Posted by: playingthedevil | January 1, 2012

the decalogue (the complete series)

decalogue i – “i am the lord thy god, thou shalt not have other gods before me.”

we’re off to a great start in decalogue i, an episode as involving, poignant, layered, and inspiring as kieslowski’s later cinematic works. it introduces the warsaw apartment complex where the decalogue takes place, and the young man character played by artur barcis who appears in nine of the ten shorts. followed by a middle-aged woman watching a tv screen that is showing news footage of school kids.

decalogue i tells the story of a college professor and his brilliant son while mom is working on another continent. the middle-aged woman we saw in the opening is actually the dad’s sister, a bit of an exposition character. through her, we learn while they both grew up catholic, the dad had learnt to measure and calculate everything in his life while the aunt remains religious. this is further illustrated in the scenes following pavel, the kid, upon seeing a neighborhood dog frozen to death and questions both his dad and his aunt about mortality. dad gives a scientific, biological answer while the aunt introduces faith and spirituality to pavel.

young pavel, living with his dad, is in the middle of both sides. while we see him calculating chess moves, formulating the time zone of where his mom is, or using his own computer (dad and son each has a computer, though dad’s is supposedly a higher functioning one than pavel’s) to manipulate doors and facets in the apartment, he’s also curious and interested in aspects of life that he can’t understand, as any healthy young person should. another interesting sequence has the pov shots of pavel watching his dad lecturing in class except through his eyes, we never see his dad on the screen as a whole. from pavel’s point of view, his dad is always obscured and covered by objects.

as with most kieslowski films, and unlike most movies we see, he’s not interested in issues or messages. decalogue i doesn’t sink to science vs. religion. it’s first and foremost about the characters as real people. kieslowski knows that people are more complicated than figureheads. notice dad’s reaction to the aunt finding a church for pavel and pavel’s desire to go. no one’s standing around with their ideals above their heads.

on a basic cinematic level, dialogue i works better than most feature length films. kieslowski and his co-writer krzysztof piesiewicz created such strong characters that the second half is extremely effective. though one scene with the dad in the church at the end is a bit too on the nose, the bookend scenes of the aunt seeing pavel on tv resonates, especially after we find out the whole story. kieslowski excels in telling melodramatic stories in such low key way that emotions and poignancy come through without being heavy handed and condescending.

with the commandment attached afterwards, it’s easy to conclude that decalogue i is about the danger of worshipping technology (computer) as the new god. though it’s even more relevant now than when the film was made, it would be simple minded to read the film that way. considering the sequence of events leading up to the climax, decalogue i doesn’t take one side over the other. as the aunt tells pavel, the scientific calculations “may seem more reasonable, but it doesn’t rule out god.” the yang to this yin is illustrated by the fact that after reviewing the result of their experiments, dad goes out to check the ice personally.

and i think what the film shows, and what kieslowski was feeling at the time, is the general feeling of helplessness in life and communist poland. fate (or the divine plan if you prefer) is a frequent theme in kieslowski’s works. whether one believes in religion, faith, or science, there is something above all those things that we cannot control. the fact that we can simply watch but cannot affect the outcome is helplessness, like us in the audience, the film camera, the filmmaker, a religious deity, the virgin mary, angels, or that mysterious young man sitting by the fire.

instead of providing an answer or telling you how you should think, it simply enlightens you through its humanistic story, to make you think for yourself long after it’s over. there are no quick and easy solutions, but one should always remember that when “one is alive, it’s a present. a gift.”

 

decalogue ii – “thou shalt not take the name of the lord thy god in vain.”

decalogue ii is not as layered and complex as the previous episode. it’s more deliberately paced. it could easily be adapted into a stage play since it involves more or less two characters talking to each other. without the marketing material, the bigger mystery here may be finding a way to link it to the commandments.

in the same apartment complex, we are introduced to an elderly doctor who lives by himself, and a chain-smoking woman who lives on the same floor. for a while, we simply observe the daily lives of the doctor and the chain-smoking woman without any indication of a story. eventually we get to the dilemma: the woman’s husband is half conscious in bed in the hospital where the doctor works. the woman was not able to conceive a child with her husband but she is now pregnant with another man’s child. she tells the doctor succinctly of her decision: she will get an abortion if her husband lives, or keep the child if her husband dies.

though it didn’t seem like anything was happening at first, i enjoy the opening scenes in retrospect. i like the progression of the relationship between the doctor and the woman. it would not have been believable for the woman to bring up the abortion early on in the film. the day-to-day life of the doctor also effectively establishes this solitary, stoic character. in addition, the snippets of his back-story subtly suggest the reason for his decision later on in the movie. like decalogue i, liquid also plays a part.

while the classical musician and the infidelity appear later in blue, there’s also the voice mail and telephone crucial in the double life of veronique and red. the doctor character is a slight variation of the judge in red. in fact, the lead female character also runs over the male character’s dog.

as expected, kieslowski is not interested in soap opera or issue driven melodrama about abortion (nice touch with the dead rabbit in the opening). with the eventual marketing commandment attached, and without giving away plot points, it’s obvious that the doctor thinks of himself as a god in deciding who lives or dies. notice the two appearances of the mysterious young man. there’s also a lovely panning shot of the two characters in the building. we first see the woman looking out the window then the camera pans down a few floors below to reveal the doctor, in red, even though they live on the same floor. it’s also interesting that the doctor keeps cactus and tropical fish in his apartment while the woman has a more standard houseplant which she rips off the leaves and brings to her husband. like pavel in decalogue i, the woman also asks the other character if he/she believes in god. the doctor answers that he believes in a private god, a claim that kieslowski himself had also made.

there is a duality theme here that also appears later in the double life of veronique. while the doctor can be seen as the scientific, the woman puts her faith in the doctor. there’s the life/death of the husband vs. the life/death of the unborn child/fetus. it’s less philosophical and thought inspiring in comparison to decalogue i but it nevertheless succeeds in a narrative sense with an involving story.

 

decalogue iii – “remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

while the previous two entries tell more traditional moralistic stories, decalogue iii has a more mysterious noir-ish story. it’s more in tone with the french new wave than the classic drama. it reminds me of who’s afraid of virginia woolf, scorsese’s after hours, in the company of men, and kieslowski’s own white. it explores the darker and edgier side of a man/woman relationship like white, except instead of a husband and wife, it’s a now married family man and his former lover.

on christmas eve, taxi driver janusz (daniel olbrychski) gets a call from former lover ewa (maria pakulnis). ewa wants janusz’s help to track down her husband whom she claims is missing. decalogue iii follows their all night journey through the streets of warsaw.

since it takes place over one long night, decalogue iii is darker than the previous two episodes lighting-wise but not in terms of tone or content. it’s not as complex as the previous ones. the primary focus is the relationship between these two people. we get it early on of the structure of the film. like waiting for godot, there is not much in the way of plot. rather, we get the history and background information about janusz and ewa intermittently throughout the night. the missing husband is kind of the macguffin.

unlike the previous two, decalogue iii doesn’t work as well on the primary narrative though the lighter tone is a bit of a welcoming change of pace. there’s kind of one-upmanship between the two characters. since fairly early on we know that things are not as they seem, the only real mystery here story-wise is what really happened, and why.

despite a more simplistic story, there are still things to like. there is an amazing sequence in the opening where janusz, dressed up as santa claus on his way home, meets pavel’s dad from decalogue i. as if the christmas setting and the cameo appearance of pavel’s dad is not enough, the camera stays outside and switch to the pov of pavel’s dad looking through the window into janusz’s home instead of following janusz in. it brings back the powerful emotional resonance of decalogue i, it also sets up the idea of different roles/identities/characters we play in our lives.

there are also some weirder moments that are simply baffling. there’s the surprisingly dark drunk tank scene, and janusz’s unexpectedly intense reaction to it. there’s the skateboarding female subway security guard. the mysterious young man, the watcher, also shows up as a streetcar driver who almost has a head on collision with janusz and ewa.

also, unlike the previous two entries, the corresponding commandment provides the most intriguing aspect of decaloge iii. based on the plot summary, it’s easy to think that decalogue iii is going to be about janusz and ewa committing unholy events during a holy day. but once the resolutions come, it actually brings an opposite meaning. yes, janusz and ewa both lied for the event to occur, but with the final revelation, this “unholy” act seems to bring closure and hope to their lives. is it unholy that janusz lied to his wife and abandoned his family on the holy day to save the life of a former lover? would it have been better had janusz do the right thing, stay with his family, and abandon ewa by herself? perhaps the mysterious watcher in this case presents the straight and narrow, like the streetcar he is conducting, while janusz and ewa had to veer off the main road to avoid the head on collision with the watcher’s streetcar.

thinking about it again, perhaps christmas eve is not the sabbath day at all. since the film ends on christmas morning, it may make more sense that christmas day is the sabbath day. there is a final scene where janusz is finally home and talks to his wife. without giving away the conversation, i believe janusz is sincere in what he says. if the sabbath day in question is christmas day, it is crucial that janusz goes through the “unholy” events the previous night, on sabbath eve, so that both janusz and ewa can move on and spend christmas day apart in holiness.

 

decalogue iv – “honor thy father and thy mother.”

returning to darker subjects, decalogue iv is so far the most intricate entry, also the most mystifying. not only is the narrative most convoluted but it also touches on a taboo subject, a story of possible incest. the mise en scene and cinematography are also more elaborate.

anka (adrianna biedrynska) lives in the same apartment with her father michal (janusz gajos). though we expect a father/daughter relationship, the film hints at something unusual is going on during these opening scenes. the first time i watched it i thought the water splashing was too obvious but apparently it’s a polish easter tradition. ignoring this part, and on second viewing, this opening sequence seems subtler.

discovering a letter not to be opened until after her father’s death, anka is tempted numerous times to open the envelope while her father is away on business. finally giving in to temptation, anka opens the letter only to find another envelope from her deceased mother, who died when anka was five days old. when michal returns, we (and michal) are told, through anka, that michal is not her biological father.

once again, kieslowski utilized a premise common in soap operas. thankfully, we are spared of the usual scenes in stories of this type. a lesser film would have settle on the search of biological parents, some emotional melodramatic speeches, perhaps some courtroom scenes and a lesson or message at the end. kieslowski eschewed all that and instead, led us down a dark psychological second half.

indeed, the second half of decalogue iv involves simply two characters talking in an apartment. yet, it manages to create deeply felt dramatic tensions by frequently switching roles between the two characters. having lived together as father and daughter for twenty years, the discovery of not being biologically related causes them to reexamine and reevaluate their relationship, or perhaps the feelings were there all along. the majority of the second half is not so much about the newly discovered information but more of a confrontation between the two characters regarding the new dynamic in their relationship.

the mysterious young man/watcher appears twice in this episode, both times crucial moments. though he was only able to watch and not interfere in previous episodes, he seems to affect the action of anka in this one. he may not do it physically but by merely showing up at the right moment, he seems to represent the moral and the right thing to do. there’s also a sublime scene in the elevator where the doctor who played god shows up, watching the father and daughter the entire time, instead of facing the elevator door like one would in a crowded elevator.

the story alone is interesting enough in view of the corresponding commandment but decalogue iv has a final revelation that is unlike any of the previous episodes. it’s not merely a twist ending or an ironic climax. while it does make you rethink everything that has gone on before, it packs an emotional punch and releases its staying power. the ambiguity of the ending is even more debatable than any of the previous entries not only in the larger philosophical sense but also in a simpler narrative sense.

unlike the retarded big hipster glasses, this pair actually has a point

had anka honor her mother and father, she wouldn’t have opened any of the letters. but as in decalogue ii and iii, there is the recurring theme of various identities and the roles we play (anka is an acting student in college, needing glasses to improve her eye sight, the broken glass door). though not biologically related, should michal not be view as a parent? the second half cleverly plays with this idea during which anka and michal alternately play the roles of father/daughter and man/woman. anka may have been the catalyst of the story but ultimately the one faces with the moral decision is michal, who honor anka’s mother by never opening the letter and making the right choices.

 

decalogue v – “thou shalt not kill.”

decalogue v is the most straightforward entry so far. considering the attached commandment, perhaps this simplistic and direct approach is appropriate. there is no ambiguity to be found like the previous four since it works mostly as kieslowski’s view on not only capital punishment but also the act of murder.

there is a feature length version of decalogue v titled a short film about killing that was shown at festivals and released as a film. unfortunately, it’s not available to me so i only saw the hour-long version that’s part of the decalogue series. the longer version was released before decalogue v was shown on tv.

decalogue v introduces the three major characters in a prologue that intercut different places and time. the camera, like the mysterious young watcher, observes a young punk drifter (miroslaw baka), a rambunctious middle age cab driver (jan tesarz), and a new lawyer (krzysztof globisz). while the voice over narration is from the lawyer, who’s more or less the mouth piece translating kieslowski’s view on capital punishment, we wait for someone to get murdered.

i have to say it is an underwhelming experience. not because it pales in comparison to the other episodes but because the longer version, a short film about killing, has been raved and awarded. i probably would have liked it more viewing it as one of the ten episodes instead of a shortened version of a kieslowski film. he’s at his best when he simply tells character driven stories while touching on larger issues. decalogue v works the other way around. the issue and the message are always in the forefront and as a result, the narrative suffers a bit.

though it still feels like a breath of fresh air, even though it’s somewhat predictable. the first half we see the first murder that pushes the plot, at almost exactly the halfway point, we get to the other side of the coin and sees the second murder. yes, the mysterious young man shows up twice in decalogue v, both the crucial time right before a murder takes place.

despite its flaws, decalogue v is still above most issue driven message movies we get. unlike say dead man walking, kieslowski doesn’t try to lead you on sentimentally. it doesn’t bother with the back-story or motive. it spares us with the investigation and courtroom scenes. it succinctly provides you with two murders and it’s up to you to figure out how you feel about them, and that will probably be based on how you feel about the issue at large.

while it doesn’t pretend to be objective, nor should it, kieslowski succeeded in showing his point of view. the two halves of the episode can be seen as the yin and the yang. there are some intriguing parallels between the first half and the second half, between birth and death, personal murder vs. state sanctioned killing, the victim vs. the murderer. to get his point across, kieslowski designed the murderer and the victim to such a grey degree that instead of good vs. evil, we get to pick between the lesser of the two evils.

but enough about our elections.

perhaps it’s because i have a similar opinion on the issue as kieslowski, i like the fact that he made the second killing more emotional than the first. and i think it’s intentional. we don’t know much about the cab driver but in the second half, we are offered more information on the young punk. even though the first murder is the longest in film history (though this is way before torture porn became a thing), the second killing definitely feels more brutal to me.

a short film about killing is supposedly more brutal and graphic so i am curious if i’ll feel the same way about the two murders. this longer version also focus more on the new lawyer character, whose final scene in decalogue v is both laughable and too obvious.

 

decalogue vi – “thou shalt not commit adultery.”

like decalogue v, there is also a feature length version of decalogue vi. titled a short film about love, it is a more fitting title to decalogue vi than the commandment attached to it. they also share a similar narrative structure, the midway switch.

tomek (olaf lubaszenko), a young post office worker has been spying on magda (grazyna szapolowska), an older woman who lives in the building across. he also sends her forged notes about money order and makes phone calls. he also report a false gas leak to the gas company when he sees that magda is about to get it on with a man, and gets a second job as a milkman so he can deliver milk to her (make your own puns and jokes).

unlike most films involving peeping, the two find out about each other fairly early on. the film kicks into gear once the two go on a date and tomek confesses his love for magda.

other than decalogue i, this episode contains most of kieslowski’s favorite themes. there are numerous reversals throughout the film. the peeping tom at first seems mischievous and somewhat perverted and the older woman seems to be the victim but it is later revealed that he is a virgin and she’s more diabolical than mischievous. their roles are reversed yet again in the second half and up until the end.

most interesting is the fact that we view the first half mostly through tomek’s point of view and after the date, we only see things through magda’s eyes.

as in his later works, fate and irony play a big part in decalogue vi. after their date, magda said that if they catch the bus, they’ll go back to her place, if they miss, they’ll go home separately. the bus was on its way but then it stopped and we are cut to the scene of them in her apartment.

the ending also adds to this in that were it not for tomek, magda would have remained the cold, cynical woman she was. after opening herself up emotionally because of tomek, she is finally able to get what tomek was feeling. though by then it was too late. like tomek’s telescope in the beginning, she is only able to see him through the circle of the post office window, with him looking at her coldly, stating that he’s not peeping at her anymore.

despite the commandment attached, decalogue vi is not so much about adultery (since neither of them are married or in any sort of serious relationships) but indeed a short film about love. as in love, it hinges on fate, timing, and most of all, one’s perception of love.

 

decalogue vii – “thou shalt not steal.”

seven hours in and kieslowski still managed to defy expectations. though the plot reminds of some of the earlier episodes, decalogue vii is done in a different style and far away from the apartment complex. it’s more plot and event driven than the previous entries but there are numerous aspects that recalls the previous entries.

decalogue vii is attached to the commandment thou shalt not steal yet it could have just easily been thou shalt honor thy father and mother or thou shalt not commit adultery. one is also reminded of the abortion issue raised in decalogue ii. unlike the previous episodes, decalogue vii hinges on incidents, instead of revealing the past to provoke debates and morals; decalogue vii is more of a cassavetes-esque domestic drama. it’s more plot driven than any of the previous entries. it explores the very definition of stealing rather than the aftermath. though if you are interested in stealing or shoplifting, winona ryder is the ten, which is a comedic and more literal adaptation of the ten commandments.

maja barelkowska plays 17-year-old majka, who looks like scarlet johansson in scoop, or maybe decalogue iv, which also involves glasses and a special father-daughter relationship. in the opening scenes we see her being expelled from college and trying to get a passport for herself and ania (katarzyna piwowarczyk), a six-year-old girl. she is told that she needs the mother’s permission. the recurring child scream we hear is that of ania, and the only pair of hands who can sooth her is ewa (anna polony), supposedly the mother of majka and ania.

soon we find out that six-year-old ania is actually majka’s daughter, which means that ewa is the grandmother. the setup is that majka had an affair with her college professor wojtek (boguslaw linda) while majka’s mother ewa was the headmistress. to avoid a scandal, they made the arrangement that ewa will be the child’s mother to the public even though she’s unable to have another child after majka. things start rolling when we realize that we come in to the story when majka decides that the arrangement doesn’t work for her anymore and is ready for the truth to come out. she decides to take her own daughter and move to canada where she was offered a position.

of course, kieslowski spared us the clichéd custody battle/courtroom scenes. and he succeeds in applying the commandment(s) to modern day life. we usually associate the act of stealing to objects. since we never get a clear motivation of why majka is expelled from school and decides to finally take her daughter, the child in this case feels more like a piece, an object, between the tug of war between majka and her mother. despite how the film portrays ewa, she’s the only one who can comfort and sooth the child and we never feel the maternal aspect of the majka character.

majka herself said “is it stealing if it’s something that’s yours,” further illustrating that kieslowski is more interested in what constitutes stealing rather than a simple custody battle. while it’s not as emotionally involved as some of the other episodes, decalogue vii offers viewers more than enough to think about afterwards, both in what we now think of as stealing and what we think we own.

 

decalogue viii – “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

at first glance, decalogue viii seems like a less substantial entry in the decalogue series. but it ends up being an episode that i had to rewind and rewatch, and stays with me longer than some of the other entries, not so much because of narrative complexity or emotional impact but because it works on more on a philosophical level.

recalling the previous episode, the pre-credit sequence shows a young girl holding hands and being led by presumably an adult. it is then cut to an old woman who lives in the decalogue apartment complex, jogging, and returning home. she seems like a nice old lady. after a small talk with a stamp collecting resident in the building, we see her going to work, as a college professor on ethics. she is told that an american scholar on the subject of jewish holocaust survivors would like to audit her class. she seems to remember her as someone from america who translated her works and showed her around when she was in new york.

unlike the other episodes, decalogue viii blatantly references the other entries in the series, specifically episode ii. looking for “ethical hell,” one student pretty much recaps decalogue ii as an example. it doesn’t add anything to this entry specifically but it’s a nice bit of fan service that zofia (maria koscialkowska) the professor immediately discards the proposed scenario as everyone in poland knows what happened and that the father and the child in decalogue ii live.

as nice as that was, we get to the crux of decalogue viii. american scholar elzbieta (teresa marczewska) has her own scenario to bring up for the class. to further mess with our heads, she emphasizes that her scenario is real. and her scenario is what decalogue viii is all about.

in 1942, a jewish young girl is brought by her guardian to a couple’s home to be sent to a safe place to be hidden from nazis, under the condition is that the girl be christened. at the last minute, the couple refused to protect the girl, based on this episode’s commandment that they cannot lie. to follow god’s words, they could not lie and protect the young girl, even though it is likely that the young girl will be killed.

though we more or less expected a holocaust story in one of the ten episodes, decalogue viii is not really interested in taking on such a hefty subject. though the past acts as catalysts like several other episodes, decalogue viii is still about the everyday life of contemporary characters.

the whole episode hinges on the long monologue elzbieta tells in class, and it is quite a sequence. we know that there is more to these two characters than we are told, but we don’t quite know which roles each one plays in this complex back-story. the cinematography in this sequence is the best in the series. instead of switching between the class and the close-ups of the scholar and the professor, we get three breaks: the entry of a drunk/hangover student (ushered out by the professor), the first camera panning to an empty seat, and the second where the camera pan to the same spot except this time the mysterious young man is there, looking directly at the professor and hence the camera. notice the lines in the story when the camera is finally settled on him.

since we know elzbieta is the young jewish girl in the story and she’s still living, and she’s there to investigate what happened 40+ years ago, there’s not as much at stake dramatically. it skirts dangerously close to the hypothetical situation where one would kill a single innocent being to save the lives of millions. but a lesser film or a more sentimental filmmaker would have resorted to flashbacks and trying to tug at our heartstrings (perhaps a black and white sequence with nothing but the color red).

but kieslowski is smarter and more ambitious than that. instead of stringing emotions out of an atrocity, he would rather explore how everyday people deal with the aftermath. (of course, there are plenty of ironies here such as the fact that the professor claims that she doesn’t go to church while we see the jewish scholar prays and wears the golden cross.) as a humanist, kieslowski seems to be saying that whatever decisions we made in the past (based on religion/politics/morals), it’s more important in how we deal with our past now.

 

decalogue ix – “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.”

even though it’s common knowledge that each episode in the decalogue does not strictly adhere to the respective commandment assigned, it bears repeating that each entry could be applied to one or more than one commandments. while decalogue ix is supposed to be about the taboo of coveting thy neighbor’s wife, ultimately it could have just as been easily about love.

inter-cutting between the husband and the wife in different cities, decalogue ix opens with roman (piotr machalica) visiting his doctor friend, while his wife hanka (ewa blaszczyk) awaits his return. after learning that he is impotent, roman somewhat follows his friend’s advice: telling his wife of that fact, and encourages her to start seeking out new relationships. ewa reacts the way a loving wife would and refuse such suggestion. though soon we (and roman) learn that she has actually been having an affair with a young physics student.

the premise may sound like breaking the waves, decalogue ix doesn’t go the epic melodramatic route. there are also elements of noir/mystery with roman spying and sneaking around on his wife’s affair. as in other works by kieslowski, the archetypal elements provide him the canvas to create wholly unique characters and situations.

the few curveballs thrown at us this time include the fact that while roman somewhat follows his friend’s suggestion (the doctor friend actually suggested divorce), the decision is more what he feels like he should do, instead of what he wants to do. though ewa is already having an affair, we later learn that she is intending to end it. early on, we also see that their marriage may not be that great even before the news. it is hinted at that roman himself may have been unfaithful during the marriage.

it’s interesting that roman is a doctor and that ewa’s affair involves a physics student. it brings to mind the science vs. faith in decalogue i, the head vs. the heart. of course, the scenes between roman and ewa also explore the roles we play under different dynamics. fate also plays a big part in the third act as in other kieslowski’s works. the phone tapping also comes back later in red.

it’s rather baffling to view decalogue ix under the attached commandment. though this may sound trite and overworked, and make me sound like a dirty hippie, two of ewa’s lines: “love is in one’s heart, not between one’s legs,” and “the things we have are more important than the things we do not have” to me, define not only love but something even more scarce in cinema: a mature relationship.

p.s. though i don’t often mention the technical aspect, the lighting, cinematography and the score in this entry are all exceptional. the composer mentioned, van den budennayer, is actually zbigniew preisner, the composer of the decalogue series and most of kieslowski’s works.

 

decalogue x – “thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.”

wrapping up the decalogue series is decalogue x, instead of a mo/ral/tality tale, it’s a black comedy similar to white, the least of the three colors trilogy. it’s also the most prominently humorous entry.

two brothers, jerzy (jerzy stuhr) and artur (zbigniew zamachowski) reunite after the death of their father, a stamp collector who appeared in decalogue viii. after the funeral, they find out that their father left them a valuable stamp collection and also in debt. older brother jerzy gives his son a series of zeppelin stamps that is then sold to a questionable shopkeeper. they also learn that they need one more piece of stamp to complete a series to maximize profit. in a surprising twist, the shopkeeper tells them that he would like a kidney to save his daughter’s life, in exchange for the rest of the stamps that would complete the series.

like the previous episode, it’s more plot heavy than most decalogue entries perhaps because of the genre elements (love story in ix, thievery in x). at times it reminds me of sidney lumet’s before the devil knows you’re dead, or mamet’s con game movies. but kieslowski did not give in to the heist/action/mystery trappings. he once again utilized those genre elements to create an personal story essentially about the two brothers. haven’t seen each other in two years, the death of the father and the funeral reconnects the two brothers and rebuild their relationship. the older brother is a family man who wears suits and ties while the younger brother is in a heavy metal band called city death.

the self referential element is also amped up higher in this final entry. the single piece of stamp to complete a whole series seems to be reminding viewers that we are watching an episode of a series. like the decalogue itself, it seems to act as a reminder that each piece (episode) is more valuable seen in the context of a series. there’s also the rock concert opening where the younger brother’s band is singing a song with the lyrics:

“kill! kill! kill!
commit adultery,
covet things all the week.
and on sunday, on sunday,
beat up your mother, your father, your sister.
beat up the young one and steal,
because everything belongs to you, everything belongs to you!”

there’s a bit of foreshadowing in there too. with the end of communism in sight, it’s hard not to view decalogue x as a prediction of the rise of greed and capitalism, the opposite of communism in which every man for himself.

p.s. this is the only episode in the series where the mysterious young man, the watcher, does not appear. however, we see tomek, the voyeur from decalogue vi at the post office.

 


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