Author: Wiktor Figiel
Capital Punishment in the Light of the Film Language on the Basis of A Short Film About Killing
Time: 3 lessons + screening
A suggestion of an introduction to the lesson: In a society saturated with images, the visual items become privileged in discovering, researching, and also presenting ethical dilemmas. When thinking about the ethical subjects in films (in cinema), most often we think about specific protagonists coping with moral dilemmas on the screen. Almost automatically we look for a story involving tough moral decisions. We are thinking about a story — the contents of a given movie. Basing on A Short Film About Killing we will attempt to go beyond the contents and have an ‘ethical’ look at the other, formal, elements of the film.
When watching the film by Kieślowski, we will pose a question whether the chosen elements of the film language play the role of an ethical comment/argument. We will think whether such means as the light or camera movements (and other) contain a commentary, whether they are an assessment of the reality.
The teacher shortly presents the key information about the director , s/he may also give handouts to the students.
The students have a short discussion, initiated by teacher’s questions: Were you moved by anything in this film, were you angered, shocked? What questions did you pose to yourselves during the screening? Why did you pose them?
The teacher projects on the wall/screen  four photos (next to one another) of the main protagonists, in order of their appearance in the film: the taxi driver Waldemar Rakowski (Jan Tesarz), Jacek Łazar (Mirosław Baka), attorney Piotr Balicki (Krzysztof Globisz), worker (Artur Barciś).
The students analyse the film narration. They answer the questions: From whose point of view is the story told? Is it told by one of the characters in the movie, and outside observer, or maybe there is no one telling it? Which elements of the film facilitate answering the question, which make it more difficult?
The students are divided into three- or four-person groups and they get worksheets for A Short Film About Killing: the film as a description, the film as an evaluation (see: attachment). The teacher may assign the chosen means of expression to a given group. E.g. Group A — dialogues, light/colours; Group B — sound/music and camera work, etc.
The students discuss their suggestions and comment on the ideas of others.
The teacher sums the lesson up. S/he grades students for their work during the lesson. S/he presents a short comment concerning the movie by K. Kieślowski. The screening of A Short Film About Killing was a shock because of its timing. Year 1988 was in Poland the period of a heated debate concerning the pros and cons of capital punishment. The critics and the audience had treated the film by Kieślowski as an important contribution to the dispute, as an argument against — according to most reviewers — the ‘judicial murder’. The work by Kieślowski is often compared to a short but desperate cry. One should also notice and appreciate the clear inspiration with a documentary movie.
Analyse the chosen means of expression in the film and decide which of them (or which aspects of a given means of expression) are of descriptive character, and which are judgemental about the world presented in the film.
Some examples of students’ answers are presented in the boxes below.