The Decalogue (TV series)

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The Decalogue
Decalogueboxcover.jpg
DVD box set cover
Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski
Produced by Ryszard Chutkowski
Written by Krzysztof Kieślowski
Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Starring Artur Barciś
see below
Music by Zbigniew Preisner
Cinematography Wieslaw Zdort
Piotr Sobociński
Edited by Ewa Smal
Production
  company
Sender Freies Berlin (SFB)
Telewizja Polska (TVP)
Distributed by Warner Bros. (Poland)
Release date(s)
  • 10 December 1989 (1989-12-10)
Running time 572 minutes
Country Poland
Language Polish
Budget $100,000 (all parts)
Box office $447,093[1]

The Decalogue (Polish: Dekalog, pronounced [dɛˈkalɔk]) is a 1989 Polish television drama series directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski[2] and co-written by Kieślowski with Krzysztof Piesiewicz, with music by Zbigniew Preisner.[3] It consists of ten one-hour films, inspired by the Ten Commandments.[4] Each short film explores one or several moral or ethical issues faced by characters living in modern Poland.

The series is Kieślowski's most acclaimed work, has been said to be "the best dramatic work ever done specifically for television" [5] and has won numerous international awards, though it was not widely released outside Europe until the late 1990s.[6] Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick wrote an admiring foreword to the published screenplay in 1991.[7]

Production[edit]

Artur Barciś in one of his nameless cameo roles, observing the characters of the first episode of The Decalogue series.

Though each film is independent, most of them share the same setting (a large housing project in Warsaw), and some of the characters are acquainted with each other. The large cast includes both famous actors and unknowns, many of whom Kieślowski also used in his other films. Typically for Kieślowski, the tone of most of the films is melancholic, except for the final one, which, like Three Colors: White, is a black comedy, and features two of the same actors, Jerzy Stuhr and Zbigniew Zamachowski.

The series was conceived when Krzysztof Piesiewicz, who had seen a 15th-century artwork illustrating the Commandments in scenes from that time period, suggested the idea of a modern equivalent. Krzysztof 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 with exception of episodes III and IX, both of which used Piotr Sobociński as director of photography.[8]

Themes[edit]

The ten films are titled simply by number (e.g. Decalogue: One). According to Roger Ebert's introduction to the DVD set,[9] Kieślowski said that the films did not correspond exactly to the commandments, and never used their names himself.

It is surely beyond doubt that the themes of The Decalogue can be interpreted in many different ways; however, each film has its own literality:[10]

Commandment (Roman Catholic Enumeration) Ideal Kieślowskian Theme
I am the Lord thy God... thou shalt not have other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image... Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them. The sanctity of God and worship Idolization of science
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. The sanctity of speech Names as fundamental to identify and moral choice; the importance of one's word in human life.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. The sanctity of time Time designations (holidays, day/night etc.) as repositories of meaning
Honor thy father and thy mother. The sanctity of authority Familial and social relationship as regulators of identity
Thou shalt not kill. The sanctity of life Murder and Punishment
Thou shalt not commit adultery. The sanctity of love The nature and relation of love and passion
Thou shalt not steal. The sanctity of dominion Possession as human need and temptation
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. The sanctity of truth The difficulties of truth amid desperate evil
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife. The sanctity of contentment Sex, jealousy, and faithfulness
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods. The sanctity of contentment Greed and relationships

Episodes[edit]

Episode Cast Cinematography
Decalogue I Henryk Baranowski
Wojciech Klata
Maja Komorowska
Wieslaw Zdort
Decalogue II Krystyna Janda
Aleksander Bardini
Olgierd Łukaszewicz
Edward Klosinski
Decalogue III Daniel Olbrychski
Maria Pakulnis
Joanna Szczepowska
Piotr Sobociński
Decalogue IV Adrianna Biedrzyńska
Janusz Gajos
Adam Hanuszkiewicz
Krzysztof Pakulski
Decalogue V Miroslaw Baka
Jan Tesarz
Krzysztof Globisz
Sławomir Idziak
Decalogue VI Olaf Lubaszenko
Grażyna Szapołowska
Witold Adamek
Decalogue VII Anna Polony
Maja Barelkowska
Katarzyna Piwowarczyk
Dariusz Kuc
Decalogue VIII Teresa Marczewska
Maria Koscialkowska
Andrzej Jaroszewicz
Decalogue IX Ewa Blasczyk
Piotr Machalica
Jan Jankowski
Piotr Sobociński
Decalogue X Jerzy Stuhr
Zbigniew Zamachowski
Jacek Blawut

There is a nameless character, played by Polish actor Artur Barciś and possibly meant to be a supernatural figure, who observes the main characters at key moments but never intervenes (this character appears in all episodes except episodes 7 and 10).

Episode Character played by Artur Barciś
Decalogue I A homeless man sitting by a fire near the lake
Decalogue II An orderly in the hospital
Decalogue III A tram driver
Decalogue IV A man rowing a boat and later seen carrying the boat
Decalogue V A construction worker holding a measuring pole and then as a different construction worker carrying a ladder
Decalogue VI A man carrying bags of groceries
Decalogue VII Does not appear (Barciś was meant to be a man at the railway station, but Kieślowski experienced technical difficulties including him in this episode)[11]
Decalogue VIII A student at the university
Decalogue IX A man riding a bicycle
Decalogue X Does not appear

Milk is a symbolic element in some of the films.

Episode Occurrence of milk in The Decalogue
Decalogue I The milk is sour.
Decalogue II The doctor carries milk almost all the time.
Decalogue IV Michał is going to buy milk at the end.
Decalogue VI Tomek delivers milk and Magda spills it.
Decalogue VII Ewa tries to breastfeed Ania without any milk, and Wojtek tells Majka that Ania needs a home with milk.
Decalogue IX Roman is pouring milk while watching a child play.

Reception[edit]

The Decalogue was admired by critics as well as by important figures from the film industry such as Stanley Kubrick.[12]

The DVD box issue holds 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 28 reviews.[13] The series was also praised by some of the renowned film critics, including Roger Ebert[14] and Robert Fulford.[15]

In the 2002 Sight & Sound poll to determine the greatest films of all time, The Decalogue and A Short Film About Killing received votes from 4 critics and 3 directors, including Ebert, New Yorker critic David Denby, and director Mira Nair.[16] Additionally, in the Sight & Sound poll held the same year to determine the top 10 films of the previous 25 years, Kieslowski was named #2 on the list of Top Directors, with votes for his films being split between Decalogue, Three Colors Red/Blue, and The Double Life of Veronique.[17]

In 2002, the film was also listed among the Top 100 "Essential Films" of all time by the National Society of Film Critics[18] and ranked #36 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[19]

Longer feature films[edit]

German DVD cover

Kieślowski expanded Five and Six into longer feature films (A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love), using the same cast and changing the stories slightly. This was part of a contractual obligation with the producers, since feature films were easier to distribute outside Poland. In 2000, the series was released on five DVDs, each containing two parts of about 2 hours.

References[edit]

External links[edit]