Following a half-hearted bout of anti-social behaviour, Warsaw ne'er-do-well Jacek strangles ill-tempered taxi driver Waldemar in order to steal his cab and is executed despite the efforts of his idealistic lawyer, Piotr.
The fifth film in Krzysztof Kieslowski's Dekalog TV series, here expanded for cinema, was the only one to advocate a commandment rather than simply base a moral dilemma upon it. The price to be paid for ignoring the injunction `Thou Shalt Not Kill' remained at the core of this feature-length variation, but Kieslowski was less interested here in crusading against capital punishment than in exploring the origins and manifestations of evil in late-Communist Poland.
A Short Film About Killing was more than a mere extension of the original story. The murder seemed random in Dekalog 5, in keeping with the fixation with chance and fate that informed much of Kieslowski's canon. But, Jacek now appeared to have a dual motive for his crime, as he was not only paying back Waldemar for flirting with his beloved Beata, but he was also out to steal his car in the hope of impressing the vegetable seller who usually treated him with disdain. Indeed, this sense of alienation and its attendant absence of respect were key themes that Kieslowski reinforced by having Slawomir Idziak shoot the action through green filters that not only emphasised the contrast between light and darkness, but which also gave Warsaw and its environs a forbidding aspect that insinuated its pitiless cruelty. There was certainly little humanity evident in either Jacek or Waldemar's behaviour prior to their meeting, with Jacek dropping stones on to passing cars and abusing the elderly, while Waldemar refuses to give a neighbour a lift and scares a man out walking his dogs. Yet neither deserved to die in such a callous manner - Waldemar struggling to escape a makeshift noose before being pulped with a rock as he pleaded for his life, and the terrified Jacek (whose actions were perhaps motivated by the loss of his younger sister in a tractor accident) at the hands of a chillingly dispassionate hangman. Running for some seven and five minutes respectively, these are among the most harrowing deaths ever enacted on screen and they leave an indelible impression of emptiness and despair at the state of modern society.
Heady stuff, not for the faint-hearted.