Monday, April 24, 2006

A Short Film About Love (1988)

The voyeurism inherent in the cinematic experience never seemed as human as it does in this, another great film from the late Krzysztof Kieslowski. In telling the tale of an introverted young man who spies on his attractive neighbor, it presents voyerism as a form of idealism -- the young man falls in love with this woman from watching her, never comprehending the complex foibles of actual human relations. He's a remote young man (he asks his mother why people cry), and this sense of isolation behind a lens is something that Kieslowski has explored to great effect prior to this; Camera Buff in particular expresses said theme about as well as it can be expressed. The reasons for treasuring this, then, are twofold. Firstly, this sees Kieslowski having formal fun with the idea of watching vs. watched -- there's an early shot with the young man behind a postal window speaking with the woman he covets, and it's framed so that the reflection of the woman overlays the face of the young man; the looker and the lookee occupy the same space, and voyeurism gets folded in upon itself. This presages the later shattering of the taboo, after the woman finds out she's being watched and starts watching right back. The second and more affecting reason this works (indeed, why it's a masterpiece, aside from the exacting formal perfection of it all) is Kieslowski's extraordinary understanding of what can be lost when idealism runs up against cynicism and cruelty. After the woman finds out she's being watched, the story develops in an unexpected way -- rather than being repulsed, she tries to engage with the young man and, in her cynical way, teach him something about love. The young man, however, doesn't take well to the lesson. The film, then, becomes a rumination on fantasy vs. reality and why we sometimes need the former. The transcendent ending crystalizes this in a rush of sadness and regret. (I actually prefer this ending to the one that Kieslowski used back when this was an episode of The Decalogue -- as strong as it is, the original ending felt a tad too moralistic.) All in all, this is one hell of a movie. It's not quite A Short Film About Killing, but it's almost there. (I can't think about this film, though, without also thinking of the Modest Mouse song "Paper Thin Walls.")

Grade: A


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