"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
United Kingdom released, PAL/Region 2 DVD: LANGUAGES: Polish ( Dolby Digital 2.0 ), Polish ( Mono ), English ( Subtitles ), SPECIAL FEATURES: 2-DVD Set, Biographies, Interactive Menu, Scene Access, SYNOPSIS: Dekalog, from the acclaimed director of "The Double Life of Veronique", was premiered at the 1989 Venice Film Festival, winning both unanimously glowing critical praise and numerous awards. The ten hour-long films, five of which are presented here, are all equally captivating and powerful. The stories are all set around the same modern Warsaw apartment block and focus on the complexities of human relationships. The themes are the universal ones of love, marriage, infidelity, parenthood, guilt, faith and compassion. The result is a unique and life-enhancing look at the various moral dilemmas faced by ordinary people in their daily lives. "I don't want to influence what people think or do, because I don't know the answers. We are not the engineers of human souls, and to pretend we have an influence would be ridiculous. I make films because I want to talk to people, to have a chat." - Krzysztof Kieslowski This 2 disc set features the first five films, including the hour long version of A Short Film About Killing. ...Dekalog: The Ten Commandments (Parts 1 to 5) ( The Decalogue ) ( Dekalog - The 10 Commandments (Parts One to Five) )