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Unmourned Dead, Filtered History, and the Screening of Anti-Semitism in Kieślowski's A Short Film About Killing

From: American Imago
Volume 66, Number 3, Fall 2009
pp. 311-342 | 10.1353/aim.0.0058



A searing indictment of the death penalty, Krzysztof Kieślowski's A Short Film About Killing derives its power in large part from its stark juxtaposition of Jacek Lazar's brutal murder of a taxi driver with the Polish State's execution of Jacek for his crime—an act critics have consistently described as unmotivated and inexplicable. This essay explores how the film invites us to view it psychoanalytically, cinematographically, and historically as a multilayered narrative about personal and collective traumas that can be neither buried nor mourned. It begins by showing that Jacek's murderous act is motivated by an unutterable personal secret and an intrapsychic structure that prevents his grieving a lost love. The essay then reveals how the film embeds within this private tale the national trauma of Poland's oppression by the Nazis and Soviets during and after the Second World War. It concludes by elaborating the subtle ways in which the film reflects on Poland's still unsettled history of anti-Semitism. Opposition to capital punishment thus emerges as a screen for personal and public sagas involving pathological mourning and the murderous power of political and religious ideology.

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