Tuesday, March 17, 2009

584 Minutes

Decalogue is a commitment, not just a box of movies. The Polish director, Krzysztof Kieślowski, and the script writer, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, came up with 10 movies, each running about an hour, for Polish TV. As per Wikipedia, "The series was conceived when Piesiewicz, who had seen a 15th-century artwork illustrating the commandments in scenes from that time period, suggested the idea of a modern equivalent. Kieślowski was interested in the philosophical challenge and also wanted to use the series as a portrait of the hardships of Polish society, while deliberately avoiding the political issues he had depicted in earlier films. He originally meant to hire ten different directors, but decided to direct the films himself, though using a different cinematographer for each". The movies all deal (or not???) with one (or multiple??) of the Ten Commandments. Here is a partial subjective summary of each film's aim. There are 3 CD's, with the first one containing an introduction to the movies by Roger Ebert. As always, he does an excellent job of setting up the movies without revealing too much. You can, as he suggests, watch them all the way through which is a loooong day parked on your couch. I watched either one or two, at most, at a time. IMHO, it gives you some time to appreciate each film. They are all exquisite and all quite heavy on the soul. The majority of the films regard happenings to folks living/working in and around one of those God-awful Iron Curtain era high-rise concrete apartment buildings. You may notice one character from one of the films as a passer-by or inconsequential character in another of the films. One character, a despairing hollow-eyed shorn-of-fat man, walks through each film, like a witness from Heaven (or Hell) of the braking of commandments. My Polish is non-existent, but there were enough words that sounded Croatian-like that I can pick them up and notice that the subtitles did not reflect their presence in the movie. If there is any fault to this collection it's my perception that the translation, while carrying the spirit of each individual movie, did not reflect the earthiness of the work. Sometimes, there would be a dis-connect with the subtitles and the action and you knew there was a good chance you missed something, hopefully not too significant.
So, for best viewing, comb your neighborhood for some Polish speaking fellow/gal and invite them to watch the movie with you. Otherwise, keep your finger on the remote control; you may want to be hitting "REWIND" more so than usual. Decalogue is well worth the hassle and, seriously, each movie is strong on its own. However, please....PLEASE do not ruin the selections by viewing more than 2, 3 at most, at one time. These are pearls to be fingered slowly and uniquely. I think even God has the Decalogue collection in his DVD library.


In the early 90s, when I first relocated to a withered commune in east Toronto, my aunt phoned me to tell me Decalogue was being broadcast on public television. It felt completely of a piece with the sea-change in my life. Thank you for raising it again.
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