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Doug C

A Short Film About Love

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Alan, if you could add this topic to the list of "Important Topics" since it has been released on video in North America for the first time by Kino International this week.

I only watched the first few minutes last night to judge the transfer--it's not at all definitive with its noisy dark areas, but it's quite watchable. It's a direct port of the Artificial Eye region 2 DVD and contains interviews with Annette Insdorf, actress Grazyna Szapolowska, and Trois Colours assistant director Emmanuel Finkiel, trailers to Kino's forthcoming Kieslowski DVDs (Blind Chance, No End, Camera Buff), plus his 5-minute short film debut, The Tram (1966).

I'll offer a more extended commentary in a few days...

Edited by Doug C

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Guest Russell Lucas

I watched A Short Film About Love last night for the first time and am just amazed. We had some discussion on the shorter version (which I just reread) about Baugh's Christ figure comparison and our resistance to it, but this version of the story really does create a strong character whose actions and attitudes shed insight into the way Jesus empathizes with us. No, you cannot simply lay every detail in Tomek's life against Christ's sinlessness and create a perfect parallel. I wager that if you could, you'd have a character far less capable of showing you a textured portrayal of the way love for others is played out and you'd risk a melodramatic and heavy-handed narrative voice for the simple reason that fallen human characters really can't adequately convey or contain all of the attributes of Christ. To make them like Christ in all particulars makes them less human in a dramatic form.

And Tomek is not a static character. His initial interest in the woman (and his initial response to seeing her in intimate contexts) was prurient, but it is clear that his heart has unmistakeably changed, and that he has come to regard her as a person in the fullness that God gave her. It does not please him, in any fashion, to see her fill the unhappiness of her life with men who mean nothing to her, and it's not really because he believes it should be him in her bed. He says as much to her-- doesn't know what he wants from her except for her to know she loves him-- and the clumsy romantic encounter that precipitates the last act was hardly his idea. He didn't flee, no, but it isn't in his nature to flee any chance to see her. His physically-spent response to her turning her promiscuous affections to him fits perfectly-- his body literally cannot do to her what the other men could. That she takes his premature ejaculation as a proof that "love" is just the electrical impulses that excite us before we orgasm is a perfect summary of the way her own heart as been twisted, and it's the last moment when her version of love holds any sway. Yes, the visual POV switches now from Tomek to the woman, as she spies on him (or his empty apartment), but the thematic point of view is now irrevocably Tomek's; her response to his embarrassment is the beginning of the triumph of loving your neighbor as yourself.

How wonderful is the ending to this version! It resonates with so much of what we've seen come before-- the act of seeing another from afar, seeing yourself as God sees you, i.e., with love and genuine concern and a desire for the best for our souls, trying to stick yourself into the life of a person you only half-know. Tomek will recover and the woman sees that love of a deeper quality is not only possible, but within her grasp. Is it the most hopeful Kieslowski moment?

At the same time, how much more bitter does this version make the shorter version? There's still much of the same transformation in the woman, but Tomek's dismissal stops her short of confirming his love and seeing herself as he sees her. He is embittered and will retreat to his darkened room, and she will go on to the promises of the next man.

As an actor, director, etc. it must have been odd to shoot both endings.

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On second thought, I'll just let Russell speak for me. smile.gif

Beautifully stated...I'm looking forward to watching this again so I can remember the particulars, but I'm looking forward to discussing this.

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Guest Russell Lucas

Those last images...man.

I'm going to watch the shorter version tonight to try to see if I can perceive the differences apart from the ending. I recall the beginning being different, too.

And the Facets transfer of the series really must have been too dark and murky. This one's brighter and clearer.

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Guest Russell Lucas

Spoiler follows...

Watched the ending scene again this morning, and the last shot of the woman smiling sweetly into the telescope, she joins the Great Pantheon of Smiling, Healing Women as Closing Images. Due to my somewhat limited film experience, Melora Walters in Magnolia is the charter and only other member, but I'm looking for other candidates.

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So I was finally able to sit down and rewatch this last night, and again, I concur with your very insightful remarks, Russell. I'm not so sure Magda's transformation is the same in the two versions, though, as you suggested. In The Decalogue, the film ends with her feeling sorry for him and perhaps wanting to remain in relationship, but with A Short Film About Love, she begins to understand the depth of his love for her through his distant concern and devotion.

Interestingly enough, I was struck this time by the way Tomek's elderly friend watches him with similar concern throughout (and invites him to watch TV with her, a parallel action rather than the film's typical unidirectional gaze). And what Magda sees through the telescope is thematically perfect: her emotional pain over "spilled milk," a metaphor for Tomek's moment of sadness and humiliation--and his compassionate response to her in that moment as opposed to her sardonic indifference ("There's a towel in the bathroom"). That she perhaps recognizes the difference in those responses perfectly underscores his redemptive effect on her.

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Guest Russell Lucas

Doug, that's a fantastic post. It's so marvelous how Kieslowski manages to find the most ingenious way of illustrating the freedom that comes with seeing ourselves the way we are seen by one who loves us.

And I certainly agree that the shorter version works no such redemption, and it's easy to imagine that both their hearts are hardened at the end. It's hard for me to wrap my mind around the divergent ways this film speaks in its two versions.

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I finally got around to watching A Short Film About Love last night. There were elements of the expanded version I liked, and elements I was a little disappointed with. I thought the new parallel of Tomak's mother watching beauty pageants on television while he watched the woman out his window was a perfect addition, and in fact could have been developed a little more. The scene with Tomak sitting on his mother's bed talking about why people cry, on the other hand, seemed less effective to me -- in terms of the quality of the dialogue and in how it seemed less than inextricably tied to the core story (which is obviously the central challenge in a project that involves re-opening a finished work.)

I'm ambivalent about the new ending.

I loved how Magda took up the telescope and saw herself through Tomak's eyes, and so came to see her self as a valuable person. Combine this with the caller on the telephone earlier referring to her as "Maria Madalena", then the echo of the Gospel, with Tomak as Christ figure, is made full and powerful. However, I didn't like the literalization of her actually seeing herself: the perspective shots of her crying, and Tomak comforting her like an angel, seemed corny, unsubtle and un-Kieslovskian to me. Perhaps some kind of combination of the content of the new ending with the subtlety and more openness of the old ending would have worked better for me. (And BTW, here's another example of a director "tampering" with his film to inject into the ongoing discussion of Lucas and his own incessent tampering, for better or for worse.)

I was extremely disappointed with the DVD extras: somehow it seems unfair that the primary person to comment on the meaning of such a brilliant director's work should be his lead actress -- who I don't think even understood the film entirely.

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I have been wanting to see this for a couple of years and I still cannot locate a copy to rent or check out from a library. Hmmm...inter library loan maybe...

This was, possibly, my favorite from the Decalogue. I am going to resume my search.

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