Dekalog – The Decalogue (1988) dir. Krzysztof Kieślowski
Kieślowski’s Dekalog was a 10-part miniseries that aired in Poland in 1988. From One to Ten, each is modeled after one of the Ten Commandments, in succession. Each episode is set in the same apartment complex and characters may make cameos in each others’ stories, but each story is distinct.
Although the stories generally reinforce the commandments, they are not didactic tales or parables. The first is the only that comes close to a metaphor.
People aren’t divided into sinners and non-sinners. Kieślowski isn’t so much interested in condemning the guilty, but exploring why they become guilty. Although we find ourselves often silently shouting to the characters “no!,” there are no false notes. We always completely understand their grief and we imagine ourselves doing the same things – imagine or remember.
It is difficult to discuss any of the stories in particular without spoiling the story. They often rely on twists of fate and a summary of any would sound soap operatic. But they don’t feel that way, and this is Kieślowski’s show of talent. The decalogues invite meditation and thought. Roger Ebert’s introduction on the DVD suggests that viewers only watch one at a time, maybe watching the series over a succession of weeks. I agree.
Although each episode is appropriate for broadcast television, some thematic elements might be inappropriate for young children, Decalogue IV in particular. I heartily recommend the series for adult Sunday School classes, but I also recommend The Last Temptation of Christ every year, so if your bible study group is one where Mike Huckabee would feel comfortable, you might want to pass on Kieślowski.
Dekalog is #131 on the Top 1000 Films list I’m working on. I’ve now seen 373.
“For 6,000 years, these rules have been unquestionably right. And yet we break them every day. People feel that something is wrong in life. There is some kind of atmosphere that makes people now turn to other values. They want to contemplate the basic questions of life, and that is probably the real reason for wanting to tell these stories.” - Krzysztof Kieślowski