A Short Film About Killing (1988)

In 1989, Krzysztof Kieslowski released his ten part television series, The Decalogue. Considered by many to be one of the most fantastic works captured on film, The Decalogue made Kieslowski a well-regarded name in the critical community. The miniseries was an adaptation of the Ten Commandments and how they played out in the community of a Warsaw apartment.

During the production of the series Kieslowski shot enough additional material to make two of the episodes into feature length films. The first film was A Short Film About Killing from Dekalog V. In this episode, Jacek Lazar (Miroslaw Baka) wanders the streets of Warsaw, striking havoc upon hapless people for no reason in particular. Also wandering around Warsaw is Waldemar Rekowski (Jan Tesarz), a mean spirited taxi driver who discriminates against potential customers and gets a kick out of toying with people.

Both of these men are made out to be horrible human beings who do some downright horrific things to people who have in no way offended them and are complete strangers. The film draws no conclusion as to why they are the way they are, perhaps suggesting that this is simply human nature. But the world would be a better place if both of these men were dead. One man becomes the murder and the other the victim and, in a way, one could say the world is better for it.

However, this is a Kieslowski film and nothing is so cut and dry. Part of the brilliance of this film is how it goes from making us hate these men to actually sympathizing with them. The film does not simply end with the killing. Instead, we are shown the murderer as he goes on trial and lives his final moments before being hanged. That process he goes through and the moments before him pack an emotional heft as the audience is spared none of the fear and agony he goes through before his hanging.

Caught up in this is Piotr Balicki (Krzysztof Globisz), a fresh lawyer who takes on the murder as his first case. The main addition from The Decalogue episode is the Piotr character. He goes through an interesting arc as he takes his bar exam to finally witnessing the end result of the justice system. It could be seen as a process of disillusionment and emotionally it comes off that way, but his entire arc is complex and ambiguous.

The addition of Piotr earlier in the film also suggests this idea of people being connected in mysterious ways. One of the elements that made The Decalogue so beautiful is the way the different characters spilled over into different episodes with appearances and cameos. Throughout the film, Kieslowski finds interesting ways to connect the three characters.  It might seem like something ancillary, but it actually serves function in both the plot and adds an emotional heft to the story as well.

And the filmmaking also has a deep richness to it as well. Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak creates an astounding series of images that bask in this warm and vibrant greenish-gold light. The images become mystifying and astounding, fantastic tapestries. When combined with the fine composition and proficient technical lighting, the film becomes a breathtaking piece of cinema.

Like the images that Idziak crafts, there’s a lot more to this film than most films. In fact, the title of the film could actually be referring to either killing. By crafting these emotionally complicated characters while also complicating the very thesis of the film, Kieslowski weaves a far more interesting and excellent work than something that simply sought to teach its audience a simple moral. Instead of telling the audience why they shouldn’t kill Kieslowski shows them the why and the result is nothing short of astounding.

© 2010 James Blake Ewing