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The Decalogue

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Twenty years ago, the wonderful director Krzysztof Kieślowski died. His most famous work is the Blue, White, Red trilogy made in France. Those are great films, but his best work is the 10-part Decalogue, made for Polish television in the 1980s. Shot in a single apartment complex in Warsaw with each film inspired by one of the Ten Commandments, Kieślowski provided a brilliant look at late-communist Poland and the everyday lives of its residents, with crises ranging from whether to have an abortion to peeping toms to fathers who believe they have mastered frozen ponds but have not. Piotr Florczyk has an excellent essay on the series, using it as his launching point for visiting the apartment complex where it was filmed and musing on what has changed in Poland and what has not.

If you haven’t seen Decalogue, do so.

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  • So not about the Ten Commandments of Karaoke they were talking about on the radio earlier, I guess.

    • Hogan

      I MUST KNOW.

      • This was surprisingly hard to find, but will let you avoid the business press. “We Built This City on Rock and Roll” is recommended.

        • Hogan

          Oh dear. Thanks for the effort.

  • Denverite

    Twenty-five years ago, the wonderful director Krzysztof Kieślowski died.

    Either you’ve been drinking or I’ve been drinking (OK, fine, I’ve always been drinking), but I count twenty years on Sunday.

    • Yeah, 20. I would have gotten that right, but I am on my 14th hour of work today and I think that has added 5 years to everything.

      • Denverite

        Sleep on it, man. The whole marginal returns thing is real.

        But thanks for the rec. I watched the Colors trilogy in the 90s and remember by early 20s self thinking they were good for weird foreign movies; I’ll check out Decalogue.

        • Bah, if I hadn’t been up til 1 last night seeing the Drive By Truckers, I’d be fine.

          • MartinAlexander

            Patterson Hood rocks! Love those guys. Great in concert and good peoples.

        • Also, those Three Colors movies are not weird. If you want weird foreign movies, we can talk. I recommend starting with Sergei Parajanov’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors and we can go from there.

          • Vance Maverick

            +1 to Parajanov and Decalogue (though I’ve only seen one or two, I agree they’re superior to the colors).

            • Incontinentia Buttocks

              This (all of it)

              I saw Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors at the late lamented UC Theater in Berkeley sometime in the early ’80s. I had literally no idea what the film was going in (I think it was part of a Soviet cinema series they were doing). I was absolutely blown away by it.

              • Incontinentia Buttocks

                And if you want weird Polish movies, The Saragossa Manuscript is a good starting point.

                (And while we’re in Eastern Europe, there’s also Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.)

          • Denverite

            Circa 1995 Denverite didn’t have the most sophisticated cinematography palate. (Not like 2016 Denverite does for that matter.)

          • Turkle

            Damn, I love Parajanov. “The Color of Pomegranates” is one of the few films I can honestly say changed my whole life. Stunning.

            Despite loving the Colors trilogy, I have never made time for the Decalogue. I’ll do that… Well, it’s the summer, so probably next winter.

          • Barry Freed

            Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is so beautiful and haunting The whole movie is so striking but that ending of her beckoning to him and their hands reaching for one another through the branches. Oh my how that has stayed with me.

            Kieslowski is so great. His is a grave I’ve long wanted to visit (I recommend you Google image search it). The Decalogue is amazing. And the Three Colors Trilogy. And I’ve always like Blind Chance a lot.

            Thanks for posting this.

  • djw

    I really need to re-watch this. I remember loving it, but I don’t remember a whole lot more than that. (For some reason, the details of Red/White/Blue stuck with me a great deal more).

    • q-tip

      (They stuck with you because the overall three-colors concept was more focused, and the production was spendier, and …)

  • q-tip

    It has been … an unfortunately large number of years since I watched the Decalogue, and even longer since I saw Blue-White-Red.
    I must remedy this post-haste. Which might be six months or more, realistically. But still! I am resolved.

    I may change my mind on yet another viewing, but I’m strongly inclined to disagree with Erik on which is better. I think Three Colors comes out on top because … it just looks so great. And there is something very concentrated and focused about each of the films, like movements in a symphony. The Decalogue is probably more substantial, but the aesthete in me can’t give it a higher grade than Blue-White-Red.

  • MND

    I haven’t watched these in close to 20 years, but I think he also filmed extended versions of Decalogue 5 and 6 that were excellent.

  • CHD

    So, where can you watch them? Not the sort of thin Netflix would have, and most of them have been DMCAed on YouTube…

    • It’s called the only thing Netflix is good for–actual discs.

      • CHD

        Rats. I think we’re on a stream o ly subscription.

        • This is a solvable problem. Netflix streaming is almost worthless.

          • We’re considering canceling Netflix DVD because we never have time or energy to watch anymore, and Redbox plus occasional streaming would probably get us 99% of what we want, plus allow for more spontaneity, but there are still many movies that are only available on DVD, still.

  • paul1970

    The three colours are ok, the Dekalog is great, but the best film ever made is Kieslowski’s ‘No End’, which (among other things) was denounced simultaneously by the communists, Solidarity and the church. The most perfect film about life, death, love, politics, power and principle.

  • JG

    My favorite is the one about the brothers and the rare stamp collection.

    • paul1970

      Which closes with the punk song: “Everything there is, is yours!”

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