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4.3 out of 5 stars
4.3 out of 5 stars
A Short Film About Killing [1988] [DVD]
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on 1 May 2017
bardzo dobrze
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#1 HALL OF FAMEon 29 October 2003
A Short Film About Killing, along with A Short Film About Love (also 1988) are extended takes on Krzystof Kieslowski's brilliant TV series The Dekalog- hour long films based around the principles of the Ten Commandments. These films blew my mind when I first saw them on BBC2- perfect hour long works themselves; both Killing & Love extended on these works and stand as two of Kieslowksi's finest films alongside later celebrated works such as The Double Life of Veronique & Three Colours. Let's note also, these works were set on a housing estate in Warsaw & were low budget- aspirational filmmakers should definitely watch all of these films...
A Short Film About Killing is one of Kieslowski's greatest films, an extremely disturbing work & one that was political by default (Kieslowski tending to pursue an existential tract from No End, 1984, onwards). This film famously lead to the suspension of Capital Punishment in Poland for several years- & is a far stronger film dealing with this issue than later American films such as Dead Man Walking, Last Dance & Monster's Ball. Kieslowski & the ex-lawyer co-writer Krzystof Piesiewicz offer up a philosophical film that advances on the revered works of Ingmar Bergman...& you can't help but think of European literature such as Crime & Punishment, The Outsider/The Stranger & Woyzeck. I also thought of Richard Wright's novel Native Son...
The story is simple- a youth (Miroslaw Baka) wonders around a bit, them murders a taxi driver; he is then put through the legal process & the State murders him. That's it...As with Kieslowski's other works, there are moments of beauty- here found in some kids, a drink and a window. We aren't given the rationale for the killing, one of the longest murder scenes in cinematic history (involving strangling & a slab), or any excuses, or any doubt about the youth's guilt. An idealisitic lawyer defends him, but can do nothing to halt the sentence, or the concluding execution. The execution scene is one of the most hardcore experiences, one of immense bleak power, I have seen in cinema- & was famously ripped off by Lars Von Trier for the lightweight Dancer in the Dark (2000). Detail such as a yellow-tray designed to collect the human waste that is emitted when the platform collapses is extremely disturbing...the scene that I found most powerful was the youth's futile tears as he is put into position...
A Short Film About Killing is a potent piece of cinema, one of Kieslowski's greatest films & proof that Kieslowski was one of the great European auteurs. This easily ranks alongside Blind Chance, No End, & the later works made in France, Poland & Switzerland. Kieslowski states the rationale behind this film in Danusia Stok's Kieslowski on Kieslowski (Faber), which summarises for me why this film is important: "This is a story about a young boy who kills a taxi-driver and then the law kills the boy. In fact there's not much more you can say about the film's narrative since we don't know the reason why the boy kills the taxi driver. We know the legal reasons why society kills the boy. But we don't know the human reasons, nor will we ever know them...I think I wanted to make this film precisely because all this takes place in my name, because I'm a member of society, I'm a citizen of this country, Poland, and if someone, in this country, puts a noose around someone else's neck and kicks the stool from under his feet, he's doing it in my name. And I don't wish it. I don't want them to do it. I think this film isn't really about capital punishment but about killing in general. It's wrong no matter why you kill, no matter whom you kill and no matter who does the killing. I think that's the second reason why I wanted to make this film. The third reason is that I wanted to describe the Polish world, a world which is quite terrible & dull, a world where people don't have any pity for each other, a world where they hate each other, a world where they not only don't help but get in each other's way. A world where they repel each other. A world of people living alone..."
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on 1 March 2007
This is an extremely powerful film, made by a director who, in a very different way from Godard, sets out to demonstrate what cinema can do. The portrayal of violence is disturbing and unfamiliar because it is honest - as opposed to gratuitous or stylised - an approach which grounds the act of killing in the real world, hence the name.

Conversely, after watching this film the portrayal of killing in many other films becomes repulsive in its dishonesty, in its justification or condemnation of killing via a dualistic 'good/bad' morality. Kieslowski makes little attempt to justify or condemn either killing, but describes each in a detailed, almost matter-of-fact way. The viewer is left to apply her own morality to what she sees.
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on 30 April 2012
After watching this film by the great Krzysztof Kieslowski, I bought all of his films without reading any reviews and I was not disappointed. Krzysztof Kieslowski is a master. All his films are thought-provoking and so much relevant to our life. They have that human touch that make them timeless classics. Poland must be proud she gave birth to such a great soul. Love from Oman : )
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on 22 March 2012
One of Kieslowski's best films examines the relationship between murder and those who commit it. A lot of people consider this a work of pro-life propaganda which, in my opinion, is glib and unfair to the film. I have always been on the fence with regard to capital punishment, and this film did not change that. It does, however, force the viewer to consider the complexities and undercurrents of both murders in the film.

The man who commits the first murder seems vacuous and disconnected, until we get to know him later in the film. Do we sympathise? Most people would say yes. Do we forgive him? That's up to you. The murder is extremely hard to sit through, not least because of its length. The second murder is quick and comparably merciful, but the anticipation and dread leading up to it are almost as insufferable.

I don't believe that this film will convert anyone's way of thinking about its issues, only broaden it. I do believe that this is a work of true philosophy, even above being a work of art. Its purpose is therefore not to provide answers, but to ask questions. The fact that it does this in such a dispassionate and objective way makes it all the more powerful and, ultimately, all the more disturbing.
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on 29 June 2005
This has got to be one of the most depressing films ever made - but also one of the best. Right up there with the classic realist cinema of Ken Loach, this fascinating and troubling portrait of crime and punishment in communist-run Poland in the 1980s is rightly regarded as one of the highest achievements of World Cinema. A disaffected youth senselessly murders a taxi driver and is put on trial by the state. He is defended by an idealistic lawyer opposed to capital punishment but who is unable to save him from execution.
This is a film about two murders (both of which are distressing and violent) but it is also a film about poverty and decay. the city of Warsaw (where the film is set) is portrayed as a repellent, odious place. This is further enhanced by the greenish filter through which the film is shot. The ugly socialist-realist apartment blocks, solitary chimneys spewing out smoke - they all paint a portrait of the ugliness and hopelessness of the communist era and make you understand how someone would be driven to murder living in such depressing surroundings.
Everyone should see this film.
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VINE VOICEon 17 November 2016
A "worthy" film in the sense of having a message to convey about how judicial killings are as repugnant as unlawful killings. In Polish with subtitles, set in a grim, ugly urban landscape, the film depicts the brutal and pointless murder of a taxi driver by a young man whose personality is no more than a blank page. The depiction of the murder itself might have seemed especially shocking at the time of the film's release, but violent explicit murders are now the stuff of mainstream entertainment in Game of Thrones or The Sopranos and I don't think a viewer would lose any sleep. The judicial process seemed implausible to me - the young criminal lawyer tortured with guilt that he didn't manage to save his client from the death penalty (lawyers don't fuss too much about the outcome of their cases unless the client is particularly deserving, which this one wasn't) and the violent struggle between several prison officers and the defendant as they dragged him to the noose (if you read Pierrepoint's account of his life and work, you see that actually the defendant is usually calm and resigned, in real life). I'm sure one should allow for artistic licence, but for me the film wasn't sufficiently gripping or engaging and I could only see it as a quaint period piece, an example of the director's individual style of film-making for those who are film buffs.
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on 15 April 2011
A short film about killing is now one of the classics of European cinema. Kieslowski was a giant and this is a truly remarkable film, it shows many of the characteristics that came to be indicative of Kieslowski's work. This film marks part of the transition from his earlier work (Dekalog) to the later, more magic and maybe more beautiful, later works such as the three colours trilogy and the double life of Veronic. But a short film about Killing and a short love. (Both of which grow out of the Television series Dekalog) have a beauty of their own and an unmistakable power.
It is now more than fifteen years since I first saw this film and it has stayed with me. Given its name it problem doesn't need stating but in places it is a very hard watch. (indeed so powerful and difficult that it is credited at least in part with changing the Polish law on the death penalty.
I really recommend this film. Epically if you are interested in European cinema, but even if you are not it is still a great film and more than worth the time and money.
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This film is a brutal portrayal of a brutal subject, asking fundamental questions. A dejected, impoverished Polish youth commits a drawn-out, shocking murder for no real reason. His young liberal lawyer trys to defend and befriend him, with little success on either count, with a demoralising effect on his life. Moreover, to his horror, he also has to attend his client's execution by hanging, which is no less brutal or shocking than the preceding murder. In fact, the indignities of the procedure and the petty officialdom, will make any pro-capital punishment supporter reconsider. All this is incredibly well filmed (in stark, grim B&W) by the master of modern film direction and the general hopelessness is portrayed with good, believable acting. More active and provoking than some of the more contemplative works in Kieslwski's oevre and similar art-house genre pieces. To think, it started out as a Polish TV piece - miles away from your average British TV film spin-off!
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on 4 April 2005
This is easily one of the finest films ever made - a searing social indictment against murder in all it's forms and the justification of a crime on the basis of human emotion, without cloying sentimentality or the reliance of stereotypes, which clearly demonstrates Kieslowski's firm understanding of cinematic storytelling concerns, juxtaposed with certain elements germane to the human-issues documentary movement that was popular in Europe in the mid-1970's. This film would be an important step within Kieslowski's cinematic works, in so much as it would represent the beginning of phase-two of the filmmaker's fascinating career (as well as giving him a much needed degree of international success that would allow him to progress on to those other life changing works, The Double Life of Veronique and The Three Colours Trilogy). This film can be seen as a stepping-stone to those projects, as the director effortlessly moves away from the more rigid socio-political aspects of his early documentaries and feature films (like Camera Buff), and more towards a cinema free of those realist limitations or clichés, with ideas of chance and emotion really taking precedence over the narrative to offer us more than the usual dogmatic (European) concerns.
Though the title is simplified to the point of irony, the film has a lot things going on, with Kieslowski on the one hand presenting a moral and humane message (and a visual essay on the ironies of murder and state-funded execution), as well as the depiction of the central character who, as a product of modern alienation is never allowed to stray into the realms of caricature, making the performance of lead actor Miroslaw Baka one that resonates alongside other cinematic depictions of similarly tortured outsiders from films like Taxi Driver and Naked. Added to this, we have the world created by Kieslowski and his technicians that is neither reality nor fantasy, but rather, some in-between living hell, with a continually desolate atmosphere of damp melancholy that few films can equate. Right from the opening scene, the filmmaker paints a portrait of bleaker than bleak squalor, creating a place where children hang cats from drainpipes for kicks, whilst wandering misfits drop rocks from a motorway over-pass, all the while watched by soulless, faceless vessels that peer from the windows of suffocating, claustrophobia-inducing tower-blocks.
The central image of the peripatetic loner drifting from town to town with the weight of the world on his shoulders is a universal one, prevalent in both literature and cinema history, though it is important to note that Kieslowski never allows his character to plumb the depths of melodrama in the way similar anti-heroes might, by denying us of a first-act back-story. This makes the character all the more enigmatic... a broken-down loser burning with inner torment that we cannot understand, until it is too late. The real crux of the story (and the moral centre to both the film and the character) doesn't become clear until mid-way into the second act, in which the director allows for moments of empathy and compassion, whilst simultaneously drawing parallels between the ideas of murder in the name of hate and murder in the name of the law. The two murder scenes that close act one and two respectively are, without question, the most devastating moments of cinema that I can ever recall seeing. The atmosphere that is created by the director and that matter-of-fact frankness in how the action is captured (with honesty and conviction) permeates through the nuances of the actors every expression and allows for the transformation from mere performer, through to the fragmented reflection of a real human being. This makes the prolonging of the violence and the character's painful desperation all the more heartbreaking, because Kieslowski understands his characters, and more importantly, understands his actors. The mood and feeling of an expressionistic viewpoint is further heightened throughout by cinematographer Slavomir Idziak's use of colour, composition and strange approach to focus, as he employs an "optical smudge" over one half of the screen in order to draw the audience's attention to what the filmmaker considers integral to the story at that particular point in time.
The world of A Short Film About Killing is as murky and as troubled as the mind of our protagonist, with a great reliance on the colours, yellow, brown and green. This depressing pallet almost chokes us in the final scenes, when only a few sources of urine-tinged light are allowed to break through the darkness onto the tear-drenched face of the young killer during that amazing dialogue between the murderer and his solicitor towards the film's unflinching climax. However, beneath the drab locations and austere realisation of the text, A Short Film About Killing has a strong emotional undercurrent throughout, though for much of the film it is kept secondary to the central message so as to avoid the kind of clichés rampant in this kind of film. As with the work of other directors from the same social-realist background, Kieslowski doesn't offer the viewer any easy answers - we don't get the last minute pardon, or the spoken word narration heaping forgiveness on the world, or a crescendo of violins to further the melodrama - this filmmaker presents us with a simple story and allows us to come to our own conclusions.
Kieslowski, alongside Bergman, Tarkovsky and a further select few, is one of the all time genius filmmakers, and this is his masterpiece. A shocking work that forces the audience to ask some deep questions without the promise of easy answers. As a result of this, it isn't enough to simply declare it one of the greatest films of the 1980's, as this is a rare film that demonstrates the true potential of cinema as an artistic medium... a film that everyone should experience, at least once.
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