A Short Film About Killing

A Short Film About Killing

A dead rat lies in a murky puddle of filth. The corpse of a cat hangs from a noose in the street, as a group of children run away giggling mischievously.

These are the first two images you'll witness when watching Krzysztof Kieslowski's (the THREE COLOURS trilogy) breathtakingly disturbing A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING.

The film's first third introduces us to three seemingly disparate characters:

The first is a middle-aged taxi driver. We first meet the man - Waldemar - as he prepares for his next shift by washing his car. A young couple approach him seeking a lift but he advises them he is not yet ready. Bad move - fate is about to be cruel to him �

Jacek is a disaffected youth wandering the streets of Warsaw aimlessly, clearly angry at something. After being turned away from a closed cinema, we witness him impassively observing both beautiful (a young girl having her portrait drawn) and the ugly (a severe beating down a back-alley) with equal amounts of complacency. The first tell-tale sign of just how unhinged Jacek is comes when he casually rolls a rock off a motorway bridge, then skulks away bored as we hear a windscreen smashing and the proceeding car crash occur.

Finally, we meet Piotr - a fresh-faced, idealistic young lawyer new to his job. A fateful meeting between Jacek and poe-faced Waldemar results in a callous, prolonged murder scene that ultimately sees the taxi driver dead, and the young waster in court facing the possibility of execution by hanging. Enter Piotr, keen to take the state on with his first case - attempting to earn the tragically young Jacek a reprieve from death row.

A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING is a demonstration of consummate film-making at work. Told in a slow-burning, factual manner - yet beautifully photographed (even when deliberately painting Warsaw as an ugly and foreboding place to traverse) - the film impresses first as a cinematic triumph, before leaving you with an emotional sucker punch that reaffirms the fact that there is more to this story than technical brilliance: it has a brain, a heart and a soul.

It's also scary, funny, moving and heart-breaking in all the right places. Not to mention fucking brutal at times. The murder of the taxi driver leaves nothing to the imagination, and is filmed with such casual realism that Kieslowski can rest in his grave sure that he's delivered one of the most harrowing sequences in world cinema.

As for the final five minutes of the film � well, just watch the thing and make your own mind up, as Kieslowski forces us to feel sympathy towards Jacek and question the mere notion of capital punishment. Yes, it's all very Kafka-esque, for sure � but told in such an unabashed brutal manner that this works on both a cerebral and visceral level.

Performances, direction, photography (especially the lead into the fatal taxi journey), script � everything combines to knock it's viewer for six. There are few films centred around such dark themes, that are capable of presenting them so intelligently and memorably.

Artificial Eye has made an effort with this disc. Bless them - it pays off.

The film is presented in 1.85:1 and has been anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 TV sets. Picture quality is sharp and clear. It looks great - complimenting cameraman's Slawomir Idziak's stunning compositions perfectly.

Audio is Polish stereo, with removable English subtitles.

A highly watchable (though possibly spoiler-ridden) animated menu allows access to the film via 12 chapters (it's 81 minutes long) and a plethora of great extras:

A video introduction to the film by Kieslowski biographer Annette Insdorf lasts for 5 minutes and offers a good insight into the film's origins. Originally shot as part of the director's DEKALOG series (10 hour long films based on the Ten Commandments, made for Polish TV), this episode was extended to feature length for theatrical release - and went on to win numerous awards around the world.

There's a short film by Kieslowski from 1979 - A NIGHT PORTER'S POINT OF VIEW. A mock documentary of sorts, with lots of the director's pithy black humour to speak of.

A two minute trailer for the main feature is presented anamorphically. It offers differing angles of the two key scenes from the film - which is quite interesting.

Idziak is interviewed. This is a great interview, with Idziak revealing he actually came up with the idea of the strong green filters used in the movie (to brilliant visual effect) in an attempt to get out of working on the film!! It's nice to see Idziak speaking in depth about the attention he gave to this film's visual style. He is a key player in it's overall success - it has one of the most appropriately bleak (yet polished) looks in memory. Ultimately, Idziak comes across as an expert at his craft - but cynical about the mechanism of the film industry at large. (13 minutes)

Examination of the film by the author Antonin Liehm: a video appraisal. At 5 minutes in length, this offers insight into the moral arguments raised by Keislowki's film, from a fellow Pole's point of view. Interspersed with scenes from the film.

An interview with film-maker Agnieska Holland. (9 minutes). Speaking of her appreciation for the director, and the metaphysical messages brought forward in the film �

All of the above are in polish (apart from Insdorf's spiel - in French), with easily readable removable English subtitles.

Finally, there's a 5 page filmography showcasing Kieslowski's impressive track record.

Visually arresting, emotionally involving and uncompromisingly bleak - A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING stands alongside IRREVERSIBLE as one of THE most important contempary films to seriously confront the attitudes towards violence in today's world. A brilliant achievement.

Artificial Eye's release has done the film justice - presentation wise (which was always a worry: the look of this film is integral to it's feel), and in terms of extras that were wholly unexpected but greatly appreciated.

Some will hate it's downbeat tone and overall lack of glamour or excitement - others will recognise the huge feat in making a film about violence (as opposed to simply a violent film) for adults. For the latter crowd, I wholeheartedly recommend this disc!!

Review by Stu Willis

Released by Artificial Eye
Region 2 PAL
Rated 18
Extras :
Interview with director of photography Slawomir Idziak. Interview with Kieslowski collaborator Annette Insdorff. Interview with filmmaker Agnieska Holland. Examination of the film by Antonin Liehm. 'A Night Porter's Point of View' - short film by Kieslowski. Kieslowski filmography