These films are extended theatrical versions of, respectively, ‘Dekalog 5’ and ‘Dekalog 6’. Dekalog – ten one-hour television films loosely based on the ten commandments – was made in 1988, and with it Kieslowski’s work started to be seen and recognised outside his native Poland.
In A Short Film about Killing (the fifth commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill’) Kieslowski manages not only to produce his best film but also a stunning indictment of the death penalty. In Poland it became instrumental to the abolition of capital punishment.
It’s a very dark and grim film. Kieslowski and his cameraman Slawomir Idziak choose to use green filters, and obscure parts of the frame, to accentuate the atmosphere in which most people live.
We follow Jacek, a 20 year old marginal, on his wanders through a depressing Warsaw. He then takes a taxi and kills the driver in a seven minute long scene of slaughter. Jacek garrottes the poor man and finishes him by smashing his head with a rock.
Jacek is sentenced to die despite the best efforts of Piotr, a newly-practicing barrister uncompromisingly opposed to the death penalty.
It’s only as Jacek awaits execution that we discover more about him. By humanising Jacek, Kieslowski prepares us to watch the final part – the execution.
In five long minutes the director shows not only Jacek’s desperate will to live but most importantly the long and sinister process of the execution. The cold and precise bureaucratic routine is horrendous and enraging. Piotr can only watch and try to keep his temper as we, spectators, can only want to stop the rope being tightened around Jacek’s neck.
Kieslowski shows the inhumanity of the death penalty and its use by the state as vengeance for its failures to provide welfare to its people.
In A Short Film about Love (‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’), Kieslowski explores the themes of love, voyeurism and desire.
Tomek, a young post worker, is peeping at Magda, an older woman living in an apartment opposite his. At first it seems that Tomek is watching her for the sexual thrill, but night after night his interests are in Magda rather than her sexual encounters. He then makes phone calls and writes fake letters inviting Magda to his post office, before admitting his activities to her.
Magda is initially outraged, but time goes by and she meets Tomek again. They go out on a date. Magda decides to take the young and innocent Tomek to her flat to confront him with sex. Tomek is very nervous as his hands slowly go up Magda’s leg, the woman he’s been desiring for so long. But he comes in his pants. Magda laughs. He runs away to his flat and immediately cuts his wrists.
This is when the story is no longer seen through Tomek’s eyes but through Magda’s. She is riddled with guilt. While Tomek is in hospital, Magda tries everything to find out about his life. She starts looking at his window, waiting for him to come back and hoping Tomek can once again be as innocent as he was before they met. From being the object of voyeurism Magda becomes the voyeur, and from being the loved one turns into the lover.
By using Tomek’s and then Magda’s viewpoints, Kieslowki gives the viewer a better understanding of both characters’ development. Although it is suggested that they will have a common future, it is clear that Kieslowski is more interested in the ways Magda and Tomek try to liberate themselves and overcome the obstacles between them.
Both films are must sees, and both DVDs contain extras giving a better insight into Kieslowski’s life and work. It is worth mentioning as a coda that in Dekalog – Kieslowski’s masterpiece – ‘Dekalog 6’ has quite a different ending.
Women between revolution and counter-revolution
Animated film retells Anne Frank’s story
A pick of the highlights