03 June 2013

Monday Film Review: Dekalog

You'll have to excuse if this post waxes rhapsodic or if I get overly emotional.  I have never loved a movie/series so intensely at first viewing.  At this point, I have viewed all of them at least three times and I have deliberately sought out more of his work.  The epic Dekalog film series by Krzysztof Kieślowski is a work of brilliance.  It was my first introduction to the legendary director and by all means was the best one.

Dekalog is not Kieślowski's first work.  He started out doing documentary films after leaving the Łódź Film School.  I have only seen Szpital (Hospital - 1976) and Fabryka (Factory - 1970), which incidentally were extras included on another Kieślowski film I watched.  He eventually turned away from documentary film, realizing truth through documentation could not be told in an authoritarian regime.  His films Robotnicy '71 (Workers '71) and Dworzec (Train Station) caused trouble (censorship and subpoenaed for trial, respectively), leading him to use fiction to tell the truth.  Dekalog aired in 1989 and written by Kieślowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, who got the idea from seeing a 15th century illustration depicting the Ten Commandments in contemporary society.  Dekalog means "Decalogue", or series of ten.  All ten films take on a commandment and illustrate the moral quandary revolving around it in contemporary Polish society.  Zbigniew Preisner wrote the score for the entire series and it's heartbreaking, hauntingly beautiful.  My obsession with Preisner began with this series and has led me to acquire quite a bit of his work!

I am not sure what it is, but I felt a sincere spiritual connection to this work.  I really loved another film (which I will review another time! mystery!), but this one hit home in a particular way.  Perhaps it is because I am religious and Christian myself, but for the most part I think it captured so beautifully the tragedy of moral  choices.  The series is such a magnificent and novel understanding of the moral core of the commandments.  I admit, sometimes they seem arcane and frustratingly vague, but this imbued me with new understanding.  If you don't cry during Jeden (1), you are a monster.  I could go on about my reactions to each of the films, but I will do an abbreviated run down, so you can enjoy your own, untainted opinion

Jeden (1) - You had better sob.  A dry cheek at the end of this film means you have no heart and should die alone.

Dwa (2) - This film did not correspond precisely to the commandment, but it was an interesting take on what it could mean as it meanders through grey moral landscapes.  The ending is touching.

Trzy (3) - Again, it does not correspond precisely to the commandment.  This was one of the few films that took me a second viewing to really understand and give sympathy to Ewa.  We are caught in a tragedy and Janusz's assistance reminds us what it means to pull up people from the depths of that tragedy.

Cztery (4) - This was the creepiest one.  I kind of figured out where this was going and I have to hand it to the actors who did an amazing job at capturing that undertone.  But seriously, ICK.

Pięć (5) - This has a real punch of a beginning, but left me convinced that the punishment does not fit the crime.  It later became it's own film, entitled, "A Short Film About Killing".  The second viewing of this was the best one because it was during that time I really felt the power of the lawyer's monologue during the unfolding events.  I would recommend paying close attention during his examination speech because it draws the visuals and meaning together nicely and brings it home.

Sześć (6) - This film became "A Short Film About Love".  I wavered between feeling totally creeped out and almost sorry for the guy.  What I think is really fascinating about the film is that it shows the mysterious workings of love.  It does not always work in straight, logical paths, but winds through the heart into deep and dark forests.

Siedem (7) - This one is probably my favorite.  I won't try to say much because it would ruin it, but this film truly works out the meaning of "thou shalt not steal" because almost everyone has committed a theft of some sort.  The line that really put my mind to work was "Can I steal what is already mine?".  I think it'd a valid and valuable question.  If something of yours was taken/given away, is it theft if you take it back without permission?

Osiem (8) - Again, this film is a real exercise of morality.  The choices made in this story were difficult and unforgiving.  Kieślowski does not shy away from a very dark period in Poland's history and indirectly poses the moral question to Poland as a whole, whose answers haunts it to this day.  In some ways it feels like an awakening of demons, in order to wrestle with them and set them free.  Plus, the music during one of the scenes is my absolute favorite.  Preisner, you slay me with your beauty.

Dziewięć (9) - Probably my least favorite, though the ending redeemed it all.  What's important in the film is that you sympathize in some way, even if you don't condone what happens.  I felt the morality was pretty straightfoward and the ending of the film reminded me that when it comes to your relationship, nothing short of running back will do.  We are also introduced to the fictional composer "van den Budenmayer", who is used through Kieślowski/Preisner collaborations.

Dziesięć (10) - This film tugs at visceral reactions we have to things.  The coveting is not just wanting what your neighbor has, but what you don't or could have.  The descent into covetous madness is slow and steady, yet ultimately understandable.  What is less obvious is the brothers' need to replace the memory of their father.  The way they go about replacing their memories and understanding of their father ruins their relationship and puts a lot more at risk.  The ending says it all: what is it but an illusion?

Luckily for all of us, the whole series is on YouTube with English subtitles! (I came across a few other languages as well.)