The Decalogue (1987) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
|It is extraordinary that a fairly obscure
Polish mini-series from 1987 is now considered one of the
greatest achievements in the history of film. IMBd
viewers rate it an incredible 9.3 out of 10, and it's now
available on DVD.
The director/writer was the famous Krzysztof Kieslowski ("Three Colors", "The Double Life of Veronique"), and each of the ten one-hour episodes is loosely based on one of the Ten Commandments. Although Kieslowski is interested in the Christian perspective, he isn't interested in teaching any moral lessons. Rather, he is interested in posing the moral and ethical questions that we have to face in today's world, and showing how complicated the issues can be. In fact, each of the episodes is like one of those theoretical questions that they pose in college ethics classes. (If you have to kill the baby to save the mother ....... )
Here is an example. A man may or may not be dying. His wife really has to know, because she is pregnant with another man's child. If the husband is going to live, she plans to terminate the pregnancy. If the husband is going to die, she'll have the baby. She explains the story to her husband's doctor, and he wants no part of playing God in determining the baby's life.
In another, a university ethics professor is confronted with an ethical problem of her own - she is visited by a Jewish woman who came to her for aid 50 years earlier in Hitler's era. The professor and her husband were deeply religious and had to choose between lying before God about whether the Jewish girl was their daughter. Or was there even more to it than that?
In another, a daughter opens up a letter from her long-dead mother which says that her father is not really her father. This awakens the girl's Electra complex, and she attempts to seduce the father. Except ..... well, there is a double-twist surprise ending that pulls you here and there in your attitude toward the characters.
They're pretty much all like that - tales of moral ambiguity in a complex world, filled with tons of twists, either in your moral attitudes or the plot, or both. Kieslowski wants you to understand that everybody is right and everybody is wrong, and that only tiny degrees and subtle nuances define rights and wrongs.
The most praised are episode 5, about a brutal murderer and his insecure attorney, and episode 8, the one about the ethics professor.
|If I may
tread against the grain a bit, I think these short films
are somewhat overrated.
Don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying they aren't great. They are.
Each is a masterpiece of complex storytelling in the deepest European tradition, and you'll be completely blown away by the profundity of the premise in each case, and by the filmmaker's unwillingness to provide simplistic solutions and explanations.
literature, they take their rightful places among the
finest stories of the century. The scripts are
As films, however, they are not always that impressive. Some of the photography is imaginative, and there are some truly stark emotional moments drained out of the images and music, but some of his set-ups are trite, his lighting isn't always sophisticated, and there are some places where I almost fell asleep waiting for the scene to be completed when the point was already sealed and delivered.
Let me soften that criticism with a bit of genuine praise for Kieslowski. As far as I can see, he never adds any artificial bullshit symbols to his films, ala Tarkowsky or Bergman. There are no hooded death characters, or people walking through water while carrying candles, none of that pretentious self-consciously arty stuff. Kieslowski drags all his deep meaning out of real people doing everyday things in believable ways - people making real choices about real dilemmas that any of us might also face.
And that's probably the most impressive thing about his work - that all the situations seem so humdrum, but carry layers and layers of meaning within them.
Here are outside links to in-depth analyses of each episode:
|Commandment 1||Commandment 6|
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