Krzysztof Kieślowski’s A Short Film About Love is a companion piece not only to the landmark 1988 Dekalog miniseries, from which this expanded version originally came, but also the likewise enriched and deepened A Short Film About Killing. (It’s worth noting here that even if you’ve already seen the segment this film is based on in its original form, side-by-side with the other nine parts, the radically different and far more redemptive ending makes Love worth seeing separately.) Like all the episodes of the Dekalog, it purports to take its inspiration from one of the Ten Commandments, but in practice the segments only deal with a rigid moral law in the most obtuse and poetic way. Love dealt with the sixth commandment (against fornication), but the story of Tomek, a late-teen voyeur obsessed with Magda, a voluptuous and sexually mature woman living in an apartment across the courtyard from him, is far less brusque than its textual antecedent would indicate (though Kieślowski’s viewpoint certainly stresses a strain of auteurist omniscience and acumen). In fact, as Love progresses and Magda comes to realize the depth of emotion Tomek feels for her, it becomes increasingly clear that the film owes far less to the Bible than it does to Rear Window, not only for its portrait of social isolation and the resulting Peeping Tom syndrome, but also for its fascinated bemusement at the exaggerated barriers people insist on putting up between themselves and the objects they desire. (The crucial difference between the two filmmakers’ portraits of attempted one-way social contact is that while cracked boundaries manifest themselves in violent rupture in Hitchcock’s world, Kieślowski’s culminates in a simultaneously ecstatic and ruinous sexual release.) Given that some theologians interpret the commandment “thou shall not commit adultery” against the idea that women were not contemporarily treated as romantic equals but instead as property, A Short Film About Love‘s exquisite sense of auto-erotic compartmentalization takes on a greater resonance, as Tomek’s deification of Magda flips the bibilical sex roles around. Tomek may be playing puppetmaster with telephone pranks and fake money order notices, but it is Magda who, through the awesome power of her worldly vagina, owns Tomek’s sex drive. In practical modern terms, however, the commandment seems to be a repudiation of hollow sex (represented by Magda’s booty calls) and an order to always strive for spiritually fulfilling relationships based on mutuality. Kieślowski’s deceptively simple film (with unfussy cinematography by Witold Adamek and a straightforward yet stirring piano-dominated score by Zbigniew Preisner) might have been inspired by the most straightjacket-like of God’s interactions with humankind, but it speaks with the tranquility of a parable.
A Short Film About Love doesn't have as radical and distinctive a visual flair as its mirror A Short Film About Killing, but there are moments of creeping beauty that renders Kino's mildly flat video transfer a disappointment. Black levels are, at best, dark gray, and the remaining colors in the spectrum are moderately dismal and dank. On the positive side, the print is mostly clean of artifacts and leftovers, but it has a mild ghosting effect left over from being carted over from a European MK2 disc. The sound mix isn't particularly active, but it doesn't suffer as much as the video transfer. Preisner's score (probably the most significant aural ingredient in the film) sounds good, though.
Kino's borrowed slate of extra features (from MK2, as mentioned) is characterized by brevity redeemed through intelligence. The sharp interviews include the actress playing Magda, Grazyna Szapolowska (who offers the amusing tidbit that Kieślowski always hoped to work with Melanie Griffith, of all American actors), the candid Emmanuel Finkiel (who worked with Kieślowski on Trois Couleurs) and film professor Annette Insdorf, whose honeyed enthusiasm is always infectious (for sheer intellectual mellifluousness, her voice is right up there with Yuri Tsivian's). In addition is an early student short film by Kieślowski called "Tramway," which was obviously included for sharing with Love a portrait of the tragically romantic gaze. Rounding out the extras are a filmography and trailer gallery of Kieślowski's films. The extras scarcely add up to much more than 45 minutes' worth, but they make up for it in their lack of fluff and flab.
Even if you've already seen the segment this film is based on in its original form, side-by-side with the other nine parts, the radically different and far more redemptive ending makes Love worth seeing separately.