Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Writer: Krzysztof Kieślowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Producer: Ryszard Chutkowski
Cinematographer: Witold Adamek
By Jon Cvack
A Short Film About Love takes place in communist Warsaw, Poland, where the skies appear perpetually overcast and upward mobility seems next to impossible. While “about love” the story is actually about the sixth (or arguably seventh) commandment against adultery. It focuses on Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko) who lives in a uniform apartment complex with his Godmother (Stefania Iwinska), whose day is comprised of working at the post office, locking himself in his room, making tea, and then looking through his telescope and spying on a beautiful and promiscuous woman in the building across the street named Magda (Grażyna Szapolowska) as she invites her various lovers upstairs.
We’re now sure how long the obsession has been going on, only to later learn that it had been awhile; that Tomek was not the first; and while he use to masturbate and have sexual fantasies, those have long passed. He’s now genuinely in love with the woman, or so he believes, refusing to even watch the sexual acts between Magda and her paramours out of respect.
He begins organizing schemes to get her physically closer to her, forging mail orders that Magda is forced to pick up at the post office where Tomek works, confronting his painful introversion and minimalist performances, making us understand why people would ignore him and creating a rich and complex character along the way. At one point Magda demands to to talk to the post office manager, who accuses Magda of forging the documents, threatening to call the police. Tomek then admits what he’s been doing, leaving Magda speechless.
Tomek later gets a job as a milk person, having to wake up at 5am in order to deliver Magda’s milk in the morning, rarely getting to see her, though appreciating how close he is to her world. When Magda brings her next man over, she positions the bed in clear sight of the window, then tells the man about the viewer, who storms downstairs, screaming for the voyeur to come down, which Tomek does for some reason, then getting punched in the face.
Later, when Tomek delivers Magda’s milk, she invites him inside and onto a date, and so begins some of the most heart wrenching cinematic moments I’ve seen in a long time. At the restaurant, Magda discovers that Tomek doesn’t watch the sex, with Lubaszenko’s talent soaring as we struggles to admit his true love for Magda.
She invites him back to the apartment and puts on a nightgown with nothing underneath; the same as for most of the other men, approaching Tomek and pulling his hands upon her thighs, explaining what makes a woman wet, taking one of his hands and letting Tomek touch her, who pops with an orgasm, racing home in shame, then trying to kill himself.
After Magda visits Tomek, his Godmother opens up, explaining Tomek’s love for her without expressing the slightest bit of judgment. It’s such a beautiful scene, as we wonder how long the Godmother must have known, knowing there was so little else for Tomek to do with his life - injecting the slightest hint of Polish politics into the story.
Magda then looks through the telescope and sees herself spilling the milk, wondering what it must have looked like to Tomek. There’s an easy comparison to be made between the spilling of the milk and Tomek’s premature exit, and yet beyond coincidence I don’t think it means much more than being the event that connects the two lives; with Magda searching for the perfect man, either overwhelmed by jerks or unwilling to commit, or maybe a mixture of both; while a young man she’d never get involved with would do anything for her.
My main problem with many short stories or films is the “twist” ending they seem to require, as offering anything less seems to feel inherently wasteful to some. There should always be a change of some sort, but subtler is often better, at least on low budgeted films. I’m not sure what would go on to happen to Magda or Tomek, whether she would continue with her old promiscuous ways, or whether he would continue spying on her. It doesn’t seem like they could possibly get together, and so all there is to consider is time, in which case maybe, out of simple curiosity, he might start looking over again, and maybe it could lead to something when he was a bit older.
It leads you to wonder how this connects to adultery. Interestingly enough, according to Wikipedia, Jesus extended the commandment saying in Matthew 5:28, “But I say to you, anyone who looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart”, which would fit the exact storyline. While operating differently in Magda and Tomek, their intentions ultimately reside in lust for another. Magda is in her late 30s/early 40s, clearly knowing she can’t just keep sleeping around, while Tomek knows absolutely nothing about her, believing he’s in love when beyond watching her, he knows nothing. The sin ultimately seems to be that for as much as they could compliment each other, they would not work out, forcing them back into the lives that led them to such a heartbreaking situation, having to forever wonder why it couldn’t have been.
BELOW: Hard to find much on the Tube, so here's a clip
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