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Film / The Decalogue

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"I am always reluctant to single out some particular feature of the work of a major filmmaker because it tends inevitably to simplify and reduce the work. But in this book of screenplays by Krzysztof Kieślowski and his co-author, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, it should not be out of place to observe that they have the very rare ability to dramatize their ideas rather than just talking about them. By making their points through the dramatic action of the story they gain the added power of allowing the audience to discover what's really going on rather than being told. They do this with such dazzling skill, you never see the ideas coming and don't realize until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart."

The Decalogue (Polish: Dekalog) is a series of ten Made-for-TV movies by acclaimed director Krzysztof Kieślowski. Each movie represents one of the Ten Commandments of The Bible, dealing with different characters that are related only in the setting and making small appearances in some of the other chapters. There is also a strange man that appears in almost all the movies, usually as a bystander playing different roles.

  • Decalogue One (I am the Lord thy God... thou shalt not have other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image... Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them.) - An atheist university professor trains his young son in the use of reason and the scientific method using a computer he bought. One day, the computer miscalculates the thickness of the ice on a lake the boy usually goes skating.
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  • Decalogue Two (Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.) - An elderly doctor is approached by a woman who asks about her gravely ill husband's chances of survival. She is pregnant by someone else. If her husband dies, she wants to keep the child, but if he has a chance of living, she will have an abortion.
  • Decalogue Three (Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.) - On Christmas Eve, a taxi driver has to choose if he will help find his former mistress' missing husband or spend it with his family.
  • Decalogue Four (Honor thy father and thy mother.) - A young woman and her widower father start to feel attracted to each other when one day, she discovers a letter from her mother that says he might not be her father after all.
  • Decalogue Five (Thou shalt not kill.) - A malicious young man murders a rude taxi cab driver for no reason. He is caught and sentenced to death.
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  • Decalogue Six (Thou shalt not commit adultery.) - A naive young man spies on a woman and falls in love with her.
  • Decalogue Seven (Thou shalt not steal.) - A young woman abducts her own daughter, who has been raised by her parents as her sister.
  • Decalogue Eight (Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.) - A Holocaust survivor confronts a Catholic ethics professor who once refused to help her on the basis of not bearing false witness.
  • Decalogue Nine (Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife.) - A man who has become impotent suggests his wife that even though they love each other, she should find a new lover. And then she does.
  • Decalogue Ten (Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's goods.) - Two brothers inherit a valuable stamp collection from their deceased father and soon become consumed and obsessed with their windfall.

It’s very similar in tone to Kieślowski’s later Three Colors Trilogy, but this one has a more religious background associated for obvious reasons.

Stanley Kubrick declared this film the only one worth admiring in his lifetime.

This work has examples of the following tropes:

  • Author Tract: Every movie deals with moral imperatives. In particular, Kieślowski was against the death penalty, something that you can see in Decalogue Five.
  • Continuity Nod: Characters from each story occasionally appear into another, usually for a second or two.
  • Dr. Jerk: Roman's doctor friend who informs him of his impotence in the most unsympathetic way possible. Then when Roman asks what he should do about his wife, the doctor replies with one word: "Divorce."
  • Driven to Suicide: Tomek in Decalogue Six, Roman in Decalogue Nine. Fortunately for them, they both fail.
  • Expansion Pack: Decalogue Five and Decalogue Six were expanded into A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, respectively; about 25 minutes were added to each. This was part of the deal that got the miniseries made, as the feature films would be easier for international distribution, and the condition that they would be produced provided additional funds.
  • Family of Choice: Discussed in Decalogue Four. In the end, it doesn't really matter whether he is her biological father or not.
  • Genre Shift. Decalogue Five is notoriously different than the rest of the episodes, being Darker and Edgier and more political in his message. Decalogue Ten is outright Black Comedy.
  • Idiot Ball: Jerzy and Artur in Decalogue Ten. Why not just sell all the stamps right away and split the money? Why give a kidney to a total stranger? Why not put the stamps in a safety deposit box somewhere?
  • Santa Claus: Janusz disguises as such.
  • Science Is Wrong: Krzysztof uses his computer to calculate if the frozen lake will be able to hold Paweł. The ice breaks anyway.
  • Stalking Is Love: The premise of Decalogue Six. Magda initially is annoyed at Tomek, but she gets over it pretty quick.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Majka, the teenage mother and Wojtek’s background in Decalogue Seven.
  • Theme Tune: The ten episodes begin and end with a nice little piano melody. In Decalogue Ten, however, the tune immediately transforms into a rock song, which appears again in the end.
  • Throwing the Distraction: In Decalogue Seven, Majka, while hiding behind a wall, throws a small wooden ball down the stairs, thus distracting an old woman watching over the entrance to the back of the stage.
  • The Watcher: There’s a man that appears in almost all the episodes, under different appearances, watching the events. The only episode he doesn’t appear in is in Decalogue Ten (his appearance in Decalogue Seven is in the background, so you might as well not notice him).
  • Water Wake-up: Anka and Michal seem to wake each other up this way frequently.
  • You're Not My Father: Anka confirms this to Michal. Then at the end, turns out it was a lie. Or was it?


Example of: