With its disturbingly graphic scenes of utter violence, A Short Film About Killing proves to be a powerful attack on capital punishment, and killing in general.
It opens with a grim image of a dead rat lying in the sewers, and a strangled cat hanging lifelessly. The title appears on screen in a gory manner, and it’s all accompanied by laughter of small children. The main plot depicts a story about Jacek, a young drifter in Warsaw, who performs some mildly shocking acts of roguery around town, until the unforgettable climax, in which he commits the most unscrupulous and atrocious crime of all – he kills a taxi driver with cold blood, and then steals his cab. Fast forward a couple of months, and we see how Jacek is sentenced to death by hanging in one of the Polish prisons. In all this grievous story, there is also an optimistic aspiring advocate Piotr, who passed the exam and got his job on the exact same day that Jacek murdered the irritable, yet completely innocent man. He wasn’t able to defend him from the fate, and now he also pays the price, as he plunges deeper and deeper into the sorrow and horror of all the past and future events.
The film was so meaningful in Poland that the authorities actually suspended capital punishment until further notice (nowadays the country’s free from it). Very graphic and harrowing, A Short Film About Killing might give the audience nightmares. Its very dark colors, mournful music, depressing atmosphere, and sorely effective message combine for a most memorable film. Krzysztof Kieslowski’s striking naturalistic overtone bears a serious importance in this beastly world of ours.