Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Dekalog (The Decalogue) (1988) is a Polish film series, originally made as a television miniseries, directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski and co-written by Kieślowski with Krzysztof Piesiewicz, with music by Zbigniew Preisner. It consists of ten one-hour films, each of which represents one of the Ten Commandments and explores possible meanings of the commandment—often ambiguous or contradictory—within a fictional story set in modern Poland. The series is Kieślowski's most acclaimed work and has won numerous international awards, though it was not widely released outside Europe until the late 1990s. Filmmaker Stanley Kubrick described it as the only masterpiece he could name in his lifetime.
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. There is also a nameless character (Artur Barciś ), possibly supernatural, who observes the main characters at key moments but never intervenes. The large cast includes both famous actors and unknowns, many of whom Kieślowski also used in other films. Typically for Kieślowski, the tone of most of the films is meditative and melancholy, except for the last one, which (like Three Colors: White, which features two of the same actors) is a black comedy.
The series was conceived when Piesiewicz, who had seen a 15th-century artwork illustrating the commandments through scenes of its time, suggested the idea of a modern equivalent. Kieślowski, though an agnostic, 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 ten films are titled simply by number (e.g. Decalogue: One). They are sometimes referred to in English by the text of the commandments in the King James Bible, as follows.
- One: Thou shalt have no other gods before me. A university professor (Henryk Baranowski ) trains his young son in logic and computer programming, but is confronted with the unpredictability of fate.
- Two: Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. A young woman (Krystyna Janda ) asks her husband's doctor (Aleksander Bardini ) to make a medical pronouncement with impossible certainty.
- Three: Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. A family man (Daniel Olbrychski) abandons his family duties on Christmas Eve to deal with a former lover in a crisis (Maria Pakulnis ).
- Four: Honour thy father and thy mother. Uncertainty about her real parentage complicates the bond between a young woman (Adrianna Biedrzyńska ) and her father (Janusz Gajos).
- Five: Thou shalt not kill. A brutal and seemingly motiveless murder brings together a drifter (Mirosław Baka ), a cruel taxi driver (Jan Tesarz ), and an idealistic lawyer (Krzysztof Globisz ). This is the only of the films with an explicit political stance, reflecting Kieślowski's opposition to the death penalty.
- Six: Thou shalt not commit adultery. A naive young man (Olaf Lubaszenko ) spies on a stranger (Grażyna Szapołowska) through her window and falls in love with her.
- Seven: Thou shalt not steal. A young woman (Anna Polony ) abducts her own child, who has been raised by her parents as her sister.
- Eight: Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. A Holocaust survivor (Teresa Marczewska ) confronts an ethics professor (Maria Kościałowska ) who once refused to help her. The story was based on an experience of the filmmakers' mutual friend, the journalist Hanna Krall .
- Nine: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife... A man who has become impotent (Piotr Machalica ) encourages his wife (Ewa Błaszczyk ) to take a lover. (A minor character in this film, a young singer with a heart condition, inspired Kieślowski's and Piesiewicz's next film, The Double Life of Veronique.)
- Ten: ...nor any thing that is thy neighbour's. Two brothers (Jerzy Stuhr, Zbigniew Zamachowski) inherit a valuable stamp collection and become obsessed with completing it.
Kieślowski expanded Five and Six into longer feature films, Krótki film o zabijaniu (A Short Film About Killing ) and Krótki film o miłości (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.
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