Short Film About Killing, A (Krótki film o zabijaniu) (1988)

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Released 15-Mar-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Interviews-Crew-Slawomir Idziak (D.O.P)
Featurette-Interviews With Kieslowski Collaborator Annette Insdorf
Featurette-Interview With Filmmaker Agnieska Holland
Featurette-Examination Of The Film By Antonin Liehm
Short Film-A Night Porter's Point Of View
Trailer-The Last Metro, Bed And Board, A Short Film About Love
Trailer-The 400 Blows,
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1988
Running Time 80:48
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Krzysztof Kieslowski
Film Polski
Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Miroslaw Baka
Krzysztof Globisz
Jan Tesarz
Zbigniew Zapasiewicz
Barbara Dziekan
Aleksander Bednarz
Jerzy Zass
Zdzislaw Tobiasz
Artur Barcis
Krystyna Janda
Olgierd Lukaszewicz
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Zbigniew Preisner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Polish Dolby Digital 2.0 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.59:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.66:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    In 1987 Krzysztof Kieslowski directed ten short films for Polish television, grouped under the title Dekalog. Each film was based on one of the Ten Commandments. It was planned that two of the films would be expanded into features, and the ones chosen were Episodes 5 and 6. Episode 5, originally called Thou Shalt Not Kill, became A Short Film About Killing. It went on to win a Special Jury Prize at Cannes and led to Kieslowski becoming internationally renowned, and a name known outside the film festival circuit. He would subsequently work in France, concluding his career with the Trois Couleurs trilogy before his early death in 1996 following heart surgery.

    The film takes place in a drab Warsaw and shows the interconnected lives of three men. Taxi driver Waldemar (Jan Tesarz) is not a particularly nice individual. He refuses fares, blows his horn to scare dogs and tries to pick up a young woman. Piotr (Krzysztof Globisz) is a nervous-looking young man who has just passed his examinations to become a lawyer. Nineteen-year-old Jacek (Miroslaw Baka) seems disaffected. He drops a small stone from a bridge over a roadway smashing a windscreen. In a coffee shop he spits in the dregs of his cup, as if to stop anyone else drinking it. He also uses a knife to cut a length of rope which he winds around his hands, as if preparing to strangle someone.

    Jacek hires Waldemar's taxi, and then proceeds to direct him to a desolate place where he kills him, in a long and harrowing scene. When we next see him, we are in the courtroom nearly two years later where Jacek has been convicted of murder and sentenced to the death penalty . His defence lawyer is Piotr, whose eloquent summing up has failed to save his client. The second half of the film deals with the state-sanctioned killing of Jacek, just as harrowing as his killing of Waldemar.

    This film is all the more powerful for not delving into the potential melodramatics of such a story. While the taxi driver mentions at one stage that he has a wife, we do not ever see her or any members of his family. Jacek has a family, but they do not play much of a role on screen. The courtroom scenes occur after the verdict has been delivered, so there are no speeches. Jacek is not portrayed as a monster, nor a confused young man, and he never shows remorse for what he has done. The only remorseful character is Piotr, who worries that he did not defend his client as well as a seasoned lawyer might have.

    In the end this film manages to show the essential meaninglessness of both deaths, all against a backdrop of an alienating society. The latter is shown through the cold and barely populated streets, but mostly through the coloured filters used by cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, which make the landscape threatening and confining, almost a character in itself.

    One thread running through Kieslowski's work is the notion that fate plays a crucial phase in our lives, where chance encounters and decisions we make have far-reaching consequences. The most obvious depiction of this is in Blind Chance, where we see the effects on a young man's life of catching or missing a train and a plane flight, but this theme appears in just about every one of his fictional films. Waldemar could have avoided picking up Jacek and his subsequent death by taking a fare from a couple he chooses to avoid (the couple are played by Krystyna Janda and Olgierd Lukaszewicz, in effect a cameo as their characters appeared in the second episode of the Dekalog). Piotr was in the coffee shop at the same time as Jacek, and ruminates on whether he could have done something to prevent the killing. Jacek ponders on the accidental killing of his sister some years before and the effect it had on him.

    The movie version of this story runs about 25 minutes longer than the original Dekalog episode. It is a fine achievement, expertly crafted and superbly acted. Well worth seeing.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in the 1.59:1 aspect ratio (16x9 enhanced), rather than the original 1.66:1. Based on screen captures I have seen from the shorter Dekalog version which is in the television aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the television version was produced by panning and scanning the widescreen version. The Region 4 seems to be slightly cropped on the left side in comparison to the Korean Region 3.

    While the transfer is quite good, it falls short of being ideal as the image is not particularly sharp. There is a good level of detail but it is nothing like transfers of American films of the same period. Much of the film is shot in murky conditions and with the addition of those filters, the film is not bright and is often lacking in contrast. Colours vary, again due to the filtering, but the overall transfer is effective in this respect.

    There is only three significant film to video artefacts, the first introduced by excessive noise reduction on the original material. This results in some slight motion blurring, best seen at 47:36 on the figure hanging from the rear-vision mirror in Waldemar's taxi, although the effect is minimal during brightly lit scenes. There is also a lot of low level noise, mainly visible in the murkier sequences. At times there is also some posterisation.

    I did not notice anything in the way of film artefacts.

    Optional English subtitles are provided in a good-sized yellow font. They seem to be grammatically correct and have no spelling errors.

    The disc is dual-layered, but the feature seems to be complete on one of the layers, avoiding the need for a layer change.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The sole audio track available is Polish Dolby Digital 2.0, which seems resolutely monaural to me.

    The audio transfer is satisfactory considering the film was released with a mono soundtrack. There are no audio pyrotechnics here, nor is there a need for any. Dialogue is clear as far as I can tell, and the few effects are also clear.

    The music sounds a little flat in this transfer, but Zbigniew Preisner's excellent score is more about underlining the mood of the story, and the sound actually helps this aim rather than hinders it.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    None of the extras show any time-coding on my DVD player, though times do display on my DVD-ROM. All have ingrained subtitles.

Main Menu Audio

    The static menu features some of the score.

Interviews   -   Crew -Slawomir Idziak (Director Of Photography)   (13:36)

    Idziak discusses his own work on the film, in which he was given carte blanche by Kieslowski to do whatever he wanted. This interview is more about himself than the director, but in a Kieslowskian moment he discusses the connections that led him to work in American films, for example Black Hawk Down. There are one too many shots of Idziak on a monitor.

Featurette   -   Interview With Kieslowski Collaborator Annette Insdorf    (5:16)

    It is not clear what Insdorf collaborated with Kieslowski on, at least not from this material. She speaks in French about the evolution of the original episode of the TV series into the feature film.

Featurette   -   Interview With Filmmaker Agnieska Holland    (9:20)

    A fellow Polish director who also speaks in French about the impact the film had on Kieslowski's subsequent career. She seems to think that his later films represented a falling away in quality, a curious position.

Featurette   -   Examination Of The Film By Antonin Liehm    (4:49)

    A French writer who makes a few brief comments about the film, taken from a 1988 television show.

Short Film   -   A Night Porter's Point Of View   (15:56)

    This is an amazing documentary from 1977 about a Communist official whose job seems to involve policing illegal fishing. He is so intent on ensuring that the rules are followed that he has no consideration for human beings unless they obey the rules.  Kieslowski allows the official's own testimony to hang, draw and quarter himself. I wonder if the director got into trouble for making this, or whether it was too ironic for the Polish censors to appreciate what it was really about. The transfer is in 1.33:1 and has quite a few film artefacts, as well as a WFDiF logo in the bottom right hand corner throughout (it is the film studio that produced the film).

Trailer   -   The Last Metro, Bed And Board, A Short Film About Love, The 400 Blows   (11:57)

    Trailers for other Umbrella releases.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The UK Region 2 release has all of the extras on the Region 4, plus a director filmography and theatrical trailer. It does not have the Umbrella trailers. The reviews I have seen of it indicate that the video quality is very good, and is in the original 1.66:1 aspect ratio, though one review says 1.85:1.

    The Korean Region 3 is an NTSC transfer of the Region 2, so it suffers from conversion artefacts. Extras are limited to a trailer and photo gallery, but only the feature has subtitles. There are text extras, but in Korean only.

    The US All Regions release comes from Kino and seems to be virtually identical to the Region 2. I have no evidence to support this, but based on previous experience I would not be surprised if the Kino release is a PAL to NTSC conversion from the Region 2 master.

    It appears that the Region 4 comes from the Mk2 master, so it should in fact be identical to the UK Region 2. Given the relative lack of reviews, I will put the perceived differences down to the vagaries of equipment and reviewer.


    A fine film, harrowing but very powerful and thought-provoking.

    The video quality is good.

    The audio quality is satisfactory.

    Several interesting extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Sunday, April 24, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

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