A short film about killing

Krzysztof Kieslowski

Poland, 1987 – 1988



Guilt and punishment / Murderer and the victim
Death penalty issue / Justice

1. What dramaturgical means are used in the movie?
2. What is the narrative structure of the movie?



Foretoken of the unavoidable


In the coffee shop


Record of the crime


The last conversation


• Are the scenes accompanying the opening credits without meaning, or do they merely fulfill the function of presenting the location of events? Can they be attributed some other role?
• Think about the size of scenes the director selects and how he composes the shots?
• What is the nature of the sequence: realistic or symbolic?
• Why do we see dead animals in all three scenes?
• Insects, rat, black cat – analyze the symbolism of those animals, think about cultural contexts connected
to them?


• What is the meaning of the scene with Gypsy fortune-teller?
• Why is the theme of fortune-telling repeated? What does the young lawyer hear about his future from his fiancée?
• How is this scene played performance-wise? Pay attention to the moves/gestures of the actors?
• Keeping this scene in mind, compare the characters of Jacek and Piotr? At what points in their
lives the protagonists are?
• What is the dominant colour of this scene (red)?
• In the context of the entire movie, what would you say is the meaning of episode with the girls?


• What is the meaning and function of the final scene’s length?
• At the beginning of this scene we can see a young man in an orange vest with a yardstick in his hand. How many times does this actor (Artur Barcis) appear on screen? What function does he fulfill?
• What colours are dominant in this sequence? What is their function?
• What is the meaning of takes depicting a string being winded on a hand that recur in the sequence?
How does the taxi driver die? How does Jacek die at the end of the movie?
• What is the function of intercuts with a bicycle rider passing by, a horse in the field, incoming train?
• Is the scene realistic or naturalistic?
• Recall the pendant next to the rear view mirror in the taxi? Who does the toy bring to mind?
• What is the function in this sequence of the nondiegetic music? When does is come on?


• What are the viewer’s expectations connected to the scene of the lawyer and Jacek meeting in the prison cell? What threads should have been explained?
• Does the conversation clear up the unexplained threads? Do we learn why has Jacek killed?
• How is this scene shot?
• Why is Piotr delaying the moment of leaving the prison cell, despite that he was reluctant to meet Jacek earlier? What do the words “I will never tell any more” mean?
• What do Jacek’s words mean: “Mister, I don’t want to”? How can they be interpreted?


The movie was enthusiastically received not only in Poland but also in Europe. It became an event at Cannes festival and has strengthened the international fame of Krzysztof Kieslowski, who began to be compared to such artistic “giants” as Bergman. When the movie was shot in 1987, death penalty was still practiced in Poland – that is why the director could faithfully reconstruct the course of execution. We can watch on-screen detailed
preparations to execution of the sentence: executioner arrives on the scene to check the proper functioning of gallows, oil the mechanism, and set up the bowl, where excrement of the executed will run down, etc.
Although “A Short Film…” is firmly placed in the apathetic atmosphere of decadent Polish People’s Republic, it significantly goes beyond that historical context. Empathic narrative about a man, sensitivity to the details of everyday life, and penetrating analysis of the relationship between an individual and the society.
Tadeusz Lubelski “Prawdziwy partner. Francuska krytyka o Kieslowskim” (A true partner. French critics on Kieslowski)
“A Short Film About Killing, it is first and foremost about that invisible barrier which separates us from any and all reality, even from ourselves, and which prevents us from living fully, makes us alien, absent, zombie (13). On the other hand, Philippe Rouyer reviewing Dekalog, sześć (Decalogue, six) emphasizes the psychological aspect of the relationships with others. Glass panes always separating Tomek from Magda are glass walls, which
symbolize separation of the character, rather then real objects”.
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Decalogue is a cycle of ten feature films for television shot between 1988 and 1989
Each part is almost an hour long and is a reference to one of the Ten Commandments, but not a literal reference. Episodes V and VI of the Decalogue became known earlier as cinema movies – Krotki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film About Killing) and Krótki film o miłości (A Short Film About Love) earned Kieslowski international recognition. The movies were shot in cooperation with the screenwriter, Krzysztof Piesiewicz.


“Let’s ask the question: why shouldn’t we burn on pyres or skin in public squares people who ride on buses without a ticket or park their car in an unauthorized place? You might say that there would be a glaring incommensurability between the deed and the punishment? But what does incommensurability
or commensurability mean in this case? There is no natural proportion between deed and punishment, repayment is dealt in a different currency, so to speak, and no inherent sense of justice or natural law imposes anything in this matter; in times by no means prehistoric a cruel death penalty was dispensed for offenses, which today would be perceived as trivial, and the people treated it as something natural”.
Leszek Kolakowski, “O karze głównej” (On Capital Punishment) [in:] idem, “Mini wykłady o maxi sprawach” (Mini lectures on maxi issues),
Cracow 2004, pp. 191–198.

Step 1
The teacher facilitates a discussion about the film fragments Extract A/B/C.
Step 2
Students work in pairs. One person receives a review, and the other memories of the director. They discuss the texts read. They write their own review.
Step 3
Using the screenplay form, students write their own last scene of the film. Where does Ida go?
What will happen to her?
Death penalty issue



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