A Short Film About Killing (1988)
Director: Krzysztof Kielslowski
Writer: Krzysztof Kielslowski
Starring: Miro Baka, Krzysztof Globisz, Jan Tesarz
Review By: Griff
I wanted to start off by giving a shout out to georginaguthrie over at Filmspot for suggesting I check out this movie. Whenever someone tells me I need to check out an obscure Polish film from the late 80’s, who am I to say no?
I also wanted to mention that I usually only describe the first two acts or so of any movie that I review but telling the whole story is pretty necessary when trying to explain this picture so I will talking about the entire plot. If you want to experience this film for yourself you may want to go check it out and then come back before you read this.
A little bit of back story is going to be necessary here in order to fully appreciate this review. Back in the late 80’s (and early 90‘s) Krzysztof Kielslowski directed a series for television called The Decalogue. It was a group of shorts that were based on the ten commandments. Two of these shorts were actually based on previous films. One was a A Short Film About Love and the other was A Short Film about Killing. It’s also important to note that back in 1988 two things were happening in Poland, first Communism was on its way out and the role of capital punishment in the country was being hotly debated. Kieslowski definitely does not pull any punches in how it feels about these issues.
Ok, now that is out of the way, A Short Film About Killing is about a young sociopath named Jacek (Miroslaw Baka). He is wandering around the streets of Warsaw and appears to just be wasting time. As we follow him around, Jacek begins to reveal his personality by performing various acts of anti-social behavior in an ever increasing amount of severity. First, he scares away a large group of pigeons that an old woman is feeding. Later, he takes a rock and throws it off a bridge causing an accident. Then he pushes a man into a urinal in a public restroom. Jacek really only has one thing on his mind though, he is determined to kill someone. He has been walking around the streets with a bag containing a rope and a small metal pipe that he intends to strangle someone with. Eventually he jumps in a cab, has the driver take him to an obscure location and attempts to kill the driver. When he is having trouble strangling him to death, Jacek gets out of the car and beats the driver over the head with the pipe. Convinced that he has killed the driver, Jacek starts to drag his body down to a river to dump it. The driver isn’t dead however, and he begins to beg for his life. Jacek goes down to the river, finds a large stone, and smashes the mans face repeatedly. Then he robs him and takes off in the cab. Jacek drives to see his girlfriend and tries to convince her to take off into the mountains with him.
The film then jumps ahead. We cut to a court room and Jacek is being convicted of the murder and sentenced to death. He is defended by a young lawyer named Piotr (Krzysztof Globisz) who is working on his first big case. Piotr goes to see Jacek on the day that he is about to be executed. Jacek confesses to Piotr that he had been drinking one day with a friend of his. His friend then went and drove a tractor while he was drunk and ended up running over Jacek’s sister. Jacek blames himself for what happened and it is the source of his rage against the world. After the confession, Jacek is dragged from his cell by the guards and escorted to the execution room. He is given one last cigarette and then tries desperately to free himself from the guards but they overpower him easily. The guards pick him up and strap him to a rope and he is hanged shocking efficiency.
What A Short Film About Killing is really about is opening up a dialogue about the merits of capital punishment. First we see Jacek brutally murder someone and having a lot of difficulty doing it. Then later we see Jacek murder by the state with stunningly cold efficiency. The two events are in stark contrast to each other but are both brutal and uncaring in their own way.
The entire film was shot with at green filter on the lens and it adds to the feel of the movie. Warsaw is seen as a dirty and dying city, people seem washed out and dehumanized. The acts of violence although brutal, are not overly gory but they are intense and not easily forgotten. A Short Film About Killing is an excellent movie for those who aren’t afraid to stray from the mainstream. If you can find it, I recommend checking this one out. Definitely a movie that will stick with you for a few days afterwards. It gets 2 1/2 guys from me.