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The Decalogue - a film review

Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941 – 1996) was one of the most talented Polish directors and screenwriters – renowned in the country and abroad. He first became popular through documentaries but it was the film ‘The Decalogue’ that brought him success and recognition. His later films – ‘The Double Life of Veronique’ and the trilogy ‘Three Colors’ (Blue, White, Red) – were foreign productions.

‘The Decalogue’ is a film series based on the Ten Commandments. It was originally made as a television miniseries – directed by Kieslowski and co-written by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz. The Decalogue features also magnificent music by Zbigniew Preisner with whom the director cooperated when making his later films.

Although it is very easy to find the association with the Ten Commandments in each film that the Decalogue consists of, it does not tackle the faith and Christianity literally but explores the possible meaning of the law given by God. The message however might seem sometimes ambiguous as the director focused more on philosophical and psychological analysis of the characters depicted there.

In Poland the ten films were not given their own titles – they were simply called by number (for example Decalogue: One). Each of them lasts about one hour and – although the characters are somehow linked together by living in the same block of flats in Warsaw – focuses each time on different people. Each of the films creates also separate, closed history. Although the Decalogue was made in 1988 (when Poland was still under Communist regime), Kieslowski deliberately avoided any political context.

The film amazes especially with the choice of the best Polish actors of its times, such as Janusz Gajos, Krystyna Janda, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Jerzy Stuhr and many more. The scenes strike with melancholy – so characteristic for Krzysztof Kieslowski. Nothing is said straight so as to make the audience think deeper about a given issue. ‘Accidental’ characters and situations bring the feeling of mystery and uncertainty.

Although the Decalogue is one of the most acclaimed by critics films, it was not created for audience that are looking for simple histories and ready answers. After watching it you might be even a little bit confused – but you will surely remember the film and think of it long after.

I have probably watched each part of the Decalogue couple of times – as the film was very often projected on Polish television. But the part that shook me the most was ‘the Decalogue: One’ that I have seen for the first time as a small child. I remember wondering how one can make a film connected with the first Commandment (“Thou shalt have no other gods before me”) without really mentioning God. But Kieslowski proved that creativity and imagination of an artist goes much beyond what we know. He told the story of a university professor who blindly believed in scientific methods – what resulted in tragic incident. Although at that time a computer, using of which misled the professor, was for me unrealistic thing that I have never touched or used, I have even more thrills when watching this film nowadays. Seeing how much trust we put in material things and machines I have a feeling that people do not change – it is only the conditions that change around them. If the Poles from 1980’ are not that much different from us now, maybe we are not at all different from those who assisted Moses when the Commandments were given on Sinai mountain?

Whatever one can say about the Decalogue by Kieslowski, it is worth watching to have your own point of view.

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