"A terrible idea, of course", was Krzysztof Kieœlowski's first reaction when his co-scriptwriter, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, first suggested the idea for Dekalog
--a series of 10 one-hour films, each inspired by one of the Ten Commandments. But from this unpromising beginning came an edgy, unsettling tour de force
, the culmination of Kieœlowski's work in his native Poland and, quite possibly, the last cinematic masterpiece to come out of Communist Eastern Europe.
The full Dekalog consists of ten one-hour films: this pair of double discs contains the first five. The links to the specific commandments are often oblique and imprecise, and shouldn't be taken too literally. Kieœlowski is using this framework not as a direct exposition of Mosaic Law, nor even as a commentary on its relevance today, but rather as a series of meditations on the complexity of moral choices. All the films are set in the same drab high-rise Warsaw housing estate, and characters from one story will show up the background of others, passing across the frame as they go about their business. One young man who appears in nearly all the films never plays a leading role nor even speaks a line, but remains a watchful, melancholy presence, haunting and disquieting, gazing at the events unfolding around him like an uneasy conscience.
Grim though these stories are, there's often a note of ironic humour leavening the overall bleakness. But this set ends with one of the grimmest of all. In Dekalog 5 a young man murders a taxi driver for no apparent reason, then is executed himself. Both deaths are equally squalid and appalling. This episode was later expanded to feature-film length with the title A Short Film About Killing. The greater length enhanced its impact; it's a pity that room wasn't found for that longer version here.
On the DVDs: Dekalog, Parts 1-5 offers very little additional material. The second disc, which contains episodes 4 and 5, also includes a brief on-screen text biography and filmography for Kieœlowski. The films are shown in their original 4:3 ratio, in a crisp clean transfer. --Philip Kemp
DVD Special Features:
Krzysztof Kieslowski biography and filmography
Polish with English Subtitles
Original 4:3 aspect ratio
Dolby Digital 1.0