{Of all lies, art is the least untrue - Flaubert}

Sunday, April 13, 2014


I completed Decalogue by Krzysztof Kieslowski and I must say what an experience. And I must also say that Kieslowski now came close to being my favorite director, just standing next to Bergman. There is more to speak about Decalogue as a whole than in parts. And its what I will be doing here. I will try to touch each of the ten episodes briefly but talking about entirely of the great effort. For me biggest question about life and humans still remain the moral questions, the questions like what is more important to us- love, freedom, quality or anything else. Decalogue addresses these questions brilliantly.

One more thing which I really appreciate about Kieslowski is his choice of topics and his sense of awareness about people in general. In one way or the other Decalogue seems to say that we all have histories, we all have some past if not interesting but worth contemplating. All the Decalogue stories happen in the same polish apartment and characters of other stories crisscross at times. In Decalogue, Kieslowski has essentially generated a world of his own, which is infact very universal. There are other things which occur in all parts which try to link the stories in a very wholesome way. One of those is a young man who is just a mute observer in all the parts and camera focusses on him at the most crucial hours of the episodes, the points where the characters are just about to go in a dilemma which is most of the time relate quite precisely to the commandment that episode is addressing. Now since we have come to the commandment thing, I don't consider them to be the driving force in each of the episode, lot of times one episode touches on more than one commandment and you feel more resonated by other questions raised than those by the commandments. One doubt which I had before watching this ten part tour-de-force is its tone, I may assure you with all my contemplation that it not religious or anti religious or irreligious. There is more, much more to them, than the one liner commandments. Most of the times you see coincidences, miracles, odd situations, moral dilemmas on screen which are infact amongst Kieslowski's favorite themes. and all this one hour drama have the trauma of being a human, the pain or pleasure of being in a world which is not predictable, the suspense of our so-called mundane lives.

Moving on this, I find one more interesting thing about Krzysztof Kieslowski, he usually takes a risky road, most of the directors usually have in mind some very basic judgments like God doesn't exist and there is nothing like miracle. Kieslowski doesn't fear from any of these, he presents lots of situation which compels us to think the either way and more importantly with almost equal force. He takes the risk of such type of situations and let the viewers decide for themselves. Decalogue is such important artistic and philosophical document because of this reason also.

One more thing which is constantly becoming a very fertile source of thinking for me is the influence of others on you. I am not talking about the usual bad and good influence, but how life of others influence us, This is one of the constant theme in all the episodes of Decalogue and the factor that glues each of them in a unique fashion. Decalogue seldom takes stands but through the faces of characters which makes them stories rather then documentaries and we feel the versatility of the art of story telling in all its flair, power and youth.

I will move on a brief on each of the episode and what it generated out of me.

Part 1: This is a story about a mathematician father and his very brilliant son. Its a story about fate, unpredictability and human helplessness in the hands of nature's randomness. If I ever forced to pick one episode that I found very close to myself, it would be this one. There are questions about God to questions about death. I started with this episode and I had to wait for about an half to move for the next one.

Part 2: This is a story about a women whose husband is on death-bed and she is carrying a child of another man. She goes to the doctor to ask whether her husband is going to die, Doctor answer will decide who will live, Child or the husband. There are two big questions posed in this episode, first is the role of Human as God, doctor in this case. The second which is ever bigger is the morality issue. The tone of this episode is very somber. This may be regarded as one of the most intense part of Decalogue. Krzysztof Kieslowski always uses figurative to depict the situation of character. This part also has images of an insect struggling for its life in which it miraculously succeeds.

Part 3: Before watching this one, I was thinking how Kieslowski is going to show something like 'Honor the Sabbath day'. This is the story of a married taxi driver who meets his ex-lover on Christmas eve, that unfolds lot of things. The tone here is not particularly playful but has the tension of intimacy. This part conveyed something that is very remote to honoring the Sabbath day, it shows how such days segregate the happy and the lonely, and our basic desire of human contact.

Part 4: This episode is most bold in its theme and content. Here is a story of a young girl who finds a letter by his father titled 'To be opened after by death'. The opening of this letter changes the equations by opening up some secrets inside and outside the letter. This part is must-see for brilliant relationship portrayal and the impact of our hidden past on us.

Part 5: This is a gem. This about killing and its implications. This part shows two killing, one of long, brutal and raw and second one is short and systematic. This episode starts with very straight dialogues that argues 'Punishment is revenge'. Its a story about a killer getting a death sentence and getting killed. This particular part is very disturbing and one of the few that doesn't end in any hope.

Part 6: This one is about love. Can there exist love in some pure form that doesn't need any other special effects to kindle. Is there love devoid of anything we usually associate as depiction of love. Can love sustain without any contact. Do contact corrupt love. Here is a story about peeking Tomek, who watches a beautiful woman, Magda through his telescope, and his pleasure lies in just seeing. There are questions about voyeurism that are also raised in Red but in very different context. In the later part we see Magda do the same to Tomek, do we become the person we love (This was the question that was raised by Liv Ullman character in Bergman's 'Hour of the Wolf').

Part 7: This part is more about the question of ownership than stealing. Here is a girl whose daughter (born when she was a teenager) thinks that her grandmother is her mother. This part searches morality with in the characters and they finds them struck in their own situations. Can you steal something that belongs to you ? The last scenes of this episode is quite heart-breaking and ends with a brilliant close-up of the little girl.

Part 8: This part is most direct in its voice. This raises the questions of morality and circumstantial behavior in very clear voice. This is a story of a old professor who teaches at University. One day a Polish decendant girl comes to Poland and attends her lecture. In that lecture she tells a story about a Jewish girl at the times of war that pulls out some old strings. This episode has very direct reference to part two.

Part 9: This part about an impotent husband who spies on his wife and her lover. When his wife learns about it, she tries hard to save her marriage. This part meanders on the thin lines between sex, love and morality. This episode tries to explore love. There is dialogue which goes it's "in one's heart, not between one's legs"

Part 10: This part is the lightest of all. Its a story of two brothers who gets a treasure of rare stamps after their father dies. This is sort of a black comedy that shows how money brings in complex liabilities and we tend to tar the long old relationship for greed of money.

The themes mix and match in all the episodes, but the common aura has lingering questions of morality that encompass all the parts and that's where we relate to them. Kieslowski never tries to guide us through the rules rather here we see the weaknesses of human heart and mind, and effect of these on our lives and can we ever 'use' these rules to lead a morally perfect life.

Decalogue attains something that may be only a far dream for others. Seldom can moving images have such impact on us and you wonder how much can be said in just ten hours.

No comments: