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Poland, 1988

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

Production: Polish Television, TOR Studios; colour, 35mm; running time: 10 films 53–57 minutes each. Released 1989. Decalogue 5 and Decalogue 6 released theatrically in 1989 as A Short Film AboutKilling and A Short Film About Love. Filmed on location in Warsaw, 1988.

Producer: Ryszard Chutkowski; screenplay: Krzysztof Kieślowski, Krzysztof Piesiewicz; photography: Wieslaw Zdort (Decalogue 1), Edward Klosinski (2), Piotr Sobocinski (3, 9), Krzysztof Pakulski (4), Slawomir Idziak (5), Witold Adamek (6), Dariusz Kuc (7), Anrzej Jaroszewicz (8), Jacek Blawut (10); editor: Ewa Smal; sound: Malgorzata Jaworska (1, 2, 4, 5), Nikodem Wolk-Laniewski (3, 6, 7, 9, 10), Wieslawa Demblinska (8); production designer: Halina Dobrowolska; music: Zbigniew Preisner.

Cast: 1: Henryk Baranowski (Krzysztof), Wojciech Klata (Pawel), Maja Komorowska (Irena). 2: Krystyna Janda (Dorota), Alexander Bardini (Consultant), Olgierd Lukaszewicz (Anrzej). 3: Daniel Olbrychski (Janusz), Maria Pakulnis (Ewa). 4: Adrianna Biedrzynska (Anka), Janusz Gajos (Michal). 5: Miroslaw Baka (Jacek), Krzysztof Globisz (Piotr). 6: Grazyna Szapolowska (Magda), Olaf Lubaszenko (Tomek). 7: Anna Polony (Ewa), Maja Barelkowska (Majka). 8: Maria Koscialkowska (Zofia), Teresa Marczewska (Elzbieta). 9: Ewa Blaszczyk (Hanka), Piotr Machalica (Roman). 10: Jerzy Stuhr (Jerzy), Zbigniew Zamachowski (Arthur).



Kieślowski, Krzysztof, and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, The Decalogue, London, 1991.

Kieślowski, Krzysztof, and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Dekalog, in Iskusstvo Kino (Moscow), March-December 1993.


Michalek, Boleslaw, and Frank Turaj, The Modern Cinema of Poland, Bloomington, 1988.

Kieślowski, Krzysztof, Kieślowski on Kieślowski, London, 1993.

Garbowski, Christopher, Krzysztof Kieślowski's Decalogue Series: The Problem of the Protagonists and Their Self-Transcendance, Boulder, 1996.

Coates, Paul, editor, Lucid Dreams: The Films of Krzysztof Kieślowski, Wiltshire, 1999.

Insdorf, Annette, Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieślowski, New York, 1999.


Variety (New York), 27 September 1989.

Baron, A.-M., Cinéma (Paris), November 1989.

Ciment, M., and others, Positif (Paris), December 1989.

Rigney, F.J., Film Criticism (Meadville, Pennsylvania), Spring 1990.

Magny, J., and A. de Baecque, "Les régles du hasard," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), March 1990.

Tobin, Y., and others, Positif (Paris), May 1990.

Cavendish, Phil, "Kieślowski's Decalogue," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1990.

Insdorf, Annette, "The Decalogue: Re-Examining God's Commands," in New York Times (New York), 28 October 1990.

Tarantino, Michael, "The Cave," in Artforum (New York), December 1990.

Charbonneau, A., 24 Images (Montreal), Summer 1991.

Elia, M., "L'art du risque calculé," in Séquences (Montreal), September 1991.

Klinger, M., "Strazce brany," in Film a Doba (Prague), Summer 1992.

Holden, Stephen, "Chance, Fate and the Bible," in New York Times (New York), 8 March 1996.

Falkowska, J., "Krzysztof Kieślowski's Decalogue Series: The Problem of Protagonists and Their Self-transcendence," in Canadian Journal of Film Studies (Ottawa), no. 2, 1997.

Perlmutter, R., "Testament to the Father: Kieślowski's The Decalogue," in Film Criticism (Meadville), no. 2, 1997/1998.

* * *

Krzysztof Kieślowski, who died in Warsaw at the age of 54 while this essay was being prepared for publication, was the last great director to have emerged from Communist Poland. His Decalogue, made for Polish television in 1988–89, was, perhaps, the last masterpiece from what used to be "Eastern Europe." A product of Kieślowski's odd preoccupation with cycles (Eric Rohmer is the only other major director, similarly obsessed, who comes to mind), Decalogue is not a film, but a compendium of 10 hour-long films, based, presumably, on the Ten Commandments. The premise demands moralizing. The result is far from it. The actual meaning of each film is not in how a dictum is illustrated, and not even in a twist that each story (all of them set in the present-day Poland) gives an old maxim, but in how the material transcends the dogma into a sphere of existential mystery.

There are artists who are late bloomers, who must try out various timbres before they find their own voice. It took Antonioni over ten years and a dozen films, both fiction and documentary, to make Il Grido, his first truly "Antonionian" film. It took Kieślowski over ten years and two dozen films, both fiction and documentary, to make Decalogue, which marks both the climax of a long search and a dramatic shift in direction and quality. That the seed was there is clear in the 1981 feature Blind Chance, which sketches out three possible futures for a man who, like a tabula rasa, is open to either one. The film shows how the filmmaker sensed what was soon to become his territory in art, but didn't yet have the formal means to make that territory his own. That Decalogue changed Kieślowski's life is evident in the way that all his following films—The Double Life of Veronique, Blue, White and Red—stem from Decalogue, developing the earlier work's motifs and sharpening its filmic finesse.

From Decalogue on, Kieślowski focused exclusively on the invisible and how it can be seen. He himself could show it with an incomparable grace: the mysterious links that tie us all together; the signs and omens that nature, uselessly, sends our way; the doom, materialized in things and machines; the sadness of the pond and the clouds. In this world, an ink-spill prophesies trouble, and when somebody dies, holy water freezes in the church. This kind of cinema dangerously balances between the profound and the pretentious. But if Kieślowski slipped into pretentiousness in the occasionally ponderous Blue, Decalogue has a luminosity of milk, left (in Decalogue 1) out in the cold overnight and turned into white ice. Its light breaks the glass of the gratuitous bottle.

Decalogue's world—the world of a grim Warsaw housing development where all the stories originate—is not a collection of entities and events, but a dense substance in which everything is connected with everything. The focus is shifted from things to what lies between them. This philosophy puts Kieślowski into a glorious chain of artists—Dreyer, Bresson, Iosseliani (the line continues with Atom Egoyan and Wong Kar-wai)—and explains why his preoccupation with cycles may not be so odd after all. As people are linked in his films, so are the films themselves. The heroine of Blue shows up in the courtroom of White and then, along with the principals of White, in the coda of Red. A fictitious Dutch Renaissance composer Van den Budelmayer from Red originates in Decalogue 9, as does White's tragi-comic theme of male impotence. The brothers from Decalogue 10 don't want to stay home; they spill into the story of White. A model auteur, Kieślowski in all his later years shot one film; perhaps his decision to stop, which he made in 1994 after completing the Three Colors trilogy, grew out of a realization that his film had come to an end. (It has been reported that Kieślowski was planning another project at the time of his death.)

Like Fassbinder's 14-part Berlin, Alexanderplatz, Decalogue brilliantly utilizes its format: from television it takes not the lack of light and cinematic quality, but the extreme intimacy between the characters and the audience. Most meaningfully, it tells chamber stories in close angles. A cast of the best Polish actors, headed by Maja Komorowska, Krystyna Janda, Grazyna Szapolowska, Daniel Olbrychski, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Stuhr, and Zbigniew Zamachowski, the work of nine terrific cinematographers, and a touching, minimalist score by Zbigniew Preisner all make Kieślowski's vast ambition possible. From the first, heartbreaking film that puts a computer in place of the "other God," that "thou shalt not have," through the two highlight novellas, later expanded by the director into A Short Film About Killing (Decalogue 5) and A Short Film About Love (Decalogue 6), this is a cinema that mesmerizes you while it's showing and haunts you long after it's all over.

—Michael Brashinsky