Sunday, January 29, 2006

A Short Film About Killing (1988)

This film sees Krzysztof Kieslowski expanding one of the better episodes of The Decalogue into feature length, and I don't know if it's just the larger canvas or the higher production values, but what was solid and thought-provoking at one hour becomes a devastating masterpiece at eighty-five. Clearly, the fact that it looks like a movie now and not a television show helps, but that doesn't quite cover it. Where the television version looked squalid, Kieslowski and his cinematographer have re-envisioned this work for the big screen so that Warsaw looks like the kind of hellish place where senseless acts of violence happen every day -- it is, in essence, a dead city rendered in sepia and shadows. And so ugly things do happen, including a disturbing midfilm sequence which means to show exactly how resilient against dying the human body is. Contrast, though, that brutish murder with the sterile closing execution -- killing isn't easy for an individual, but for an institution it's no more difficult than raising taxes. The lawyer who becomes the focus of the film's second half becomes burdened with the weight of moral responsibility, as does the increasingly-sympathetic killer (note the timing of his story about the tractor accident -- it's obvious that he still feels some semblance of moral failure over it, and whether or not it informs his actions in the film, it demonstrates that he still retains an essence of humanity); the state has no such compunctions. This, then, becomes the thrust of Kieslowski's argument: If we are to believe that killing is wrong, then should it not be wrong in all cases, capital punishment included? At his interview, the young lawyer says, "Since Cain, no punishment has been capable of improving the world." Kieslowski, on all evidence, agrees.

Grade: A


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