Kieslowski used a different cinematographer for each film (except Nos. 3 and 9, both photographed by Piotr Sobocinski) to give a distinct feel to each story. While none of them--as you might expect from this director--offer a barrel of laughs, some are decidedly lighter in tone. Indeed the series ends on an almost farcical note: Dekalog 10 tells the tale of two brothers seized with paranoia when their late father leaves them a valuable stamp collection. By contrast, Dekalog 6 is one of the most moving and compassionate in the collection: a woman who finds a young lad is obsessively spying on her inflicts an intolerable humiliation on him. This, like No. 5 in the series, was expanded by 25 minutes or so into a feature film, A Short Film about Love. Here too, it seems a pity that the longer version couldn't have been included in the set.
On the DVDs: Dekalog, Parts 1-6 is slightly better served for extras than the first set; this includes a 50-minute interview with Kieslowski, one of the last he gave before his early death. As usual, he stonewalls all the questions with barely concealed impatience. The transfer captures the muted colours of the original, and the Dolby 1.0 sound is crisp and clear. --Philip Kemp
"A Short Film about Dekalog" An interview with Krzysztof Kieslowski by Eileen Anipare and Jason Wood
Polish with English Subtitles
Original 4:3 aspect ratio
Dolby Digital 1.0
In a remarkable achievement Kieslowski and his scriptwriter Piesiewicz, succeed in taking a somewhat hackneyed idea and drawing from it something compelling, fresh and above all humane. In taking the Ten Commandments as a starting point for ten films, they could easily have delivered a pious or sentimental homily on the place of those imperatives in modern society. Instead they turn an unflinching eye on the inhabitants of a vast grey housing estate in Communist Poland, revealing both the petty motivations and the small moments of redemption in their lives. The role of the commandments in each film is often oblique and ironic, yet undeniably pertinent. Characters are pushed to the brink, not in grandiose moral fables, but in deeply felt and often sad little tales. Even the subject of a brutal murder is delivered without judgement, allowing us to see both the squalid nature of murder and the equally squalid response of the state apparatus. There are no comforting answers, no beautiful effects and cathartic endings such as he offered in his later (and more famous) “Three Colours Trilogy”; instead he offers us a truly humane vision, which neither judges nor excuses the meanness and perversity at the centre of his characters’ lives. Given the extreme nature of Communist Poland one might expect the films to be too deeply enmeshed in that country’s problems to speak to a western audience. To their credit the films do not deny the effect of local conditions, yet are not limited by a parochial vision. As with most great art, its specificity gives it an authenticity that allows it to speak way beyond the limits of its own time and place.
Kieslowski employed different cinematographers for the different episodes, giving each film a distinct character without destroying the unity of the whole project. What makes these works all the more remarkable is that they were originally made for television under the harsh rule of Communist Poland. One wonders that such work could be made by a state enterprise and be shown on state television. But then it is equally hard to imagine films of this type being made for British television in the current climate of a commercially driven industry happy to deliver unremitting pap to uncritical audiences.
Two of the ten episodes received Cinema release in slightly longer versions under the titles “A short Film About Love” and “A short Film About Killing”. There are sufficient differences between the TV and Cinema versions for separate DVD releases of the two films to be desirable.
Kieslowski was a very great artist and “The Decalogue” will come to be seen as his masterpiece. Buy it before it disappears from the catalogue.
Anyone who has come to know Kieslowski's work through later films such as "The Double Life of Veronique" or the "Three Colours Trilogy", might be surprised by the absences of beautiful effects and flights of poetic fancy. These are not films which offer the comforts or almost mystical catharsis of his last works. Instead they turn an unflinching gaze on some ordinary lives, focussing on the meanness, solitude and quiet desperation of ordinary people, but by doing so they ultimately offer moments of redemption and humanity which put them into the same rank as the later portraits of Rembrandt. These are films to return to again and again. If you let them they will get under your skin and allow you to see the world with a "Kieslowskian eye", not necessarily a seductive or beautiful vision, but one which has a richenss beyond virtually any western art (not simply cinema)of the last twenty to thirty years. In the long run it is with these films that the greatness of the director will come to be understood, rather than on the more self-conscious works which gained him a wider audience in the west.
Essential if you want to understand the state of humanity in late twentieth century Europe
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