A Short Film About Love (Krzysztof Kieslowski / Poland, 1988):
(Krótki Film o Milosci)

A moral tract, like Krzysztof Kieslowski’s other Dekalog expansion, though physical contact here revolves around the brutality of emotion, rather than killing -- the results are no less visceral. A 19-year-old orphan (Olaf Lubaszenko), shacked up at his bud’s flat, conducts nightly telescope peep-sessions at the high-rise across the street, where sexy, thirtysomething artist Grazyna Szapolowska strolls, right out of the shower, in half-open robes. "Thou shalt not commit adultery" is the acknowledged source, but, despite the Biblical linkage ("Mary Magdalene" as Szapolowska’s full name), the basis is Hitchcock-De Palma voyeurism, drained of lechery if not of self-reflexivity: a watcher but hardly passive, Lubaszenko intrudes directly into the reality he’s watching, a prank call to the gas company ruining the mood of the woman’s night out with her beau. Reality strikes back, a fist to the nose, though he keeps looking for direct contact -- trembling caresses over tea, pants-cumming after barely feeling her thighs, then rushing home for some wrist-slashing over a basin. "Why do people cry," he asks elderly Stefania Iwinska after seeing Szapolowska quietly sobbing over a row and spilled milk, only to get the portentously Kieslowskian reply: "When they can no longer bear to... live." The easiest route is the purification of the wanton woman, her carnality jaded, empty yet ennobled (exalted, even) by the long-distance adulation of a spiritually unsullied youngster. The gaze goes both ways, however, and the film can just as easily be about how direct contact with Szapolowska’s worldliness crushes his rigid idealization of her spirit, as circumscribed and objectifying a stance as a purely lascivious contemplation of her body. What is sex minus love, Kieslowski asks, or, for that matter, humanity minus connection? Just as much a voyeur as Lubaszenko, but at the same time a God-auteur orchestrating the fates of his lost souls, the director can lament amorality, or grant them peace -- Szapolowska, aching to the touch, receives a final epiphany more merciful than the cruelly denied redemption at the end of the TV episode. Written by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Cinematography by Witold Adamek.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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