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Dekalog

September 23, 2015

DekA series of movies based upon the Ten Commandments, they are not simple morality tales and illustrations. They are meditations that connect both intellectually and emotionally with the commandments

Decalogue, One tells the story of a science-minded father dedicated to measurement and quantification using the latest technology — his “false idol” the computer — and his beloved son.

Decalogue, Two is a story of a woman and the doctor whom she begs to swear one way or another whether her husband will live or die. The doctor, a gruff and solitary being, is almost cruelly distant with her; he resists being asked to play God. The woman explains why she must know: She is pregnant with another man’s child. Her husband is not fertile. If he is going to live, she will have an abortion. If he is going to die, she will have the baby.

The stuff of soap opera. But here it becomes a moral puzzle, solved finally only through a flashback to the doctor’s own painful past–and even then the solution is indirect, since events do not turn out as anyone anticipates.

The third chapter is a story of a husband and father who separates himself from his family on Christmas Eve to be with a former mistress. A man, dressed as Santa Claus coming to his own house to distribute presents to his own family, suddenly has his car stolen. The thief turns out to be Ewa, a former lover of his. Her boyfriend has been missing since morning and she wants Janusz’s help to find him. Or so she says.

The fourth centres on a young girl curious about a mysterious letter her father has sealed, to be opened after he is dead. Anka, a 20 year-old acting student, discovers a mysterious envelope in her father’s desk drawer left by her deceased mother. The envelope says, “To be opened after I die.” Anka, who never knew her mother, contemplates opening the letter knowing a deep secret exists that will change her life, or at the very least her perception of her mother, forever. The secret ends up being revealed, and it eventually snowballs into more revelations.

A thoughtful and unexpectedly heartfelt episode, one which suggests that a parents’ greatest fear may not be the family secrets their children will learn, but that the children will one day be old enough to understand them.

The fifth deals with murder and capital punishment. Jacek Lazar killed a taxi driver and for that is hanged. The death penalty scene is so realistic that it will hopefully make people hate the capital punishments. People who have read Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment will immediately identify with this stunning tale of murder, repentance and justice.

In Decalogue, Six, adultery is recast as a story of a Peeping Tom and his victim. A lonely teenage boy uses a telescope to spy on the sex life of a morally careless, lonely woman who lives across the way. He decides he loves her. They see each other because he is a clerk in the post office. He takes a morning milk route so he can see her then, too. Almost inevitably, she finds out he is a peeping tom (and also an anonymous phone caller, and a prankster), but she invites the teenager to her apartment and uses his sexual inexperience to humiliate him.

In the seventh film, a young girl’s biological mother wishes to take her away from the grandmother who has been posing as her mother — in the end the only thing really “stolen” is little Ania’s innocence.

The eighth film reunites a Jewish Holocaust survivor with a Catholic woman who had been unable to provide her refuge.

The ninth deals with an impotent man and the strength of his marriage. Roman, a doctor, has slept with 9 women in his life, maybe even 15. He lost track. No matter, because Roman has been cursed with incurable impotence. His devoted wife, Hanka, proclaims her love to him in spite of the fact that they can’t be intimate any longer. He encourages her to take a lover, but…well, these things just have a way of not working out. She takes a handsome young blond guy, and Roman takes it upon himself to eavesdrop on them.

Decalogue, Ten, the so-called “comedy” of the ten (Kieslowski said this, but then again someone loses a kidney), is the story of two brothers’ inheritance of their estranged father’s stamp collection.

One man, who often makes “sad eye contact” and never says a word, appears in all but the last, seemingly a metaphor for Christ. He appears as a student, a hospital orderly, a vagrant, a bus driver, and a flagman. In Decalogue, Four, he even carries a boat on his back in two scenes, much like Jesus bearing the burden of the cross. He looks on during critical moments in the characters’ sagas but does almost nothing to intervene, except a seemingly desperate, surreptitious shaking of his head in Decalogue, Five. He may also represent the viewer, not only because we cannot impact the events on screen or change the ending, but because film has absolutely no power to change or affect society. Such was Kieslowski’s view, at least the one he espoused to the press.

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