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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.


100 Things I Love About the Movies

Recently, John at The Droid You’re Looking For made a sequel to his hugely successful “100 Things I Love About the Movies” post, and being a fan of both posts, I’ve decided it’s about time I did my own. It was a very inspirational and thoughtful post, and if you read it yourself it might just make you want to do one of the same. For now, here’s mine:

1: Hi-hi-hi there, at last we meet.

2: The shaking fence in Evil Dead.

3: A rape depicted through the clever usage of a silent movie in Pedro Almodovar’s Talk to Her.

4: Qantas never crashed.

5: Whatever you want, Leo Getz.

6: The stunning ending to Lars von Trier’s Dogville.

7: Dave. Stop, Dave. I can feel it. My mind is going. There is no question about it.

8: The best movie cut of all history in Lawrence of Arabia.

9: The theme that plays when we see the man with the Harmonica in Once Upon a Time in the West.

10: Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me…

11: The abrupt ending of Bonnie and Clyde.

12: I’m a star. I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a star. I’m a big bright shining star. That’s right.

13: The final perfect five minutes of Irreversible…

14: …and how The King’s Speech stole the music!

15: Ellen Burstyn’s monologue in Requiem for a Dream.

16: The hand emerging from the water in Deliverance.

17: The final half-hour of Audition.

18: Jimmy Schtewart.

19: The emotion and raw energy with which Kirk Douglas delivers this line in Paths of Glory: “I apologise to you, sir, for not informing you sooner that you’re a degenerate, sadistic old man, and you can go to Hell before I apologise to you now or ever again!”

20: John C. Reilly shining his flashlight into the camera in Magnolia.

21: Blood Simple to True Grit and everything in between.

22: Hello… Hello, Dimitri? I… I can’t hear, could you turn the music down? That’s great, you’re coming through fine. I’m coming through fine, too, am I? I agree with you, it’s great to be fine. Now then, Dimitri. One of our generals… he went a little funny in the head… you know, funny. And he went and did a silly thing.

23: Tracking shots. All of them.

24: The Monty Python movies (“I fart in your general direction!”)

25: Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit crushing game shows, stuffing junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked up brats you spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life.

26: Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar.

27: Steve Martin in The Jerk.

28: Isabella Rossellini begging Kyle MacLachlan in Blue Velvet (“Hit me!”).

29: In Heaven… everything is fine.

30: Did You Know You Can Use Old Motor Oil to Fertilise Your Lawn?

31: That lucky occasion when you come across a really, really good TV movie (Indictment: The McMartin Trial)

32: Get away from her, you BITCH!

33: I am Death. I have long walked at your side.

34: The most striking and disturbing use of colour in any film, that of Sven Nykvist’s brilliant cinematography in Ingmar Bergman’s fantastic Cries and Whispers.


36: The slow-paced and slightly comic final duel in Barry Lyndon.

37: The deadly silent arrival of Martin Sheen into Colonel Kurtz new jungle home, rudely interrupted by an obviously high Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now.

38: The first six or so minutes of Persona.

39: This is my rifle, this is my gun. This is for fighting, this is for fun.

40: The haunting piano music that plays throughout the latter half of Kubrick’s fantastic Eyes Wide Shut.

41: A surprise cameo from the greatest stand-up comedian of all time in a non-comedy role in Lost Highway.

42: Tom Cruise’s finest hour:

43: The perfect opening shot of Apocalypse Now.

44: Bernard Herrman’s shrieking violins.

45: Black and White movies in the era of Colour.

46: The nameless dystopian city in David Fincher’s Se7en.

47: Uncomfortably casual nudity in Short Cuts.

48: Marge Gunderson.

49: Nobody fucks with the Jesus.

50: Bring Out the Gimp.

51: Norma Desmond’s delusions of grandeur.

52: The drug deal scene in Boogie Nights.

53: I only got two things in this world: my balls and my word. And I don’t break em for nobody.

54: Robert Downey, Jr. in Natural Born Killers.

55: The “train going into the tunnel” at the very end of North by Northwest, a clever albeit overused sexual metaphor.

56: Ricky Gervais. Always. Always.

57: A movie set entirely within one room (i.e. Buried)

58: Rob Brydon’s cameo in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

59: Nothing’s wrong with it, Tommy. It’s tip top. I’m just not sure about the colour.

60: I am Jack’s _____ ______.

61: Sean Penn in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, oh, and while we’re at it…

62: 80s high school movies. All of them.

63: The epilogue of Pink Flamingos.

64: Clerks. ‘Nuff said.

65: Try getting a reservation at Dorsia now, you fucking stupid bastard!

66: Silencio.

67: Earn this. Earn it.

68: The final shot of the rat at the end of The Departed.

69: Extended Director’s Cuts.

70: I’m mad as Hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!

71: The inability of Jack Lemmon to be able to watch Grand Hotel in The Apartment.

72: Memorable last lines in Billy Wilder movies.

73: We’re a loving couple that doesn’t touch.

74: Sunday nights, where I put aside a few hours to rewatch one of my favourite movies, no matter what it is or how many times I’ve seen it.

75: The creepy hidden camera shots in Michael Haneke’s Cache.

76: Amelie’s strange games with random people in the film of the same name.

77: Go round mums, deal with Phillip, grab Liz, go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint and wait for all this to blow over.

78: Shelley Winters in The Poseidon Adventure: “In the water, I’m a very skinny lady.”

79: Sidney Lumet. Rest in Peace.

80: The final shocking moments of Planet of the Apes.

81: The meaning of Roger O. Thornhill’s middle initial.

82: Martin Scorsese’s cameo in Taxi Driver.

83: Gregory Peck’s powerful courtroom monologue in To Kill A Mockingbird…

84: …and the uniquely different but still subtly similar version presented by a suprisingly good Matthew McConaughey in A Time to Kill.

85: Dustin Hoffman’s moving turn as Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy…

86: …and the eerie subtle similarities between Jon Voight’s character in the same movie and Dirk Diggler in Boogie Nights.

87: Mr. Jingles.

88: I just wanted to hold the little baby.

89: You mean the man who inserted rubber fist in my anus was a homosexual?

90: The stunning revelation at the end of Spoorloos (The Vanishing).

91: How quickly a director can take my interest, and how stunningly tight their grip remains on me within the shortest of times, and how it can last seemingly forever, as evidenced by my recent delve into the films of Ingmar Bergman.

92: Hit Girl.

93: Bill Murray waking up to the same nauseatingly repetitive jingle every morning in Groundhog Day.

94: Reese Witherspoon humiliating a disfigured Kiefer Sutherland in Freeway.

95: The little bit of low-budget masterpiece that was Sex, Lies and Videotape.

96: Dogme 95.

97: The Criterion Collection.

98: The little things in movies that so few directors really think to care about.

99: How movies affect my everyday life, the way I do things, the little idiosyncrasies that people rarely notice, and how I think and perceive things.

100: “I’m finished.”