The Debt

Krzysztof Krauze

Poland, 1999



Life choices in the face of a financial crisis This is done by Barbara Hollender, among others, who writes:
“The protagonists of ‘The Debt’ overstepped what might be considered defence of necessity. However, the audience believes that, as they were alone with their nightmare, they were faced with a choice: to kill or be killed. And this is what is the most terrifying about Krauze’s film. Moreover, that nightmare happens to ordinary men – no different
from our neighbours, people we pass by on the streets, or even ourselves. (“Rzeczpospolita,” November 19, 1999).

Luck of trust in justice




• What does the opening scene of the film present?
• How does the presentation of events happening three months after the main part of the story influence the film’s dramatic effect?
• How is the work of the law enforcement authorities presented? Do they secure the crime scene in a proper manner? What is their attitude to the victims of the murder? Does the director criticize police also in other aspects?
• How is the scene filmed? Can you notice some elements of a quasi-documentary account?


• How are the two young friends characterized in the film? What are their attitudes to Gerard who is persecuting them? Are his claims justified?
• What actions do Gerard and his men take to intimidate the young businessmen?
• Can the situation of the young men be considered tragic?
• What film techniques are used to highlight the fact that young men found themselves in a situation from which there is no escape? What editing techniques are used? How are the rooms and faces framed? How does the method of composing frames influence the viewer’s emotions?


It is undoubtedly one of the best films in the history of Polish cinematography, and unquestionably the best Polish film of the nineties that portrays the society of “savage” capitalism, which is being introduced to Poland after years of nationalized economy. It refers to collective fears of the period of Polish transformation.
Krzysztof Krauze’s The Debt is a perfect example of the so-called „social film” that makes numerous references to the modern reality. In case of The Debt, the director refers to a well-known case of a double homicide of Grzegorz Gmitrzak and his bodyguard Mariusz Kłos (during the opening scene the audience is informed that the film is based on real events). Krzysztof Krauze, together with Jerzy Morawski, the co-author of the script, visited Artur
Bryliński and Sławomir Sikora in prison, where they were serving their sentence for murder. The script was based on recorded interviews with the convicts who inspired the screenwriters to create the characters of Adam and Stefan. The characters’ comments reveal how the sense of oppression finally led to tragic events.
Such motives as negative consequences of market economy, promotion of entrepreneurship at all costs, omnipresent corruption and striking differences in people’s financial status influencing the public feeling in the first years of the political transformation have been just introduced to the Polish cinematography. “The Debt” is the most shocking picture in which a citizen who cannot count on the help of the law enforcement authorities
is forced to make a dramatic choice: either become a gangster’s victim or kill in self-defence.
In the nineties of the 20th century, many so-called “gangster films” were released (apart from The Debt, other noteworthy titles include: Kroll, Pigs (Polish: Psy) and Pigs 2 (Polish: Psy 2) directed by Władysław Pasikowski, Młode wilki (Young Wolves), Młode wilki 1 i ½ (Young Wolves 1 and 1/2) directed by Jarosław Żamojda and Bandyta (The Bandit) directed by Maciej Dejczer). Those films not only used the convention of a thriller or a
crime story and referred to “gangster cinema,” but also presented the Polish reality in the period of political transformation. After all, 1989 (the year which marked the end of socialism) was the beginning a new era in the history of Poland, including social, economic, cultural and ethical changes.
That new world was founded on the ideology of consumerism glorying the value of money made in various ways and sanctioning relativist approach to ethical values. Thus, violence, vulgarity and male chauvinism became elements of the film reality. The characters who were in the lead in that evocatively created atmosphere of oppression were utterly unscrupulous men: gangsters, politicians and policemen, but also common citizens.
The Debt tells the story from the perspective of the main characters, which makes the audience strongly identify with them. Suggestive images show the world as full of chaos, getting increasingly more dark and demonic in the course of time. The film space is ostentatiously closed. The city where the characters live becomes a trap, a
prison. The method of composing frames (which are somehow “cramped,” as they contain many elements) serves to intensify the sense of oppression, while the use of the quasi-documentary technique makes the presented story even more nightmarish, but also more credible.


Step 1
Students are divided into two groups. Each of those groups is given the same set of reviews.
Group A prepares the defence of the young businessmen. Group B prepares the bill of indictment.
Step 2
The students organize a trial. The teacher is the judge who can declare the accused guilty or innocent.
Step 3
Students write essays. Considering the portrayal of the film’s protagonists, can we talk about the fall of ideals?



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