Director: Krysztof Kieslowski
Starring: Grazyna Szapolowska, Olaf Lubaszenko
The late Krysztof Kieslowski was, without question, one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century. Many storytellers can talk about ideas, but he was (and remains) one of the few who could dramatize an idea. The series that best demonstrates this ability is The Decalogue, a series of short films based on the ten commandments, from which two segments (this one and A Short Film About Killing) were later expanded into full length films. Though slightly altered from the segment as it appeared in The Decalogue, A Short Film About Love is still an excellent and thought-provoking film.
Centering on Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko), a nineteen-year-old postal worker, A Short Film About Love is a story of obsession. Every night Tomek uses his telescope to spy on Magda (Grazyna Szapolowska), the woman who lives in the apartment complex across the courtyard from his. Though initially content to spy on her from afar, he begins trying to draw her closer by sending her notices that a money order is available for her to pick up at the post office. He also takes a second job delivering milk, which gives him an excuse to be in her apartment building and approach her door.
Eventually Tomek reveals himself - and what he's been doing - to Magda. Furious but also, perhaps, flattered and intrigued, she taunts Tomek by making a show of her relationship with her boyfriend and then tipping her boyfriend off about their spy, which results in Tomek getting punched in the face. Later still, Magda sexually humiliates Tomek and he reacts by attempting suicide. Plagued by guilt, the tables suddenly turn with Magda now becoming the one who watches endlessly, searching for signs of Tomek and trying to put things right.
On the surface, the story of A Short Film About Love is really simple. It's about three characters - Tomek, Magda, and Tomek's unnamed landlady (Stefania Iwinska), who is the mother of a friend of Tomek's and treats Tomek himself like a son - and a narrative that, ultimately, moves very little. The spareness of the plot, however, simply leaves room for the characters to bloom and Kieslowski makes the most of that, helping to craft characters who are intriguing enough to carry the film. The world of the film is small, but never claustrophobic, and both Szapolowska and Lubaszenko deliver wonderful and very deep performances.
Most of the changes between this extended version and Decalogue 6 are minor, however the ending presents a major change. The ending to Decalogue 6 is darker, presenting a complete reversal in Tomek and Magda's relationship which sees her having become obsessed with him and him gleefully rejecting her. The ending to A Short Film About Love is more optimistic and a little more ambiguous and, ultimately, just a little less resonant. Still, this only feels like a flaw if you've seen Decalogue 6 and taken on its own, A Short Film About Love is pretty much a perfect film.