Krotki film o zabijaniu / A Short Film About Killing (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1988)Adam & Matty's takes (both films)
One would think that a film with such a title and conceit would be pretty easy to figure out: it's about killing, duh, and more specifically about how "one shoult not do that", according to the Catholic church anyway - and other religions as well, but this is Poland. And yes, it clearly is about that, but it certainly isn't didactic. Or if it is, Kieslowski's intentions flew right over my head. Is this a plea against the death penalty ? Maybe... that seems to be Adam & Matty's takes on it to some extent, but it doesn't seem that obvious to me. The death penalty might be Kieslowski's primary concern here, as it poses the question to how the judicial system might allow the state to breach the fifth commandment while strictly forbidding individuals from doing so... but I don't get the idea that Kieslowski has a definite answer in mind here.
There is the idea that the death penalty is used as a dissuasion mechanism: this is what the judge (or maybe prosecutor ?) tells the idealistic lawyer: God issues commandments and sorts it out in the afterlife, but man breaks his commandment in order to enforce it. Which basically means the final judgment won't go very well gor anyone, and that humanity simply isn't good enough to live up to biblical expectations. This all sounds very Catholic, which is why I'm unsure that the death penalty is the subject of thefilm in a "should we abolish the death penalty" way - it seems more like a reflection on sin to me: envy in this case. But this isn't from "The Heptalogue" (as in the Seven Deadly Sins), so I'm probably wrong there... though this also tracks with the next film being about luxury. I'd probably need to watch the Dekalogue to explore this further... another time.
There is a mythical quality to the film - from the nature of its story which directly references the tale of Cain and Abel to the style: the yellowish tint Kieslowski uses makes his world look drab and toxic, but also vivid and striking. That sense of the mythic is somehow reinforced by his use of multiple techniques associated with silent film: the aformentioned yellow tint, at least one irish shot (+ generally blacking out parts of the screen, I lack the technical vocabulary there) and, well, the lack of dialogue early on in the film. I'm not sure what that translates to "mythical" to me, but it does. Maybe it would be more accurate that it feels biblical, which is obviously appropriate to the story. In any case, it showcases Kieslowski's ability to use the form in very different ways to serve his material. Also, it looks great.7/10Krotki film o milosci / A Short Film About Love (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1988)
I watched this whole thing assuming the commandment in question here was "Thou shalt not coveit thy neighbor's wife", but it turns out it's "Thou shalt not commit adultery". Hm. Well, I guess both fit the film about as much - the absence of a neighbour or a wife to cheat on makes it a loose fit in any case... which brings me back to the idea that this feels more like a film about sin than one about a commandment to me. Both characters are sinners - of course we would view the woman much more favorably than the man here, but - given the Catholic frame around this whole thing - a woman sleeping around is just as much a condemnable sin as, you know, lying, hiding letters and all the shady things our protagonist does throughout this film. This should be a bit of a tough pill to swallow: isn't Kieslowski being too soft on our peeping Tom(ek) by having Magda* almost instantly brush over his manipulations and embrace him ? But that scene just works, through a combination of Kieslowski's empathetic camera and Grazina Szapolowska's effortlessly communicative performance. At this point, we really know very little about this woman, having only seen her through the peeper's eyes - and yet we understand her whole character completely. It helps that they are defined by the same basic motivation: a desire - a need even - to connect. One might describe it as lust, going back to my "is this about commandments or about sins" question from Killing
Though this is does not have the previous film/episode's almost apocalyptic aesthetic, they do both use chiaroscuro**, presumably to underline the idea of good and evil, of lines one should not cross because, well, God said not to. It's again unclear to me what exactly Kieslowski thinks in all this - which I would very much count in the film's favor by the way - is he showing us two hopelessly lost souls who have succumbed to their desires and are so obsessively devoted to finding love that they cannot seem to do much else ? Well, I think he is, but is that good, bad, or anything in between ? Hard to say, and are those visual contrasts supposed to be undermined or reinforced by the narrative ? There's something mysterious here that I quite enjoy when it's executed this masterfully.8/10
*the reveal that her full name was Maria Magdalena had me cackling. So neat it would feel cheap in a lesser film.
**Wikipedia tells me this is the appropriate translation for clair-obscur
, though I'm somewhat doubtful it's much in use anymore. But it does sound cooler than "stark contrasts".