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Bee’s Kieślowski Diary: A Short Film about Killing

As you may remember, last year I kept a diary of the Ingmar Bergman films I was watching. I have decided to keep a diary for the Krzysztof Kieślowski films I am trying to cover for Filmotomy’s celebration of his work. I will admit that I haven’t watched any of Kieślowski’s films prior to this event, and I feel a little embarrassed for admitting that fact to you all.

I don’t really have a good excuse, it’s just one of those things I have never got around to doing. I know that Robin is a major fan, and has very good taste in films, so I knew that I must try to seek out as many films by Krzysztof Kieślowski as I could.

The first film I decided to watch was Krótki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film about Killing). I was quite sure what drew me to this film, perhaps it’s subject matter just appealed to me and the topic of crime and punishment has always been an interest. There’s something bold about this film which leaves the viewer wondering whether there’s something slightly corrupt with the law system and how we treat criminals.

However, A Short Film about Killing isn’t a preachy film which attempts to get across a clumsy message about not judging a book by its cover. This is a complex, thoughtful film which aims to provoke conversation.

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A Short Film about Killing was expanded from Dekalog: Five of the Polish television series Dekalog, which is an epic long TV series that focuses on the ten commandments. In total there were ten episodes of Dekalog that Kieślowski made. However, only two of them were extended by Kieslowski into features – A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love.

These films dealt with the commandments “thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not commit adultery”. On paper, watching a film focusing around the commandments, hardly seems like riverting stuff. However, Kieślowski manages to grab our attention and draw us into this fascinating tale of humanity and morality.

This isn’t an easy film to watch, the seeting and the narrative is bleak, but it feels ever so real. The film follows a young man Jacek Łazar (Mirosław Baka) a 21-year-old drifter who recently arrived in Warsaw from the countryside, and is now aimlessly wandering the streets of the city. He seems to take pleasure in causing other people’s misfortunes.

For example, we see him throwing a stranger into the urinals of a public toilet after being approached sexually. In another scene he drops a large stone from a bridge onto a passing vehicle causing an accident; and he scares away pigeons to spite an old lady who was feeding them.

The film also follows another man, a taxicab driver called Waldemar Rekowski (Jan Tesarz). Waldemar is a middle-aged man who enjoys his profession and the freedom it affords. When we first see him, he is taking great care in washing his car, which reveals that he holds material items above everything else.

Waldemar is a man whose main is turning in a profit, which leads him to ignore some potential fares in favor of others. An overweight and crude man, Waldemar also enjoys staring at young women, despite being a married man.

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The third and final man of focus is Piotr Balicki (Krzysztof Globisz), a young and idealistic lawyer who has just passed the bar exam. He takes his wife to a café where they discuss their future. Unbeknownst to Piotr, at the same café, Jacek is sitting at a table handling a length of rope and a stick which he keeps in his bag. Why does this young man have these items, and why does he seem to hate the world that surrounds him? Jacek decides to get into Waldemar’s taxicab, where he asks to be driven to a remote part of the city near the countryside and insists the driver take a longer and more remote route.

Of course, if you haven’t guessed already; there is a killing that takes place in this film. In fact, there are two killings that occur. Both deaths are dreadful; Kieslowski is clearly trying to tell us that both are morally repugnant. One is battered with a stone and dies slowly, while the long-winded bureaucratic operation of the hanging is just as brutal and traumatic to watch.

The first death is shot in a way which is not glamorized or romanticized in a way that Hollywood often does. The murder is long, and it’s disturbing. The shot of the false teeth falling out and his shoe coming off, are just as effective as the shot of his bloody face gazing up at his attacker. The film is shot in muted colours and in a mostly urban setting; this is a bleak world where death happens everywhere, just a stone’s throwaway.

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We see that crime is a complex thing, which isn’t something that can be explained. Murderers aren’t born evil, but occur from a result of numerous situations and circumstances. This is a film which has had a lasting impact me, and left me deeply affected. We should all admire the impact of this film. Kieslowski’s graphic depiction of the effects of violence so deeply affected the Polish authorities that they declared a five-year moratorium on capital punishment.

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