It's 1982: Poland is under martial law, and Solidarity is banned. Ulla, a translator working on Orwell, suddenly loses her husband, Antek, an attorney. She is possessed by her grief, and ... See full summary »
Filip buys an eight-millimetre movie camera when his first child is born. Because it's the first camera in town, he's named official photographer by the local Party boss. His horizons widen... See full summary »
1970. After discussions and dishonest negotiations, a decision is taken as to where a large new chemical factory is to be built and Bednarz, an honest Party man, is put in charge of the ... See full summary »
The plot couldn't be simpler or its attack on capital punishment (and the act of killing in general) more direct - a senseless, violent, almost botched murder is followed by a cold, calculated, flawlessly performed execution (both killings shown in the most graphic detail imaginable), while the murderer's idealistic young defence lawyer ends up as an unwilling accessory to the judicial murder of his client.Written by
Michael Brooke <email@example.com>
In the Sight and Sound directors poll of 2012 acclaimed Dutch filmmaker Cyrus Frisch voted for A Short Film About Killing, commenting that in Poland, this film was instrumental in the abolition of the death penalty. See more »
So you want me to see your mother.
Yes, to ask her to bury me next to my father. Can I be buried in a cemetery?
The priest they sent said I could.
Next to my father is another plot. It was supposed to be for my mother. Ask her to let me have it.
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Thou Shalt Not Kill, the "extended" director's cut...
I must give the late director Krystof Kieslowski his due: when A Short Film About Killing ended, I had to think about it for at least a couple of hours before sitting down to put something to print (and I know I'll think about it some more tomorrow). For those who may not know, this is actually a longer 'director's cut' of a segment from the director's towering work, The Decalogue, a ten-part film which has an episode about each of the ten commandments (this made up the segment "Thou Shalt Not Kill"). I had originally seen that film-series years ago, and a flood of images and thoughts came back to me; at the time, the 60-minute version of this story, about a young man who wanders aimlessly through a town, has a coffee, chases pigeons, then gets into a taxi cab and leads him to a rural area and kills him, then later being executed after being caught, was great and full of passion in its argument for showing not that killing is right in anyway but that the death penalty is fundamentally corrupted when it uses the same sort of barbaric tactics that Jacek used in his fight.
But now seeing this full film, and thinking about it for a while, I know what my issue is: this is in essence a short story, and if you distill the essence of the story down to what happens and its characters, it would read much more like a short piece (hence the title I suppose), but that is why it worked so well in the midst of all the other 'Thou Shalt Not' set-ups in the Dekalog. Here, we just have the narrative before us, and there's a piece of the story that feels missing, and it almost feels like it was changed from the re-edited film.
What is so strong and powerful about the movie is just how unflinching Kieslowski is about how Jacek and the cab driver and also the lawyer going for his exam to join the legal system go about what they're doing: one is aimless, one is simply enjoying washing his car, and the other has to explain himself to a committee. They're all men going about what they do, and the color palette makes this very much a dirty, horrifying kind of world; in my original review of the 'Kill' episode I wrote, 'Its like the world is all gray like Children of Men... The music like a horror film.' And more than that there are moments (at least from the DVD I watched) where a character will be sort of highlighted as they're riding a bike or walking through town with everything else around them sullied and lacking value. So that when the violence does happen - both killings, as one should say - they're particularly brutal as it comes as real shocks to the system.
I think my problem watching this story again is that there seemed to be a lack of that, yes, conventional but possibly necessary storytelling piece - seeing the character caught, how that happened, even if it's just one small moment or shot, or even seeing how the lawyer becomes involved - but it cuts directly from Jacek in the stolen car with his girlfriend at night to him being taken away in handcuffs being found guilty of the murder. It's hard to say on one hand that I don't want a typical Hollywood examination of violence (this is basically in a way like a Law & Order episode but with all of the 'investigation' and 'trial' processes thrown out the window), and on the other bemoan that there's nothing of that in the film. To be sure, Kieslowski knows we've all seen movies and that we know Jacek will be caught, but just a hint in this case would add something, even just some context (one supposes Piotr will be Jacek's lawyer seeing as he's now been marked to practice law in the first part, but why does he take the case, does he have to, is there some kind of impending moral imperative for him - we only get the slightest hint early on of him being opposed to death penalty).
And yet I still have to see what's in front of me and if it's affecting, and it still is; in all its stripped down, unvarnished 1980's Polish presentation, it's a horrifying drama, and mostly about what goes into killing someone, whether it's Jacek and how long it actually takes to kill the driver (it's almost as if Kieslowski takes things further than Hitchcock did in his later years with Torn Curtain), and then with the executioners readying the noose. But the heart of the movie is a scene between Jacek and Piotr - their last, as it turns out - where the condemned says some things about his family and where he wants to be buried, and it's hard not to be moved. Some of this may be slightly manipulative by the director - the music can't help but come in with the singer on the aria, a common use in his films - but the acting is so natural and heartbreaking that it helps to drive the message home.
While I would recommend the slightly shorter cut of this story in The Decalogue, if you're seeing this version for the first time it's still an affecting piece of filmmaking by a master of his craft, caring always about the emotional context and challenging viewers on what they think about a subject, even if at the expense of traditional storytelling.
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