A Short Film About Love (1988)

A Short Film About Love (1988)

A mystifying character study that flips the voyeur fantasy on its head



German, Polish, Portuguese
Drama, Romance
Artur Barciś, Grażyna Szapołowska, Olaf Lubaszenko
87 min


Featuring the angriest postal worker you've ever seen in a movie. Poland takes their mail fraud seriously!

What it's about

A lonely 19-year-old boy forms a strange connection with an older woman he spies on from his apartment window.

The take

Leave it to a master filmmaker like Krzysztof Kieślowski—known for the Three Colours Trilogy, The Double Life of Veronique, and the miniseries Dekalog (whose sixth episode was expanded into this film)—to take a premise as banal as that of a peeping tom and to turn it into something mysterious and poignant. There are definitely still parts to this story that may not hold up to scrutiny, like its belief in a romantic/spiritual connection that rewards the immature man for barging into a woman's life. In different hands, this subject matter would just be creepy. In Kieślowski's, the loneliness of these characters takes full shape.

As young postal clerk Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko) quickly admits his spying to the older and more jaded Magda (Grażyna Szapołowska), the two are drawn to each other with a combination of fear, pity, and lust. And what Kieślowski does—with the help of cinematographer Witold Adamek's stunning, intimate frames; and his cast's subdued sorrow—is move the film away from concerns about consent and control, and to tell a story about what it means to truly be seen and acknowledged by another person. In an existence made up of meaningless routine and temporary relationships, seeing someone else at their most vulnerable feels like lightning.

What stands out

Both Olaf Lubaszenko and Grażyna Szapołowska are wonderfully sad in their own quiet ways, but the performer who ends up making an unexpected impact is Stefania Iwinska, in a supporting role as Tomek's godmother. You expect a character like this to be the strait-laced authority figure who knocks some sense into the more immature protagonists, but Iwinska brings so much understanding and reluctant acceptance to this old woman. And there's still authority about her—it's just that she displays it not through force, but through the gentle clutch of her fingers and an unwavering stare.

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