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.
Michael Brooke <[email protected]>
User Reviews: A Short Film About Killing is Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s feature length adaptation of the hour long piece belonging to the Dekalog series, a collection of modern representations of the ten commandments set in a socio-realist Warsaw in Poland. This film, ‘thou shalt not kill’, is a film essentially about two separate ‘murders’. Jacek, a young adolescent, kills an innocent taxi driver in a seemingly motiveless crime for which he is tried and executed at the hands of the state.
Inherently simple in terms of its plot, A Short Film About Killing is a complex indictment on all forms of killing, whether in the form of an act of brutal murder, or an organised and legal murder wrapped in the arms of the law. Kieslowski, clearly inspired by the human-issues documentary movement in the 70’s, has presented the film as a bleak and depressing reality. Filmed on location, the run down post-cold war communist Warsaw in Poland provides a cold and melancholic back drop to the film. The documentary feel of the film is intensified by the way it is filmed, with no tracking or dolly shots, just an observing camera placing us, the undiscerning viewer right in the thick of it. This can make the affect of the scenes in the film somewhat sickening at times, however it was clearly intended by Kieslowski, who wanted to show how disgusting murder is. The subtle green filter used on the camera, gives the celluloid a dreary appearance, pertaining to the bleak mood of the film. This minimalistic photography allows us to focus on the detailed reactions and actions of the characters in the film, which come to a horrifying climax during both murder sequences, probably two of the most superbly executed murder sequences ever committed to film.
Kieslowski doesn’t try to explain Jacek’s murder because he clearly wants to avoid condoning it with motives that might make the audience feel sorry for him. Instead, Kieslowski simply presents Jacek’s execution as a counterpoint to the murder of the taxi driver, thus forcing us to compare the the horrific nature of both acts, revealing the crux of the film. The first murder in the back of the taxi is with out a doubt horrific, but the execution is just as unforgivable, illustrating that although legal, capital punishment is devoid of humanity and veracity, in all the same ways as cold blooded murder itself. It is a brilliant illustration of the failings and contradictory nature of capital punishment, which replicate the actions of a murderer instead of upholding justice.
It was clearly the intention of Kieslowski to underline this in his film. He believed, like many others, that capital punishment has no place in the 20th century. I wouldn’t be surprised if many who start this film as pro capital punishment, end up strongly against it by the time the credits roll. If this sounds too presumptuous, then consider the fact that A Short Film About Killing led to the suspension of capital Punishment in Poland. This surely proves the power of the film.