Decalogue (1988)

Decalogue (1988)
Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
Written by Krysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz

This is series of ten one hour films on each of the Ten Commandments, originally made for Polish TV. If you count this as a TV show, I’d say it’s has to be one of the best of all time, especially if we’re thinking of artistic merit. I think that’s enough information for you to make a decision to see the film(s) or not.

Oh, one more thing. FWIW, at the IMDB site, out of 1,700+ votes this film gets a 9.3. That’s pretty dang high.

Personal Reaction

What I liked about the series was the way Kieslowski and Piesiewicz avoid dealing with each commandment in a predictable or moralizing way. The episodes aren’t made by priests trying to show the truth and power of these commandments. The filmmakers deal with moral issues to some extent, but they’re not preachy, and they often go deeper then the moral issues. What is at the heart of the commandments? The filmmakers also explore aspects of the commandments in less obvious ways.

(Some spoilers)

Decalogue 1: Thou shalt have no other god before me.

Probably the most straight-forward story of the bunch. The child actor is really good in this: he’s cute, appealing, believable and has one or two pretty difficult scenes to pull off–specifically the scene where he talks about seeing the dog die and feeling like there’s no point in life.
Liked the ending shot of the father touching the frozen holy water on his forehead. The shot contains several emotions at once: the broken ice is what causes him suffering and pain and it indicates that he has put too much faith in science. The scene could also indicate his repentance and return to God.

Decalogue 2: Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain

I’m not really sure how this story connects to the second commandment, but here’s my guess. The doctor and the practice of medicine is sort of the equivalent to God’s name and power. He does not want to use the authority of a doctor unwisely but telling the woman when her husband will die.

At this point, I’m not sure how the loss of the doctor’s family (presumably during WWII relates to the other couple, except that the Doctor “save” or prevents the woman from having an abortion).

Decalogue 3: Remember the Sabbath, to keep it a holy day

Once again I have a really hard time connecting the commandment to the actual story. A woman deceives her former lover to come with her to look for her new lover. It’s Christmas Eve and the man spends the whole night with this woman. The woman doesn’t want to be alone until 7 AM the next morning.

The ending: the wife asks if he’s going to go out every night (implying that he’s going to start having affairs). He says, “No, ” he’s never going out. She looks a little surprised. Not sure what that all means.

Decalogue 4: Honor thy father and mother

A story that explores the nature of parents and children. What makes a parent a parent? I had a hard time relating to this story on one level, namely the fact that there would be any chance that the father in this scene would even consider being attracted to the daughter, simply because the daughter is not his biological daughter.

Decalogue 5: Thou shall not kill

I liked the way this story turned the notion on capital punishment. It reminded me of Dead Man Walking.

Decalogue 6: Thou shall not steal

I liked the situation they chose to illustrate this commandment. Theft can certainly be emotional.

Decalogue 7: Thou shall not commit adultery

This was probably my favorite so far. I interpreted this to mean that love is more than sex, and that sex without love is empty.

Decaloque 8: Thou shall not give false testimony

Here’s one where there is a ethical conundrum: do you lie about one’s faith to save a life or is saving a life through lying about one’s faith acceptable?

Decalogue 9: Thou shall not covet thy neighbor’s wife

Once again another twist on the commandment. Can a husband covet his own wife? That seems to be the way Kieslowski wants to examine the question, at least in part.

Decalogue 10 Thou shall not covet another man’s possessions

Probably the funniest and the most charming of all the episodes. The two lead actors starring as brothers is the main reason for this.

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