Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Year Released: 1988
The first two parts of Kieslowski's more-epic-than-epic Decalogue tales (ten films, each based on a particular commandment) are good if not great, with a noted religious bent and potent moralizing. Part 1 deals with placing technology in front of logic or faith - the idea is all right but it sounds like too many lectures I've heard. Part 2 is loosely associated with the second commandment ('taking the Lord's name in vain'), and has a doctor predicting a dying man's fate and overlooking the power of miracles (medicine is an art that has no definite outcome). This one affected me less than the first part, due to personal confusion over Kieslowski's intended meaning and the sluggish pace. Part 3 is a bit of an enigma that you need to figure out with time, and revolves around two lost souls on Christmas Eve - by the time you get to the end, you realize how truthful it really is. Parts 4 and 5 are significantly better than the first three: four has a daughter opening a letter from her dead mother about the truth of who her father is ... and then confronts the father (it gets melodramatic and overplays its hand when 'incest' is brought up). Five (which was turned into a separate picture, A Short Film About Killing, later on) is the depiction of a grizzly murder by a delinquent - the picture's treatment of the murder, which has the victim be just as sleazy as the murderer - give no easy answers on whether or not capital punishment is just, though I get the feeling Kieslowski thinks it is. Six is a remarkable piece of filmmaking, with a lonely young man who peeps on a loose woman (SSIA: "she spreads it around") in the apartment complex across from him. Kieslowski constructs a distinct feeling of both loneliness and intense creepiness in the tragic undercurrents of these people's lives - would could very well be stand-ins for any of us. It's squirmingly good. For 'Thou Shalt Not Steal,' he takes a really riveting angle with 'the object' that is 'stolen,' as a 22-year-old girl kidnaps her own daughter from her parents (who were raising it to avoid controversy) and reestablishes herself as the child's mother. It's painful and bitter, with the young girl being tugged around without knowing what is going on, and the now-adult daughter who winds up losing the battle. (This episode for me, was a case of Film, Interrupted, as personal interrupts had me pausing the disc every few seconds to chat with someone wandering around the halls - all in all, it took me three hours to get through a 50-minute film). It hits a real low point with the eighth part ("Bear false witness"), the story of a Jewish woman who confronts the Polish teacher who refused to hide her never felt real satisfying, despite a riveting set-up. The Jewish woman admits to cowardice, and there are a lot of downtrodden looks, but no resolution or satisfaction. Nine has to be viewed as somewhat symbolic, considering the picture's age and the modern marvel of pharmaceutical sex - an impotent man's wife cheats on him with a much younger college student, driving him mad with jealousy and anguish. Today, this wouldn't pass, and Kieslowski wouldn't have made it, because Viagra would have solved everything. Still, it's worth seeing as an examination of the sadness of aging and being ousted by the younger generation. It ends on a quirky, dark note (but still more upbeat than the other nine parts), as two brothers inherit the invaluable stamp collection of their father, then realize a part is missing, and subsequently "inherit" their fathers obsession for the rare valuables. However, they are somewhat dimwitted with the priceless materials, and end up losing not only the stamps but their own organs as well. It's a fitting, alternative conclusion to a dead-serious epic of moral tales, which undoubtedly deserves its place as one of the most significant artistic projects of the eighties.