falderal : a moving images blog
Krótki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film About Killing) ; 1988  ·  Posted by Tallulah

Post by Neko

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Actors: Mirosłav Baka, Krzysztof Globisz, Jan Tesarz
Country: Poland

Guiltily, I shall admit that I haven’t watched a serious, good movie in a l-o-n-g time, and I don’t feel right devoting my time to writing reviews of the sort of tripe I see often at the movies, not here anyway. I associate this film blog with… elegance, and hence, I bring you a short review of A Short Film About Killing.

This short by one of Poland’s most important and internationally-renowned directors has been on my to-watch list for years, and not just because Kieślowski is a personal favourite. Widely accredited as one of the last straws that pushed to Poland’s abolition of the death penalty, this film, as the title implies, is simply a short film about killing – not death, but killing – and the fine distinction between murder and capital punishment, or whether such distinction exists at all.

Running at 81 minutes, the film revolves around the lives of a drifter (Baka), the taxi driver he randomly murders (Tesarz) and the advocate who so passionately argues his case (Globisz). I watched the film with the original Polish audio-track as well as English subtitles which I glanced to now and then, for comparison’s sake. I do have to admit that something is, as almost always, lost in the translation. This isn’t a particular criticism of whoever provided the subtitles, as they are relatively true to the spoken word and translated neatly for the English-speaking viewer… however, the Polish audio isn’t always neat itself, purposely so. The Polish language is a complex one in terms of structure, and the English subtitles let it down a bit.

With that out of the way, I haven’t a lot to nitpick. I have a special fondness for Kieślowski as a director too because I always find myself mesmerized by his depiction of the Polish people – not individual characters, but a wider setting. They are marked by a subtle sadness, a slow but persistent coldness signature to the era of one war after another. Kieślowski interferes with the observations of the three interwoven lives here very little – indeed, a bit too little for my liking at times, almost clinically so.

The taxi driver has a small role, but it suggests him to be a spiteful, weak man. The drifter, and Baka playing him, is forceful and calm and cold even as he wavers – he appears to have no reason for killing the taxi driver, nor is he particularly regretful of the act itself. Although there is some tragedy in his past, which accounts for his terrible detachment, his life up to then had not been especially unfortunate considering the times and the location. He is a curious figure, not differentiating at all between his act of killing and himself as a man, an ironic perspective considering the implied comparison between individual and state killings. His back-story, however, does slant the viewer towards him more so than to either his victim or his killer – the taxi driver, and the state – perhaps unfairly, as neither of these have revealed stories of their own.

Globisz (who I inappropriately keep referring to in my head as a sort of older, Polish version of Gael García Bernal) is something else entirely. His conflict with his profession makes him the most important character, in my opinion. When the verdict of the death penalty is handed down, he agonizes of what he could have done differently, whether an older, more experienced and prestigious lawyer could have gotten a lesser sentence.

As I said above, Kieślowski does not necessarily disseminate a particular view point, as seen in the ‘observer’ approach of the camera –the two murders, state and individual, are just placed next to each other for comparison. The best example is that the court case is not shown, and vitally so, because the judge sadly praises the lawyer for one of the most persuasive and eloquent anti-death-penalty speeches he had heard in years – this would have heavily biased the viewer, or so it is implied. Globisz’s character takes little comfort in hearing that he made no mistakes, as a lawyer or as a human. In the words of the judge, Globisz’s character is too delicate for this job. He stays with the drifter and watches his death and agonizes over it some more once the deed is done. He isn’t especially amicable to the drifter because he killed, he doesn’t condone the killing itself, but he treats the drifter simply like a man.

The death penalty has since been abolished in Poland, and now exists in far fewer countries than once, long ago – but it does still exist, and this film is a must-see for anyone with a passionate opinion on either side of the debate; not because it is likely to sway your opinion, but because it is juxtaposed so harshly with something we all ‘know’ is wrong. What does that leave it as?

Of course, if you aren’t convinced for my moral fangirling of the film, see it for the visuals, because biased as I am, the cinematography is undeniably beautiful as always. The light muted at the edges and the colours, perhaps not appropriate for the message, are strangely brilliant through a green filter, a constant, comforting reminder that the horror we see is not real. This combination creates a stark picture of incredible depth complimented by rich, bitter piano and orchestra, scored by Zbigniew Preisner, another favourite of my own and a frequent collaborator with Kieślowski.

Ok, I think I’ve verbally fellated Mr. Kieślowski enough for one day, but seriously, go see this film, it is a terrifying wonder.

IMDb link:
Krótki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film About Killing)
Where to buy: Amazon.com

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