Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Stars: A cast of 100s
5 (out of 5) Globes
Everyone in “The Dekalog” is guilty. They kill, they steal, they cheat, they covet, they blaspheme, they have other gods, they create idols, they fail to honor mother or father, they bear false witness and they certainly don’t keep the Sabbath Day holy. Over 10 episodes and 10 hours, each inspired by one (or, in some cases, it can be agued more) of the Ten Commandments, the dozens of people bopping around Krzysztof Kieslowski’s miniseries-movie — first aired on Polish television in 1989 and often screened as a super-sized, multi-day movie — sin like it’s going out of style.
But they’re not judged. Even the loner who whimsically murders a cabbie for no reason, in the series’ famous fifth episode, is viewed with peerless compassion. It’s this compassion that towers over “The Dekalog,” even moreso than its insane ambition. If Kieslowski and cowriter Krzystof Piesiewicz, being the series’ creators, are gods, they’re benevolent ones, unfailingly empathetic to people who can’t help but fail at being perfect. In episode eight, a kindly (but still flawed) professor asks her ethics class to consider a real-life case. But they’re not to pass judgment. “Try to understand her,” she implores them. She might as well be the filmmakers’ mouthpiece. Their film asks you to understand, not pass sentence.
“The Dekalog” comprises 10 moral tales, as Eric Rohmer would put it, each a concise and precise fit of high drama. The first sets the scene: A father, of the agnostic-atheist stripe, has taught his young son to be a curious lover of science. This certainty, this rejection of a higher power, will come to bite them in the ass, and how. But this isn’t some TBN propaganda piece; every shot beams with humanism, and not the bland kind.
Other episodes will have but traces of religiosity, if at all, and will go further into asking questions, not answering them. There’s the one (episode three) about a couple reuniting years after an affair, like a grungier version of “Before Sunset.” There’s the one (episode six) about the snooper flummoxed when the woman he peeps on finds out his secret and becomes interested in him. There’s the one (episode seven) where a lonely woman “kidnaps” the young daughter she legally bequeathed to her parents at a young age. This grim and heavy though often transcendent ten-tet ends, surprisingly, on a relatively lighter note. Our many hours and hard work are rewarded with a black comedy about brothers trying to sell their late father’s legendary stamp collection. It’s not just a laugh that it goes out with angry rock-‘n’-roll; it makes the world of the film seem infinite.