At last the public will have an opportunity to view
a masterpiece that was the talk of film festivals
all over the world, including San Francisco, in
1989 and 1990. Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Decalogue," one-hour
contemporary tv dramas loosely inspired by the Ten
Commandments, are now being shown theatrically in
Kieslowski went on to make "The Double Life
of Veronique" as well as the famous trilogy
named for the colors of the French flag: "Blue" for
liberty, "White" for equality and "Red" for
Although those themes inspired Kieslowski and his
co-script writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz, all the films
also reflect their penchant for puzzles, ambiguity
and the chances that alter the course of lives.
But there is no question that "Decalogue" is
the summit of their achievements. I have just watched
— for the second and third times — those 10 self-contained
stories that examine moral paradoxes involving love,
betrayal, death, idolatry, ethics, incest and adultery.
They take place in a huge Warsaw apartment complex.
Each story in "Decalogue" sustains a quiet,
awesome suspense as the working of fate unfolds,
often to a heartbreaking conclusion. Originally two
episodes were released separately: "A Short
Film About Love" and " A Short Film About
The ethical questions they all raise were not designed
to be cinematic equivalents of the commandments God
gave to Moses. Each episode bears a Commandment number
but not the text. "It's just a look at how difficult
it is to live," Kieslowski once noted.
Supported by great Polish actors, those difficulties
are delineated with an economy that miraculously
illuminates a life: A young voyeur's love for a wearily
sophisticated neighbor. The dilemma of a wife who
loves her dying husband but is pregnant with another
man's child. The loneliness of a discarded mistress.
The passion of a daughter for the man who may or
may not be her real father. A professor of ethics
forced to face the decision she made affecting a
six -year old Jewish girl during World War 11 . A
child torn between her mother and grandmother. An
impotent husband trying to believe in his wife's
The series, done for Polish television, originated
with Piesiewicz, a prominent attorney who had been
inspired by a fifteenth century painting he saw as
a boy. It was titled "Decalogue" and divided
into ten parts with particular themes of the Biblical
injunctions in those times. Piesiewicz wondered how
they would apply to Poland under martial law. "The
churches were full of people," Piesiewicz told me, "And
I was curious as to whether they would become religious
or political. These were the paradoxes of our times." Finally,
the two decided that politics would play no part
in the dramas.
From a philosophical view, it was most difficult
to get a dramatic handle on the First Commandment
. ("I am the Lord they God. Thou shalt have no
other God before me"). "Then we realized," Kieslowski
said, "that the competition for God today is
not another God, but things which compete with the
idea of God. Communists and fascists found God in
an idea. So we started looking at things that some
people found more important than God. We found a
very simple conflict between faith and the brain,
the conflict between the head and the heart."
Finally, they dramatized the closely knit relationship
between a professor and his winsome son who have
great confidence in their personal computers, but
inexplicable fate plays its own game of chess with
On all 10 counts, it is an extraordinary achievement!
San Francisco Chronicle April 29, 1990, with excerpts
from interviews with Kieslowski and Piesiewicz.