The Decalogue Movie Review

Survive 10 hours of The Decalogue and you may find yourself a changed person.

Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski found inspiration in the 10 Commandments, and for Polish TV he made a series of one-hour films exploring each one. Naturally, this is some heavy stuff. In some cases, it's really heavy stuff.

Kieslowski is a bit of a minimalist, which means don't expect lavish sets or much in the way of music. In fact, most of these characters all live in the same, nondescript, high-rise apartment complexes in a Warsaw, Poland. The stories regularly intersect, though not to the degree that they did in Kieslowski's other major epic of Blue, White, and Red.

Unfortunately, many of the episodes of The Decalogue feel unfinished, and on the whole the series is hit and miss, not the masterpiece some would claim, though it's definitely one of the most ambitious film projects ever undertaken. While it's imperfect, I have to say I feel a deep sense of achievement having finished the series. I don't know if it's made me a better man or not, but time will have its say in that.

Each episode deserves its own examination.

Decalogue 1 - "Thou shalt have no other gods before me" - A jaded man trusts the computer over all. His hubris leads him to trust its calculations in all matters, which proves to be devastating. One of the most powerful of the series, featuring a haunting performance by Wojciech Klata as the man's trusting son. [][][][][]

Decalogue 2 - "Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain" - A woman forces a doctor to make a harrowing choice: If her husband lives, she'll get an abortion of the child she's carrying from another man. Somewhat roundabout on the whole. [][][][]

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Decalogue 3 - "Thou shalt remember the Sabbath and keep it holy" - Crazy woman forces the married man with who she's had an affair 3 years earlier to help her search for her missing lover on Christmas Eve. Why? She's determined if she can keep the guy out until 7 a.m. she'll be sane again. Or not. Almost completely nonsensical. [][][]

Decalogue 4 - "Thou shalt honor thy father and mother" - Girl's mother died right after childbirth, leaving only a cryptic letter to her father. Father seals letter in a second envelope, "Not to be opened until my death." Child opens the letter ahead of time and realizes dad isn't dad. A rather silly ending poisons a coulda-been story. Again, not terribly great. [][][]

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Decalogue 5 - "Thou shalt not kill" - A street punk murders a cab driver in cold blood, then faces the death penalty for his crime. A lot less interesting than it sounds, mainly because that's the entire gist of the story. The only "surprise" comes from the lawyer defending the punk's life, and even he adds little to the capital punishment debate. Notable only for the gruesome and cold murder sequence. [][][][]

Decalogue 6 - "Thou shalt not commit adultery" - A return to fine form for Kieslowski, with a curious tale of a 19-year-old kid who peeps on (and later stalks) his exotic, married neighbor. Eventually, they meet, with tragic consequences and a clever twist of an ending. Slow, yet fascinating. [][][][]

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Decalogue 7 - "Thou shalt not steal" - This very slow entry has a child's mother kidnapping her from the child's grandmother, whom the kid thinks is her real mom. Got it? Mom wants to escape to Canada with her somewhat estranged daughter, but events turn against her. Awfully confusing for such a simple story and not particularly successful in the end. Far too similar to episode 4. [][][]

Decalogue 8 - "Thou shalt not bear false witness" - Kieslowski invokes the Holocaust, with the tale of an American woman who returns to Poland to face a famed lecturer, only to reveal that as a young girl, the lecturer turned her away from a hiding place from the Nazis during WWII. Sounds very powerful, but the female bonding and chatty trips through the past make this episode far too weepy and sentimental. [][][][]

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Decalogue 9 - "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife" - A tragedy in the style of Romeo & Juliet. An unfaithful man finds he is now impotent, and he encourages his wife to take a lover. Jealousy immediately ensues, as does heartbreak from all sides. Very sad and deeply compelling. [][][][]

Decalogue 10 - "Though shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods" - A personal favorite of the series, featuring two hapless brothers who suddenly inherit the most valuable stamp collection in Poland when their father dies. Though they desperately need money, they both quickly become obsessed with expanding the collection, which, as you can well imagine, does not turn out well. The only black comedy in the series, and probably the best of the bunch. [][][][][]

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The series averages out to a 3.6 rating, which I'll round up to 4 stars.

Aka Dekalog.

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The Decalogue Rating

" Excellent "

Rating: NR, 1988


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