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With: Grazyna Szapolowska, Olaf Lubaszenko, Stefania Iwinska, Piotr Machalica
Written by: Krzysztof Kieslowski, Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Directed by: Krzysztof Kieslowski
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Polish with English subtitles
Running Time: 84
Date: 10/21/1988

A Short Film About Love (1988)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

'Short' Circus

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After he finished his masterpiece, the made-for-TV The Decalogue, Krzysztof Kieslowski and his co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz took two of the ten 60-minute episodes and expanded them into 80-minute features, entitled A Short Film About Love and A Short Film About Killing.

These two features became the first glimpse that most Americans ever had of Kieslowski's opus. Still, they can be quite different from their counterparts. Most of all, they lack the sense of community and perspective that each of the ten episodes has when watched in context of The Decalogue.

A Short Film About Love re-orders some of its footage and creates a new ending out of flashbacks. Overall, it's not quite as effective as the shorter Decalogue episode. In it, a 17 year-old boy living with his best friend's mother spies on a promiscuous older woman through her window across the courtyard. Using his job at the post office, he sends her fictitious money orders just so she'll come in and speak to him. After one such trip, she leaves in tears. He follows and confesses everything to her. Intrigued, she goes out for ice cream with him and invites him back to her place. She ridicules his desire for her and he tries to kill himself. She feels guilty and devotes her time to try to find him and apologize.

Some of the new footage feels like unnecessary outtakes, but Kieslowski also changes certain edits around. For example, in the television version, we know that as the boy enters the woman's apartment the mother is using the boy's telescope to spy on them both. In the theatrical version, Kieslowski saves this shot until most of the way through the sequence, killing the haunting feeling of being watched and the expanded voyeurism.

Kino's A Short Film About Love DVD is presented letterboxed, whereas Facets' Decalogue DVD is shown in the full-frame television ratio. Kino's version is a little cleaner and sharper as well. It comes with several on-camera interviews with Kieslowski collaborators, as well as trailers for this and several other Kieslowski films. It also comes with a silent short film, Tramway, which was already included under the title Trolley on Miramax's White DVD.

A Short Film About Killing on the other hand is far more effective in its longer version. The story follows three characters on their separate paths until a horrible act of violence brings them together. A lost, angry 19 year-old wanders around Warsaw, killing time. A self-serving cab driver picks on those around him, and a young, idealistic lawyer passes his BAR exam. The youth catches a ride with the cab driver and kills him, and the lawyer represents him in court.

The longer version provides more footage of the cabbie being mean to people, but more importantly, it makes the lawyer a more equal member of the triptych. We see him taking his test and chastising capital punishment, saying that no good ever came of it. We see him sitting at the café with his girlfriend while the youth winds rope around his hands. So when it comes to the climactic scenes of the lawyer visiting the youth in his cell, it means so much more.

Once again, Kino's picture is superior to the Facets version, much bolder and sharper. Kieslowski filmed this particular episode in a kind of haze, with shadows overcoming whole chunks of the frame. They provide a kind of sickening claustrophobia whenever the youth is onscreen, and the effect is clearer on the Kino version.

The A Short Film About Killing DVD comes with a 17-minute short film, A Night Porter's Point of View (1977), a kind of documentary about the working lives of guards, night-watchmen and other low-level authority figures. The disc also includes interviews and the same trailers and filmography from the Love disc.

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