Dekalog: Ten Hours of Amazing, Pure Cinema

Recently, I’ve become a huge fan of the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski. I watched The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colours trilogy, but there was one vital piece of the puzzle missing: Dekalog. It is perhaps his most acclaimed work, and more effort probably went into this than any other of his brilliant movies.

It is a series of ten films, each just short of an hour long, totalling up to about 9 1/2 hours in full duration. Each “episode” deals with one of the famous Ten Commandments of the Bible, but Kielowski goes about presenting his vision of these commandments in modern life in a strikingly un-religious manner. Religion is not a key part of any of the films, particularly, and the challenges and problems the characters face are all realistic scenarios that some of us might face.

In the first episode, a father and son contemplate the importance and reliance of technology as a new age dawns. In #2, an adulterous woman turns her reliance to a doubtful doctor who must make a difficult choices. In #3, a man spends the night on a hunt for a missing husband with his ex-lover. In #4, a teenage girl discovers a letter from her deceased mother bringing into question the true place of her father in her life. In #5, perhaps the best and most striking instalment, a man commits a vicious, violent, unmotivated murder and a young, rookie lawyer comes to his aid. #6 tells of a nervous young man who spies on a woman across the way with his telescope, analysing her highly sexual but chillingly lonesome lifestyle. In #7, a young woman’s daughter struggles to accept her as her mother after being raised to believe she’s actually her sister. #8 deals with a woman who struggled through World War II and revisits the woman who accidentally changed her life during that hard time. In #9, an impotent man tests his wife to see if she would really cheat on him, when he himself has spent his life fooling around, and in #10, two brothers come into ownership of their late father’s stamp collection, worth tens of millions.

The plots are all interesting ones. Some might not seem original to the observing reader, but Kieslowski takes them to amazing places, making them some of the most original, touching and stunning works of art ever made. Though when he made this, Kieslowski had never made a popular or successful film, we can see this is a man dedicated to cinema, who has a vision of art that is completely unique to his movies. We can see from Dekalog, perhaps more so than from any of his other films, that Kieslowski knows what he’s doing and manages to compel the audience and throw them into some amazing stories, with new twists around each corner. Take for example, Dekalog 5. A strange, sick man wanders around town before, out of nowhere and without reason, he strangles a taxi driver to death. The murder is visceral and difficult to watch. He is sentenced to death, and many of us think, rightfully so. But here’s where Kieslowski’s sly attitude comes creeping in. Throughout the second half, we begin to know the man and learn more about his life, to the point that when the hour comes for him to be hanged, we are screaming in objection. Kieslowski manages to completely change the audience’s attitude to the character, within a manner of minutes. This is skill.

Kieslowski also uses a different cinematographer for each film (save for one man, whom he uses twice), to give each instalment its own unique feel. Perhaps the films are meant to be thought of as one, but it seems easier to classify it that way. His characters are real, feel real, and have moments of humanity so lifelike that it’s almost enough to make you cry. Some of them are intensely saddening (#1, #5, #7, notably), and others noticeably light (#3, #9), as Kieslowski touches every end of the emotional spectrum and in between. Watching Dekalog is like watching one single person’s life, as all the days and hours and events flicker away and we are left with the happenings of a day in our mind, until another day starts and we have new things to think about. We meet a variety of people in here, and the film covers ten simple plots made incredibly personal. Kieslowski really hits the bat close to home, and the moment we finish one episode we have a hundred things to think about. How has this affected me? What is Kieslowski trying to say? We can only see in the perfectly framed shots of life in action, as people are affected in shocking, personal ways and we watch vividly, unable to intervene.

Dekalog is cinema. Plain and simple. No, better yet… Dekalog is life. Dekalog covers everything: love, loss, hatred, happiness, confusion, loneliness and comfort; the hundreds of emotions we all feel every day are squeezed down into a surprisingly quick ten hours of amazing, pure cinema.

Watch Dekalog. You might learn something about the Ten Commandments, you might learn something about cinema, you might learn something about emotion. Who knows? You might even learn something about yourself.

If you’ve seen the movie/s, leave a comment letting me know what you thought of them and my review. If you haven’t seen it/them… what are you waiting for? Go! Go now!

Thanks for reading.


About Tyler

Patient observer of all things film and music, from Béla Tarr to Boards of Canada. Foul mouthed and clinging to the edge of sanity.

Posted on June 2, 2011, in Movie Reviews, Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Haven’t seen his work yet, I have to get into that!!

  2. Ive seen the Three Colors trilogy and enjoyed it…But I would stop short of calling a ” cinematic masterpiece “. While well-acted and written I simply call it a ” solid body of work “.

    • I know; I have a flaw in exaggeration. I just got so excited about it after seeing it that I felt like going up to the roof and screaming how awesome I thought it was. In retrospect, I realize I was just excited because I hadn’t seen anything quite like it before.

  3. I’m going to sound like a total cad, but I watched 7 of the 10 and never re-visited it to finish the final three. But I thought the seven were incredible. Did you have a favorite?

    • My favourites were #5 and #6, which pleasingly were adapted into the longer movies A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love. I like to think of all 10 of them as one movie, but in reality it works much better to think of them as 10 individual films.

  4. I saw these several years ago when they were first released on DVD. While I don’t remember in detail, I know that I enjoyed them immensely. Kieslowski was a true artist. He used cinema brilliantly by exploiting all of it’s elements, i.e. dialogue, photography, music, etc.., and he did it without ever being flashy. He would have been a fantastic silent film director! I know I’ve mentioned it before, but you should hunt down Kieslowski on Kieslowski. It’s a great read.


    • I’m going to ask the local library if they have a copy; they’ve got everything.

      Interesting thought about silent films; I suppose he would have done them justice and even without his rich dialogue, they would still be hugely gripping.

  1. Pingback: Very Long Movies I Can Watch Over and Over Again… « Southern Vision: A Blog About Movies

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