A Short Film About Love (1988)
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Cast: Grazyna Szapolowska, Olaf Lubaszenko, Stefania Iwinska
Synopsis: 19-year-old Tomek whiles away his lonely life by spying on his opposite neighbour Magda through binoculars. She’s an artist in her mid-thirties, and appears to have everything…
Nineteen-year-old Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko) leads a sheltered existence. A former orphan, he lives in the flat of an ageing guardian (Stefania Iwinska) and works as a post office clerk. At night he fills his time by spying on Magda (Grazyna Szapolowska) an attractive, sexually promiscuous older woman who lives in the block of flats opposite him. Each night, his alarm clock rings at 8.30pm, the time Magda usually arrives home, marking the start of his nightly ritual. Tomek is so attuned with Magda’s life that he even eats the same kind of bread rolls, carefully biting into one at the same time that she does in order to share her experience. It’s obvious he’s been watching her a long time, and equally obvious that he is one of life’s novices, completely inexperienced in adult pleasures and relationships.
It would be unlikely to imagine two less compatible people, a fact acknowledged by the distance between them, the barriers of windows and lenses, and Tomek’s countless hours alone in a darkened room as he watches Magda live her life. When she entertains men, which she frequently does, Tomek looks away, disconsolate. On one occasion he reports a gas leak in her apartment just so the emergency services will disrupt her lovemaking (they check her oven with a piece of burning paper!). Tomek even secretly delivers notification of money orders to her post box so that she will visit his counter at the post office. But when his hatchet-faced boss accuses Magda of trying to defraud the post office, he impulsively confesses to her that he was behind the subterfuge, and that he has been watching her for a year.
Initially, Magda is angry, but soon she is intrigued by this strange, quiet boy and his frank proclamation of love for her. But Magda is older than Tomek, and she bears the scars. She is beautiful, but there’s a kind of weathered quality about her beauty, as if life has taken an emotional toll on her, and one can imagine that director Krzysztof Kieslowski took a lot of care to get the casting right, because it’s important that we sense how hardened Magda has become because of past encounters with men.
Because of her past, Magda is cynical about the purity of Tomek’s love for her, and finds it difficult to believe that he wants nothing from her other than to be allowed to love her. She teases him by inviting him to watch her as she makes love with one of her male friends, then deliberately infuriates her lover by telling him they are being watched. Then, after agreeing to go on a date with Tomek, she sexually humiliates him, a deed which she comes to regret because of its near-tragic consequences.
The concluding act of A Short Film About Love (Krotki film o milosci) is filled with a bitter irony, as we see the tables turned so that she who was the object of a voyeur’s gaze literally assumes his point of view, and by doing so possibly finds redemption through the realisation that the kind of love she believed to be a fiction does, in fact, exist, and was presented to her unburdened by conditions and deceit. It’s a wonderfully subtle subversion that is emphasised in the final moments when an earlier scene in which Magda sat crying alone in her kitchen is poignantly replayed, but with one telling, hopeful change…
(Reviewed 20th March 2013)