Revisiting the work of is a very special experience, both from a cinematographic and a historical point of view. I have seen the ‘Decalogue’ series almost 30 years ago, and A Short Film About Killing was part of it, in its shorter version. The time that passed since its release and the abrupt ending of the career and then of the life of Kieslowski provide a very different perspective. His films may be the same, and he certainly was one of the greatest film directors of his time and of all times. I had the chance to grow older, see more cinema and accumulate more life experience. The perspective is different, the way we read and understand his movies changed.

 

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095468

source http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095468

 

By 1988 making such a film in Poland meant taking sides from a political, from a moral, and from an artistic point of view. The 80s had begun with the Solidarity movement in Poland which gave the sign of the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe at the end of the decade, but in the meantime military rule was imposed and freedom of art expression was limited. Film directors like Wajda took the more political path in their films, while Kieslowski chose the more subtle way of making the ten films that illustrate the Commandments placed in the realities of his country and of his time. ‘A Short Film About Killing‘ deals with the 5th commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ in a superbly constructed plead against the death penalty. The first part of the film builds in a Hitchcock style the story of a murder with no apparent reasons (Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ comes to mind). Three characters belonging with three parallel threads will eventually meet in a violent and absurd event. But is not any murder an absurd and repelling event? The second part deals with the punishment of the crime. The young man who committed the murder is tried and condemned to death. We follow his last hours, we start understanding his background, and then, he dies. Absurd as well. An eloquent but one sided demonstration, as his victim has never any chance of pleading for his right to live. This is – maybe – the only flaw of the moral judgment in this story.

 

(video source tomasaidietis)

 

The construction of the story is perfect. Some of the images remind the French New Wave gangster films, but the background is the tern and grey landscape of Poland with the impersonal architecture that spread over all Eastern Europe. Kieslowski does here one more trick – he used different color filters for each frame that sometime impose yellow or green nuances to the image, some other time darken part of the screen. It’s just one more visual comment to emphasize the atmosphere of decay – moral, social, human decay. So far we are from the rosy nuances of the fake ‘socialist realism’ style. Acting is superb, as in many Polish films of that period, with , shining in the lead role and supporting him as the lawyer who may be the only positive character in the story.  Overall, this film keeps all its dramatic and moral value in time, but also is enriched by the political dimension it receives in the perspective of the time. One of Kieslowski’s best movies – highly recommended.