Dekalog (The Decalogue, Kieslowski, 1989)

I’m not sure whether to consider this a film or television series; technically, it’s a television mini-series – 10 one hour episodes – but, because of it’s cinematic aesthetic and scope, it has been widely regarded as a film, along with the like of Berlin Alexanderplatz and Fanny & Alexander.

Each episode has a distinct cast and plot; the only thing sewing the episodes together is the fact that the main characters live in the same building in Warsaw. As such, we occasionally see the main characters of one episode appear, briefly and in the background, in another episode; moreover, there are instances where the characters are distantly connected to one another – such as, without giving much away, the friend of the main character in episode 8 is the father of the main characters in 10 – and instances where characters from alternate episodes are alluded to. There is one character – an unknown and nameless man – who appears in 9 of the 10 episodes. He appears briefly during moments of intense emotional experiences, when the characters seem to have reached some sort of crossroads or milestone in their life; his keen observation and facial features – usually of disapproval – make him appear as some kind of spiritual entity, perhaps God or conscience.

The films are loosely based on the Ten Commandments, with each episode focusing on one – in sequence. I say loosely because, actually, there are several commandments tackled in each episodes, and, therefore, other interpretations could be applied to each film. Nevertheless, the Ten Commandments give the best guide of how to watch the films; by minding the corresponding commandment, one thinks along a path of moral ambiguity that Kieślowski is clearly treading.

While Kieślowski is religious, and though it is called the Dekalog, this is NOT a religious film; It is primarily philosophy of ethics and morality. Kieślowski never gets preachy; he always has characters to support every considerable viewpoint, and he doesn’t – not even subtly – lean towards one more than the others. He often has characters questioning religion and faith, and many of the characters are atheist – this makes sense considering the films take place in the late 80s, after religion began declining. If you’d like, though, you could see these films as deeply religious, but, then again, if you’d like, you could make any philosophical film about religion. I think of it as a spiritual film, but void of a distinct God; Kieślowski seems to believe in the supernatural, but as a spiritual and intangible entity that exists in all man rather than a thinking, commanding God that exists separate from man- this is also how I think, so perhaps I’m obscuring his beliefs with my own ideals, but w/e, that’s Kieślowski. With films about instinct, serendipity, and intuition – as kind of supernatural, out of body experience – it’s clear that Kieślowski doesn’t believe in coincidence or accidents; he clearly has some kind of faith.

Every episode is awesome; the only one I didn’t like as much as the others is Episode 3, although even it was pretty damn good – just not at the same level as the others. All but episode 10 has the classic melancholic tone of Kieślowski (10 is a black comedy like Three Colours: White), usually ending in some kind of tragedy – sometimes, though, it’s a good tragedy, and, always, it’s a beautiful one. This is much of the reason I like Kieślowski; some of my favourite films and scenes juxtapose beauty with tragedy. This is the main reason that I love Three Colours: Blue; the ending is my favourite of all time, for the aesthetics – dramatically helped by the music – convey a sense of beautiful tragedy.

Episodes 5 and 6 were turned into films – A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love; I can’t wait to see them, since, not only are they two of the best episodes in the series, they are more graphic and detailed than their Dekalog counterparts – television is rather more restrictive. Moreover, while the Dekalog boasts some of Kieślowski’s finest cinematic moments, it is no where near the artistic beauty of his films; I think this is because it is a television series where story and pace matter more than artistry. For this reason, it doesn’t quite have Kieślowski’s artistic stamp, but it does hold some of his finest storywriting.

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About Kamran Ahmed

I have a Masters in Cinema Studies from the University of Toronto. I work as a freelance writer and film critic in Vancouver. My writing is primarily distributed through Next Projection, an online film journal based in Toronto.
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One Response to Dekalog (The Decalogue, Kieslowski, 1989)

  1. Pingback: Dekalog (Kieslowski, 1988) | Aesthetics Of The Mind

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