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The Decalogue (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on September 11, 2013

Towards the end of last year, I made a decision.  I decided to revisit any movies in my collection that I hadn’t watched in more than 5 years.  The idea being one, to refamiliarize myself with some old favorites and two, why own them if you’re not going to watch them?  I was making pretty good time in this endeavor, gradually reaching the point where I’d be all caught up (with the exception of a handful that I anticipate being released on Blu-Ray soon).  And then, two months ago, I hit a wall.  A wall of Kieslowski.  It’s not that I didn’t want to rewatch The Decalogue, it was a matter of carving out a 10-hour chunk of time to do so… and being in the mood to sit on the couch for that much time.  Lately I haven’t been in a big movie-watching mood, as some may have noticed from the decreased activity on my blog.

Finally, this past Saturday, I readied myself for the task.  I started with Roger Ebert’s introduction on the DVD, and he suggested not watching them all in one sitting.  Oh yeah.  Duh.  I somehow hadn’t thought of that as an option.  I kept thinking of the series as a complete unit.  And so I spaced them out over the next few days, taking breaks to watch a TV show or take a nap or have a meal.

And it didn’t matter that I wasn’t viewing them as a unified whole.  The connecting theme — the ten commandments — is almost inconsequential to the experience.  It’s a mere jumping off point, a conceptual game.  I can see how a person of faith would find value in applying the commandments to modern life, but these aren’t stories about morality so much as they are stories about humanity.  How do people cope with problems?  What is the intricate psychology behind behavior?  Questions of right and wrong are largely avoided (though I still find episode 5 a bit heavy-handed in this regard, at least in comparison to the others).

While I don’t find any of the episodes as masterful as Blue, there certainly isn’t a bad one in the bunch.  Some are better than others, but all are absolutely worthwhile.  Most troublesome to me is episode 7 (“Thou shalt not steal”).  The characters of Ewa and Majka are both so unpleasant that I have difficulty feeling too much sympathy or empathy for either of them.  My favorites are 6 (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”, remade as A Short Film About Love), 9 (“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife”) and to my own surprise, 10 (“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods”).  The last is the most comedic of them, but the performances by Stuhr and Zamachowski are very endearing, and it’s nice to end an often dour series on an upbeat note.

I’m not doing Kieslowski’s work enough justice with this review, but hopefully it’s sufficient enough to say that I truly enjoyed revisiting these short films.  Masterful storytelling and rich complexity.  Rating: Great (92)

IMDb
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