A Short Film About Love is a longer version of Decalogue VI—the sixth instalment in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s famous Decalogue series. It follows the lonely life of Tomek: a 19-year-old postman who lives with his godmother in a barren apartment complex in Poland. For more than a year he has put his own existence on hold, and has lived vicariously through Magda: a thirty-something-year old artist living in the apartment block opposite. He watches as she plods wearily from one day to the next. He sees her deliberating over her artwork, and spilling milk on her kitchen table. He sees her meet strange men in the evenings, but notes that none ever stays too long. He is there, watching and welcoming, when she comes home from work in the afternoon, and is there pitying from the shadows as she weeps late at night. In Tomek’s world, which is lived through a telescope, there really are only two souls living.
“Why do people cry?”
“When they can no longer bear…”
“Can one get over it?”
“Once, Martin had a toothache. He plugged in the iron, waited, and held it to his shoulder...
Although its presentation is minimalist, A Short Film About Love is a virtuosic demonstration of filmmaking. The cinematography of Witold Adamek appears to borrow from films like Peeping Tom and Rear Window, and yet his colour palette, and ability to capture shadows, appears entirely unique. Amid a backdrop of bleak and colourless stone, the carnal reds of Magda’s apartment and Tomek’s cloaked telescope cut through so clearly that it’s like seeing a new colour for the first time.
As with so much of Kieślowski’s work—namely Decalogue and the Trois couleurs series—little, if any, of the story should be taken literally. For those who get the impression that it’s a thriller—where Tomek is a voyeur and a pervert, and Magda an unwitting victim-to-be—then the way things do unfold will seem highly irregular. They will wonder why on earth Magda is not sickened by Tomek’s actions, and why she is, if anything, aroused by them. However, in the end, I think all viewers will end up in the same place. If you had not already been gently shepherded towards a more symbolic reading of the film in the beginning or the middle, then you certainly will be at the end.
What begins as an unassuming story, ends as a timeless parable. It is a tale of an intrinsic loneliness that stretches from adolescence, all the way into adulthood. It is a loneliness that cannot be weeded out and thrown away, but only steadily attenuated by the joys of a loving relationship. Tomek is not interested in kissing Magda or sleeping with her; her presence is the joy that gets him through the day. The fervour and the self-confessed obsession that he has for Magda is a symbolic compliment to the void that she feels. She is older, but no less lonely. Although she does not have a telescope, she does just as much looking. Like Tomek, she is willing to endure the chores of the day if it means that she can catch a glimpse of something beautiful at the end of it. They know that their loneliness, when shared, is somehow less than its parts. And while they know that love itself can be a devastating industry, they know equally well that it is one of life’s finest distractions.
...And he forgot about his toothache”