Saturday, July 30, 2016



Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Screenplays: Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Krzysztof Kieslowski

(Note: I couldn't find a decent trailer for the film, so I'm posting Roger Ebert's introduction to the films that you can find on the Criterion release of the movie.)

When I listed my 100 Greatest Films List awhile back, I had "The Decalogue" listed at number three and full disclosure I will and have used any excuse imaginable to watch any film by Kieslowski, pretty much any time. For instance, whenever I happen to come across Kieslowski’s hard-to-find “The Decalogue,” one of the most ambitious film projects ever undertaken. 

Technically considered the longest single film I've inducted into the Canon so far, at least in the U.S. where it briefly originally screened in a theater, it consists of ten films, each a little less than one hour in length, with each film supposedly representing one of the Ten Commandments, although I warn you ahead of time, don’t even bother trying to match them up. They were written by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, a lawyer Kieslowski had befriended, who had a ton of ideas, but no ability to write whatsoever, and they eventually collaborated for screenplays for over a decade of great film work. 

Originally airing on Polish television, “The Decalogue,” found it’s way to numerous worldwide film festivals, where it’s status as a masterpiece was confirmed, but the film had very few theater screenings after that, and almost none in the U.S., which is understandable, how do you screen these films, let the audience sit for 10 hours, or have 2-hour sessions or…? Despite that, the films are now available in the U.S. on DVD, and I recommend only watching one or two a day at most, so you can have the proper time to consider, analyze, and most importantly digest them thoughtfully, they're two good to simply watch them all in one shot and besides that, each film is distinctive and really needs to be absorbed and not simply dismissed as a 1/10 of a complete film. Hell, two of these shorts were actually extended slightly and released as their own feature films, entitled "A Short Film About Love" extended from "Decalogue 5" and "A Short Film About Killing" an extension of "Decalogue 6". (Or, "Dekalog", the Polish spelling and how it's often listed as)

As I said, it’s a useless process to try and match the commandments, cause first of all, not all of these films really feel completely clear-cut on which commandment they are, some seem like many, some seem like the Commandments as a whole, and besides, the commandments are ordered differently in different Judeo-Christian denominations anyway. The Commandments are never discussed in the films by the characters, all of whom, happen to live on a corresponding floor of a Warsaw apparent complex. ‘cause all of them are living out moral dilemmas and problems that are part of their day-to-day lives, that they’re trying to deal with. Some characters turn up in numerous stories, only in the background though, unaware of the events the other people in the apartment building are living their lives, sometimes before we meet them, sometimes after. They aren’t connecting threads, just there to illustrate how the worlds of these people are inhabited. Except one person who shows up in eight of the movies, a solemn young man who never speaks, just looks on at the characters disapprovingly. There’s a lot of theories on exactly who that guy is and what he’s supposed to represent.  
Like all Kieslowski’s films, we can’t anticipate what’s going to happen in them, nor can we tell what a character is going to do, how other characters will react, and often we might not even know why.  Take “Decalogue 2,” for instance, where a wife or a very ill husband is pregnant with another man’s baby,  and wants the doctor to tell her whether or not her husband will live or die, ‘cause if he lives, she’ll get an abortion, but if he dies, she’ll keep it. The doctor however, refuses to play God like that, and keeps her at length. This story, like all the stories, won’t end in any way we think it will, or for the reasons we think. This story is actually repeated in “Decalogue 8” during an ethics class taught by a professor who during WWII, protected and took in escaped Jews, but only if they made a certain promise, and she runs into one such girl who didn’t accept the terms, who she had hoped for years she was still alive. 

Decalogue 7 has a young woman who kidnaps her little sister, who’s actually her daughter, but her mother, ashamed of her daughter giving birth at such a young age, treated her like her own, and now, her daughter feels she stole her baby from her, so she’s stealing her right back. So who stole from who? “Decalogue 10,” is a comedy about two brothers who try and fight off people from stealing their late father’s stamp collection, and than start conniving against each other, when they find out just how much it’s worth.  “Decalogue 1” is the biggest tragedy, involving a professor and his genius son, who are true to the principle of measurements, believing in the power of their computer. Each film was directed by Kieslowski, although he used nine different cinematographers across the films in order to have each one look a little different. to keep from the look of them from being repetitive. 

Those were just some of my favorites, you’ll have your own, but this is a collective work as a whole that will simply fascinate and amaze all who decide to view it. It may be a struggle, but it’s such a fulfilling journey, you won’t mind. It's truly one of cinema's all-time greatest accomplishments. 

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