A Short Film About Love Review

A Short Film About Love was expanded to a feature length film from an episode of Kieslowski’s Dekalog cycle of films made for Polish television. The 10 films in the series covered themes suggested by the Ten Commandments, putting them into a modern day setting and making them universally relevant to the lives of ordinary people. Whereas the themes of the other feature film from the series, A Short Film About Killing remained intact from its origins as Dekalog 5, A Short Film About Love changes its viewpoint quite dramatically from Dekalog 6. In its feature-length form A Short Film About Love shares most of the material of Dekalog 6: Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery, but the ending is markedly different and the conclusion is much more satisfying.

Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko) is a lonely young Post Office worker who lodges with the mother of a friend. The mother has great affection for Tomek and is protective of the young man, but is concerned by his reclusiveness and would like to see him happily married and settled down with a nice girl. Shy and retiring, Tomek’s only interest in women is the beautiful and promiscuous Magda (Grazyna Szapolowska) who lives in the apartment block opposite his room. He spies on her every evening through a telescope in his bedroom. Not knowing how to attract her attention, his behaviour borders on obsession as he starts stealing her mail and interfering in her love life, playing cruel tricks and making prank phone calls. But his behaviour has unexpected results and dangerous consequences.

Avoiding the traditional cinematic clichés and stereotypical characterisation in its depiction of romantic love on the screen, A Short Film About Love tackles a difficult and complex subject from a fresh and original angle. Tomek is obsessed with the girl in the opposite apartment, but are his attentions voyeuristic and sleazy (even his name has connotations - 'Peeping Tomek') or are his feelings deeper than that and is he just too shy and inexperienced to approach the girl? Is it possible to love from a distance someone you have never even met? Magda, on the other hand, is cynical and embittered from previous relationships and doesn’t even think that love exists - or if it does, it is nothing more than a sexual urge.

Again, as with A Short Film About Killing, Krzysztof Kieslowski, through his collaborators, screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz, composer Zbigniew Preisner, and cinematographer Witold Adamek, displays superb directorial skills, presenting a complex web of emotions and ideas with precise visual economy and effective restrained performances from a capable cast. The director would tackle the theme of love in his films again, most obviously in Three Colours Red, where a bitter cynical judge who spies on his neighbours, finds love through the hand of friendship held out to him by a kindly neighbour. But even with a much greater budget (this film, A Short Film About Killing and the ten films of the Dekalog cycle were all made on a single budget of $100,000) and with finer actors (Irène Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant), Kieslowski still couldn’t make a better film than this.

In the end the film is quite clear about what it sees love as, and it has nothing to do with traditional thoughts on romantic love or sexual attraction. From the love of a mother for a young man who is not even her son, to the love of Tomek for the woman in the neighbouring apartment, as the metaphor of looking through the telescope at the end of the film perhaps implies, love is about seeing through the eyes of another person, recognising their need and unconditionally reaching out a hand of friendship. The ending of the film is almost devastatingly brilliant and one of the most affecting images I have ever seen on the screen.

Presented anamorphically at 1.66:1 the image on this DVD is remarkably good. It doesn’t look quite as good as A Short Film About Killing, but that film had much more striking cinematography. Colours are much more realistic and true compared to the lesser quality picture on the Artificial Eye release of Dekalog. Considering this was made for practically no budget as part of a Polish television series, it looks astonishingly good. There is a touch of softness and fading of colour, but otherwise there are few marks or scratches and grain is minimal. This is about as good as you could expect the film to look. English subtitles are provided and are clear, readable and removable.

Sound is adequate, retaining the original Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack and it also just about as good as it could be considering its origins. It is never going to have a thumping DTS soundtrack, nor would it benefit from one. Dialogue is clear and Zbigniew Preisner's beautiful score sounds terrific. From the gentle guitar picking of the theme to the piano and final string arrangement, the score is as remarkable here as in his other notable and more famous works for Kieslowski.

Annette Insdorf Introduction (7:08)
Insdorf is the author of 'Double Lives, Second Chances – The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski' and the English translator of Kieslowski’s Polish films. She provides some interesting thoughts on the film and some themes that are worth looking out for.

Grazyna Szapolowska Interview (7:40)
A recent interview, the actress talks about her work on the film and her thoughts on Kieslowski. It was unusual for her to be in an opposite apartment from the camera and the director for most of her scenes. Her thoughts on Kieslowski are interesting and balanced and not just the usual flattery.

Emmanuel Finkiel Interview (17:19)
Finkiel worked as Assistant Director with Kieslowski on the Three Colours Trilogy. He wasn’t at all involved in the making of the Dekalog films, but offers an informed insider’s perspective into how the director worked.

Tramway (5:15)
Kieslowski’s first short film from 1966 is 1.33:1, black and white and silent, without even musical accompaniment. A young man catches the last tram home and meets a girl there. Very short, but pure Kieslowski, covering themes of communication and the barriers that lie between people. A good extra for this DVD and the quality is surprisingly good, although it does contain a number of marks and scratches.

A full filmography is provided, covering short films, documentaries, TV work and feature films.

Trailer (2:20)
The trailer is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic and is of excellent quality.

Korean Region 3 comparison
The picture and sound quality on the Korean R3 edition are close to this release – very high quality. The Korean release is however on a single layer disc and is a NTSC conversion of the same PAL master, which means there is some slight blurring when there is fast movement on the screen (which is not often). The extras on the Korean R3 release however contain nothing of note – Cast & Crew information is in Korean , a Photo Gallery contains images lifted directly from the film, and a Highlight presents a condensed four and a half minute version of the film.
Picture comparison – Artificial Eye R2 release above (PAL), Korean R3 A9 Media below (NTSC).

Demonstrating a fresh and original approach to a subject that has inspired many and often fallen into cliché, A Short Film About Love remains one of the most profoundly sensitive and original meditations on the theme of love. Kieslowski has approached the same subject in Three Colours: Red and, as we can see in the extra material presented here, similar treatment of the themes are apparent right back as far as his first 1966 short film - Tramway, but it has never been handled as well as in A Short Film About Love. This is a fabulous film well presented on this DVD release.

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