Sunday, August 5, 2001


Over the weekend, I finally finished Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue, an epic film composed of ten one hour films, each film based (loosely) on the ten commandments. It took me nearly five months to watch all ten movies. Thanks to Netflix, I was able to 'rent' the two DVDs for all this time.

Somehow, I lost track of the exact impulse for why I decided to watch this 'film'. I must have been looking at film recommendations ("if you liked this, then look at this..."), and saw it there. Roger Ebert lists it as a "great movie". I would agree that this is a most impressive body of work.

Of the ten films, I enjoyed Decalogue V ("Thou shalt not kill") and VIII ("Thou shalt not bear false witness") the most.

V was a haunting, searing look at capital punishment, and that seems to be a theme I'm exploring this year (An American Tragedy and The Executioner's Song both deal with capital punishment). Petty crimes lead up to murder, and the murder in this film is particularly brutal and random. I won't be forgetting that painful execution scene, nor the defense lawyer's own anguish ("I abhor it! I abhor it!").

In VIII, a little Jewish girl during the World War II seeks refuge in a Christian safe-house, with the requirement that she have a Christian baptismal certificate. The girl is rebuffed by a stern woman who would not "bear false witness" by doctoring false baptismal certificates. Fast forward forty years: the little girl is now a woman, and she visits Poland to confront the stern woman (who is a professor of ethics), in a meeting of the minds that was wonderfully moving.

The other eight stories are no less compelling. All of the stories pose questions about God's commandments, but it was not a dry catechism-like treatment. Ordinary stories were dramatically portrayed with the commandments as a backdrop. The entire work is amazing, and well worth the effort to watch.

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