy to him than he did to his victim. Poitr’s moral anguish seem completely irrelevant in this world. Indeed, Kieślowski paints Poland, or at least Warsaw, as a bitterly miserable, heartless place in which people have more contempt than love for their fellow man. Jacek can thus be seen as the symptom of a malaise accepted as normality and his death a necessary sacrifice for the purposes of its self-preservation.




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