Short FIlm about Love, A (Poland, 1987)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Commandment Six: "Thou shalt not commit adultery."

A Short Film About Love, the second of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue episodes to be transformed into a feature film (the other being A Short Film about Killing), takes a unique look at the emotional latticework that interconnects love, lust, and sexual obsession. Hypnotically engrossing, this picture delves deep into the psyches of its two main characters, employing irony, humor, and drama to weave a masterful tale of human interaction that will leave an indelible imprint on all who view it.

A question that people have pondered for ages is whether there exists a pure form of romantic love -- an attraction so deep and innocent that sex becomes an unwanted distraction. For eighty-six minutes in A Short Film About Love, Kieslowski explores this issue. Nothing is resolved, except perhaps an understanding of the great pain and fragility that can result from the simple act of opening one's heart.

The story begins with nineteen-year old Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko) training a telescope on the windows of an apartment opposite his. Inside, a beautiful, older woman, Magda (Grazyna Szapolowska), is undressing. Initially, we assume that Tomek is watching for the titillation value, but, as we observe him night after night, it becomes clear that he's more interested in Magda when she's fully clothed and engaged in some mundane activity than when her actions turn sexual. In fact, when she goes to bed with a man, Tomek trains the telescope away.

As his obsession deepens, Tomek is no longer content with merely watching. He begins to make phone calls and pilfer letters, then eventually works up the courage to meet Magda face-to-face. In a guilty, rushed confession, he tells all. At first, Magda is furious and seeks her own form of revenge, but eventually she finds herself drawn to the young man. One night, after the two go out on a relatively harmless date, she invites him into her apartment and proceeds to shatter his illusions. A brief, unsatisfying sexual encounter rips away Tomek's innocence and sends him fleeing Magda's apartment. Once home, he slits his wrists.

Tomek survives the suicide attempt, but while he's in the hospital, Magda is riddled with guilt. She begins to obsess over him, trying to find out everything she can about his life and friends. She uses a pair of binoculars to watch his apartment, waiting for his return. She turns away her lover, unwilling (or unable) to engage in sex while Tomek is away.

Certainly, the central irony in the film is how the tables are turned. The object of voyeurism becomes the voyeur. The loved one becomes the lover. In the end, it's not clear whether or not Magda has fallen for Tomek, but we recognize that she is experiencing deep pangs of guilt for what she did, and that she craves his return to innocence. She would like nothing more than for him to return to spying on her. Recognizing too late her power to wound, Magda seeks redemption. Obliquely, the closing scene of A Short Film About Love indicates she might find it. In this, the resolution is vastly different than that of Decalogue 6, which concluded with an emotionless Tomek admitting to Magda that he will never spy on her again. Coupled with several added scenes that build character and fill plot holes, this different ending gives a new and more satisfying outlook to the story than the one presented in Decalogue.

During the scene when Tomek is in Magda's apartment, a fascinating change in point-of-view occurs. Up to then, everything had been from Tomek's perspective. All of our glimpses of Magda's rooms had been through his telescope. Then, it all changes. When Tomek runs from the apartment, we remain inside with Magda, watching him through a window. From that moment on, the story is told from Magda's viewpoint. This unique way of framing things allows for greater development and understanding of both characters.

As in White, Kieslowski uses comedy to set up several scenes. There are a lot of very funny moments in A Short Film About Love. However, even beyond the comic undercurrent, there are many comparisons between this movie and the middle entry in the Three Colors trilogy. Both deal with diseased relationships, sexual obsession, and the need for equality. And, in voyeurism, A Short Film About Love shares a thread with Red.

Love is probably the most commonly presented theme in all motion pictures. Most of the time, it is used as a plot device, so rarely is there a thoughtful examination of the dynamics of the emotion. A Short Film About Love is the exception, and what a magnificent exception it is. With actors that give finely-tuned performances and a script that is richly detailed, the movie is nothing short of a masterpiece. There is more real feeling in this brief feature than in a hundred full-length Hollywood romantic comedies.

Short FIlm about Love, A (Poland, 1987)

Run Time: 1:26
U.S. Release Date: -
MPAA Rating: "NR" (Sexual Situations)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: English subtitled Polish
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1