Monday, February 20, 2006

The Decalogue (TV)

Telewizja Polska
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Length: 460 min.
Format: DVD
Dates Viewed: 16-19 February

As a single conceptual piece, Kieslowski's The Decalogue is a towering achievement. But looking at each of the ten one-hour parts, the results are mixed. Each of the ten generally unconnected pieces are based on one of the Ten Commandments, sometimes very explicitly and sometimes in an incredibly oblique way (the episode based on "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery" features no married characters amongst its leads).

They are all interesting in their relations to their respective Commandments and each is thought-provoking and can lead to interesting debates and discussions between viewers. But their quality as short film varies. Only six are truly well-made and easily sustain interest (1, 2, 4, 5, 7, and my favorite, 10), and the rest are either mediocre (6 and 9) or poor (3 and my least favorite, 8 - though it seems to be a favorite of older critics).

The beauty of the series is that you can watch only the pieces you want and in any order and you are not necessarily missing out by skipping a few. Of course, as it is a conceptual piece, it is best to see the entire series, and in order, and along with the two spin-off films, A Short Film About Killing, based on episode five, and A Short Film About Love, based on episode six (both are reviewed on this site).

On the whole, it's easy to respect and admire The Decalogue, but watching 460 minutes (525 minutes if you add the two spin-offs) of fairly bleak Polish cinema is daunting task, especially when only six of the episodes and one of the films are truly solid material.


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