Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Decalogue I, II, III

Dekalog; drama, Poland, 1988; D: Krzysztof Kieślowski, S: Henryk Baranowski, Wojciech Klata, Krystyna Janda, Aleksander Bardini, Daniel Olbrychski, Maria Pakulnis

Part I: Warsaw. The 12-year old Pawel is a curious boy who enjoys calculating equations on a computer with his atheist father Krzysztof. Pawel is disturbed by the prospect that there is nothing after death, though his aunt teaches him that God is love. One winter day, Pawel and his father calculate that it is safe to skate on the frozen lake. However, the computer was wrong and the ice breaks, drowning Pawel... Part II. Dorota is in a dilemma: her infertile husband may die from a disease in a hospital, so she ponders if she should live with another man with whom she had an affair and stayed pregnant. The doctor swears that her husband will die, and that she should not abort the baby. However, the husband wakes up from coma, alive and well... Part III. On Christmas Eve, taxi driver Janusz is persuaded by Ewa, a woman he once had an affair with three years ago, to help her search for her lost husband Edward. Janusz is reluctant, because he wants to spend Christmas with his wife and family, but agrees to help Ewa. The two of them spend the night searching for Edward in a shelter and hospital, until Ewa confesses that Edward left her a long time ago, and that she just wanted to spend the holidays with someone.

Krzystof Kieslowski's 10-part TV series "The Decalogue" received a small revival and surge in popularity when Roger Ebert included it on his list of 10 favorite films in the 2002 Sight & Sound poll. Loosely based of the Ten Commandments, "The Decalogue" uses them more thematically and playfully, and is not preoccupied with strictly following them (for instance, parts II and III overlap more with commandment nine - "Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's wife" - than with commandment two and three), but maybe it is deliberately ambiguous, just to show that more than one commandment can show up for each episode. The results are sometimes dark, sometimes positive and charming, but always magical. Kieslowski knows how to create a wonderfully aesthetic mood out of small things in life, and some images really are poetic. Part I, for instance, starts comically, when the 12-year old Pawel asks his father to quickly come up with a playful mathematical task, the the father says: "Kermit the frog is running away on skis that go 64 km/h from Piggy the pig who's skis go 87 km/h. How soon will she catch up with him if he has a three minute head start?" The mysterious man who stands along the fire and observes the winter gives it a dose of enigma, whereas there is an inspired moment where the father tips a shrine and a candle falls, dripping under the eyes of a painting of the Holy Mary, in a poetic image that seems as if the painting is crying. The mood in extraordinary: it is Warsaw, and yet, it is not. It is realistic, and yet, it is magical. It gives a mythical input of the first commandment, and gives a modern output: a computer is not perfect, and science may not replace God in this world.

Part II is slightly weaker: the theme seems slightly overstretched and, as already pointed out, seems to have more in common with the 9th commandment. It takes for way too long until the story gets to the point, and the main plot - a woman, Dorota, who wonders if she should abandon her terminally ill husband and continue living with a new man - seems somewhat like a soap opera. However, it has two strong melancholic, emotional scenes that stand out: the sad scene where Dorota "plucks" all the leaves of a plant and then breaks it in frustration, and the bee that saves itself from drowning in a cup. Part III is again on the right track, and is such an unorthodox departure from the previous two segments it is unbelievable, a charming, uplifting 'Christmas story' that deserves to be shown each time on that holiday. Basically, it shows a lonely woman, Ewa, who is apparently tired of spending the holidays alone, and wants to "steal" Janusz away from his family, to spend Christmas with him by fabricating a silly excuse that will have them tour the city all night. Quite different from the previous metaphysical parts, episode III is a relaxed excursion into the holiday genre, and adds a lot of optimism and genuine charm. It may seem that some episodes lack what others have - some are contemplative, others are relaxed - but it only shows that Kieslowski tried to give a whole spectrum of a human experience and emotion, so that everyone will eventually get his treat, and thus the first three episodes are excellent overall.


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