The plot couldn’t be simpler or its attack on capital punishment (and the act of killing in general) more direct – a senseless, violent, almost botched murder is followed by a cold, calculated, flawlessly performed execution (both killings shown in the most graphic detail imaginable), while the murderer’s idealistic young defence lawyer ends up as an unwilling accessory to the judicial murder of his client.
A Short Film About Killing (Polish: Krótki film o zabijaniu) is a 1988 film directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski and starring Mirosław Baka, Krzysztof Globisz, and Jan Tesarz. Written by Krzysztof Kieślowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, the film was expanded from Dekalog: Five of the Polish television series Dekalog.
Set in Warsaw, Poland, the film compares the senseless, violent murder of an individual to the cold, calculated execution by the state. A Short Film About Killing won both the Jury Prize and the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival, as well as the European Film Award for Best Film.
The film shows a very bleak Poland at the dying end of the Communist era. This is greatly enhanced by the strong use of colour filters. The print appears to have an effect similar to sepia tone or bleach bypass—although it is a colour picture, the photography combined with grey locations provides an effect similar to monochrome.
A Short Film About Killing was released in the same year that the death penalty was suspended in Poland. In 1988 the country carried out just a single execution, with 6 condemned prisoners being hanged in 1987. The portrayal of the execution method and procedure is mostly accurate, however in reality the date of executions were a surprise to the prisoner—the condemned man would simply be led into a room to discover it was the execution chamber. After the early years of Communist repression, executions were quite rare and invariably for murder; from 1969 a total of 183 men were hanged and no women.
In her article about the film, Janina Falkowska describes the brutality of the effects class societies have on the lower class, emphasizing on the “hopelessness” of the latter and false hope of the former.
Law and Politics
Falkowska also talks about the law as a personified entity—capable of being both just and unjust, responsible for saving and ruining lives. Its integrity is thus significant to the fate of the protagonist.
Death and Mutiny
Cine-literacy author Charles V. Eidsvik suggests there is a “presence of senseless malice in the film”, a notion much reiterated in the forms of death and mutiny.
A Short Film About Killing (1988)
Directed by: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Starring: Miroslaw Baka, Krzysztof Globisz, Jan Tesarz, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Barbara Dziekan, Aleksander Bednarz, Jerzy Zass, Zdzislaw Tobiasz, Krystyna Janda
Screenplay by: Krzysztof Kieslowski, Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Production Design by: Halina Dobrowolska
Cinematography by: Slawomir Idziak
Film Editing by: Ewa Smal
Costume Design by: Hanna Cwiklo, Malgorzata Obloza
Set Decoration by: Magdalena Dipont
Art Direction by: Halina Dobrowolska
Music by: Zbigniew Preisner
Distributed by: Film Polski
Release Date: March 11, 1988