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A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING (Krótki film o zabijaniu) (director/writer: Krzysztof Kieslowski; screenwriter: Krzysztof Piesiewicz; cinematographer: Slawomir Idziak; editor: Ewa Smal; music: Zbigniew Preisner; cast: Miroslaw Baka (Jacek Lazar, punk killer), Krzysztof Globisz (Balicki, lawyer), Jan Tesarz (Waldemar Rekowski, taxi driver); Runtime: 81; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ryszard Chutkowski ; Kino Video; 1988-Poland-in Polish with English subtitles)
“Not for the squeamish.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Lifted from the famed European Dekalog TV miniseries (a reinterpretation of the Ten Commandments). The title reveals all in this murder drama that’s not for the squeamish: it shows both a long drawn-out bloody murder (one of the longest in cinema history, even longer than the one in Hitchcock’s Torn Curtain) and the legal hanging of the guilty party. It’s written and directed by one of the world’s great filmmakers, Poland’s late Krzysztof Kieslowski (“The Double Life of Veronique”/”Blue”/”Blind Chance”). Krzysztof Piesiewicz is the cowriter. The straightforward political parable examines the morality of a decaying society with draconian capital punishment statues and shines its light on its ugliness. The film aroused public opinion so much in Poland, that it led to the repeal of capital punishment.

The not quite 21-year-old aimless loner drifter, Jacek Lazar (Miroslaw Baka), wanders in the afternoon the downtown Warsaw streets in search of a good movie, to chase some pigeons, to see himself in a shop window, to get a cup of coffee and a cream puff, and he winds up taking a taxi ride from the middle-aged surly, misanthropic Rekowski (Jan Tesarz). On a side road that’s desolate the pimply faced blond youth chokes the cabbie with a rope and when he’s still not dead, the amateur killer drags his limp body to a marsh and bludgeons him to death with a heavy stone. He’s arrested and sentenced to death for the senseless crime. His sensitive, novice lawyer, Balicki (Krzysztof Globisz), witnesses the hanging. We saw the man of privilege earlier acting optimistic as he passed the oral part of his lawyer bar exam, but now is crestfallen as he realizes he’s impotent before the law as are the judges and prosecutors.

The three strangers from three different worlds (the upper middle-class, the working class and the low-class) in a decrepit Warsaw, share a parallel destiny, as by chance they meet because of the murder. This bleak but idealistic film brings these diverse parties together to not only condemn all killings but point out how one’s life is determined so much by chance.

This anti-capital punishment film differs from others because it doesn’t excuse the vicious crime or look for a motive or try to stack the deck one way or the other, it just shows in an unsentimental way that the downfall of civilization is linked to the two killings. It presents a shocking barbaric spectacle by showing the killings in disturbing close-ups, in graphic detail and that the murder of the cabbie and the hanging of the killer are both brutal murders. It’s made by a master director, who artistically and in a simplistic way gets across his arguments against capital punishment better than any other done in a film.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”