Polish Cinema: A Short Film About Killing (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1988, Poland)

The film which launched Krzysztof Kieslowski on the international stage, A Short Film About Killing is certainly his bleakest film and one of the bleakest portrayals of Poland in cinema. From the opening shots of the film, which show a dead rat in a puddle and a hanging dead cat, the film presents a relentlessly ugly vision of life in Poland’s capital. Kieslowski collaborates with cinematographer Slawomir Idziak to create an alienating world, washed out and tinged with a sickly green hue. Even one of Warsaw’s most picturesque areas - the historic Old Town - is turned depressing under Kieslowski’s lens in this film.
A Short Film About Killing is an extended version of the fifth episode of Kieslowski’s Decalogue series. It was released theatrically in Poland, and prompted a debate about capital punishment in the country - perhaps leading to the end of this practice in Poland. Yet Kieslowski is not overtly political or polemical in the film. It is of course difficult not to juxtapose the drifter Jacek’s callous murder of the taxi driver, with the Polish state’s execution of Jacek. The two murders are foregrounded in the film, given brutally extensive time and attention by Kieslowski. Kieslowski also noticeably leaves out Jacek’s apprehension, arrest, and courtroom trial from the events of the plot. 
A Short Film About Killing also demonstrates Kieslowski’s recurring fascination with fate, as the paths of Jacek, the taxi driver, and Jacek’s lawyer Piotr interweave in the first segment of the film. Jacek’s murder of the taxi driver - perhaps the most memorable murder ever committed on film - is noteworthy in its sense of fatalism. While we see a car pass by during the murder, as well as a train, neither intervenes. This coupled with the apparent absence of any meaningful motive creates the sense of a cold hand of fate.



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