Dir.: Krzysztof Kieslowski; Cast: Miroslaw Baka, Krzyztof Globisz | Poland 1988, 84 min.
So powerful was the effect of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s graphic description of violence in eighties Warsaw that the Polish authorities declared a five-year moratorium on capital punishment. Forty minutes go by before the first murder: a nearly botched attempt, mercilessly shown in all the gory detail. The second killing is just the opposite: a professional job, executed by the hangman in cold blood, but much more gruesome than the first one. A rope is used in both cases, but there all similarities end.
Jacek (Baka) is a young man lost in the high-rise concrete that is Warsaw in 1988. The camera encircles him like an animal in a laboratory. He is alienated, has lost nearly all contact to friends and family, life has been sucked out of him. When he kills the taxi driver without an obvious motive it may seem senseless to the audience, but for Jacek it is only just one more unexplainable act in a chain of events he cannot comprehend any more. Jacek’s lawyer in the forthcoming murder trial, Piotr Balicki, (Globisz) is just his opposite. Not much older than the murderer he is defending, Piotr has just finished law school and is a ferocious opponent of the death penalty. He is full of idealism with his life stretching out in front of him in a clear path: he wants to do good. But he too will be scarred by the case; he stands no chance in the courtroom and for the rest of his life he will suffer from this defeat.
Kieslowski shows a grim world; children play with dead cats in dark backyards – the light seems a predominantly nauseous green, as in a morgue. Jacek is a product of this society – we should not be surprised that he acts out his inner hollowness in this way. Many reviewers saw this film as a condemnation of the death penalty (which was only abolished in Poland in 1997), but it is more realistic to assume that Kieslowski wanted to show that Stalinism had hit rock bottom – a year before the system finally collapsed.
Both leads give dynamite performances. The camera shows this Dantesque Inferno with panoramic shots and close-ups. Jacek is cold-eyed and ashen-faced throughout. The portrait of a dying world in which murder, in whichever form it takes, is as normal as clocking-in for work. AS
A SHORT FILM ABOUT KILLING IS NOW OUT ON BLURAY