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A Short Film About Killing
cast: Miroslaw Baka, Krzysztof Globisz, and Jan Tesarz

director: Krzysztof Kielowski

81 minutes (18) 1988
widescreen ratio 1.66:1
Artificial Eye DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 10/10
reviewed by Gary Couzens
A young man (Miroslaw Baka) beats a taxi driver (Jan Tesarz) to death, a quite unmotivated crime. Despite the testimony of an idealistic lawyer (Krzysztof Globisz), the young man is convicted and executed.
   By 1998, Krzysztof Kieslowski had made four features, of which two - Camera Buff and No End - had had respectable art house releases in the UK. (Artificial Eye will release these two, along with the previously unreleased The Scar and Blind Chance, on DVD before the end of 2003.) The previous year he had made the film cycle of Dekalog - ten films giving modern interpretations of each of the Ten Commandments - for Polish TV. However, most people outside Poland wouldn't see the whole series until a few years later. Dekalog is one of the greatest achievements in world cinema of the last two decades: the first indication of this was the premiere of A Short Film About Killing, one of two expanded versions of the original hour-long episodes, at the 1988 Cannes Festival. It won the Special Jury Prize. A Short Film About Love followed later that year. Then the entire Dekalog cycle was premiered at Venice in 1989. Kieslowski was now recognised as one of the finest film directors active, up until his untimely death from a heart attack in 1996. Viewers familiar with Dekalog may spot the appearance of the silent, watching young man (played by Artur Barcis) who appears in eight of the ten episodes, and a brief walk-on by Krystyna Janda and Alexander Bardini as the lead characters of Dekalog II.
   A Short Film About Killing is an expansion of the fifth Dekalog: Thou Shalt Not Kill. Like all the other nine films, it takes place on a Warsaw housing estate. The opening shots - a rat drowned in a puddle, a cat hanged - set the tone for what follows. Kieslowski used nine different cinematographers over the whole series and encouraged their input into each episode's look. Most of them went for low-key realism, but Slawomir Idziak's work for this episode is a notable exception. Idziak used a considerable number of filters to give the film a bilious hue, with the emphasis on greens and browns. This is even more so in the theatrical version, allowing for the greater contrast range of 35mm film to that of TV broadcasting. Kieslowski and his collaborators (including co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz and composer Zbigniew Preisner) are working at the top of their game here, with every contribution precise, economical and nothing more than is necessary.
   This film is an alternative version of Dekalog V, and differs in more ways than just its running time. The opening sequences are edited differently. The murder and execution scenes are shown at full length: some of the more explicit details were removed from Dekalog V, in consideration of its television audience. (Even so, the certificate 15 that Dekalog V bears is surprisingly lenient.) A Short Film About Killing certainly earns its adults-only rating. The murder scene is reckoned to be one of the longest ever filmed. It's filmed in unflinching detail and is not for the squeamish. However, just as importantly, the young man's execution by hanging is shown just as unflinchingly. Kieslowski asks us: these are both brutal killings, so why is one more acceptable than the other? He avoids the cop-outs that some anti-capital-punishment films have made: the young man is unquestionably guilty of his crime. Kieslowski even restrains himself from showing the lawyer making a passionate speech against the death penalty. The judge tells the lawyer that the speech was one of the most persuasive he had ever heard... but we don't hear it, or see anything of the trial. A Short Film About Killing certainly had an impact, causing a debate in Poland that led to the abandonment of capital punishment.
   The DVD has an anamorphic picture in the original 1.66:1 ratio. The Polish-language soundtrack is in Dolby digital 2.0 mono, with optional English subtitles. Extras: interviews with Slawomir Idziak, Kieslowski translator (and author of a book on his films) Annette Insdorf and filmmaker/advisor Agnieszka Holland, an examination of the film by Antonin Liehm, the early Kieslowski short film From A Night Porter's Point Of View, the trailer, and a Kieslowski filmography.
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