The BFI's Martin Scorsese presents The Masterpieces of Polish Cinema Season: A Short Film about Killing

Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski: 

18  |  84 min  |  Crime, Drama  |  26 October 1988 (France)

Playing as part of: Martin Scorsese presents Masterpieces of Polish Cinema

RATING: ★★★★☆

Curated by none other than Martin Scorsese himself, the BFI’s Polish cinema season showcases a diverse range of films that emerged after that country’s painful period of reconstruction post-WWII and the abolition of the policy of Socialist Realism which limited the creativity its directors could showcase. In response, the pent up energy was released from the late 50s onwards, in a  flurry of films exploring military history, the communist system, and crime and punishment. Every film in this two-part season has been upgraded to a pristine digital restorations, and each is regarded as a classic in their home country.

Playing as part of the two-part season, A Short Film About Killing (Krótki film o zabijaniu) directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski and released in 1981, is a visually striking and quietly harrowing study of illegal and legal killing that contributed to a national debate that ultimately ended capital punishment in Poland, thus making it somewhat similar to other low-key but polemical ‘social issue’ films like Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home. Over its short 80 minute run time, the film charts in unfussy but determined fashion, how three different sets of people interconnect during the seemingly senseless, casual murder of a Warsaw cab driver one afternoon in the city. 

It is the itinerant, misanthropic loner Jacek who throttles a cab driver to death, a crime that is only offered context later when liberal-minded barrister Piotr hears his tale of a miserable, broken family background. Along with these two figures, we spend a lot of screen time watching the cab driver going about his daily routine before his fateful encounter, the prison executioner who is seen fussing over his death room curtains, and with a pretty local market stall girl who Jacek is revealed to be infatuated with. Death and violence exists alongside the mundanity of the daily grind here, a fact emphasised by cinematographer Sławomir Idziak’s use of bilious coloured filters which makes 1980s Warsaw looks like someone threw a bucket of urine over the lens. A Short Film About Killing is not an easy watch, but it serves as great introduction to Polish modern cinema.


Owen Van Spall

Greetings. I am a Film History MA graduate from Birkbeck University of London and a trained NCTJ qualified journalist. Apart from a long history of film and news writing for this site and various other publications, I am also a trained photographer with my own camera kit. I write mostly every day. Along the way I have picked up work experience at Sight & Sound, The Guardian, The Independent, The FT, The New Statesman, and more. I have written hard news stories, features, arranged and conducted interviews with celebrities, film directors and other major cultural figures, arranged photo shoots, and covered film festivals, conferences and events in the UK and abroad. If you wish to commission me or enquire about full-time opportunities please find my CV and contact details below. A physical portfolio of print only cuttings can also be provided.