Friday, June 5, 2015
789. Dekalog, Jeden/The Decalogue (1988)
Running Time: 572 minutes
Directed By: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Written By: Krzysztof Kieslowski, Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Main Cast: Artur Barcis, Grazyna Szapolowska, Jerzy Stuhr, Piotr Machalica, Ewa Blasczyk
Note: Man, have I REALLY been gone for almost two months? I really had no intention of taking any sort of a hiatus, so my apologies for disappearing for so long, without notice. I guess life just got too busy for me and yes, I've had a bunch of stuff going on lately, from work stuff to personal stuff...mostly good stuff though, so no worries. Let's not dawdle though, shall we. I've been plugging away at The Decalogue for a couple weeks now, watching an episode when I had the time. Each time I'd finish one, I'd write something about it, so that when it came time to write the review, I'd have all my thoughts and notes already on paper. I finally managed to "get the tick" today (as Ray would say) and now I present to you, my extremely EPIC review for The Decalogue. What I present to you is a mini review of all ten episodes of The Decalogue, each complete with their own rating, a final summary at the end couples with a ranking of the episodes from best to worst and finally a grand rating on the film as a whole. Godspeed, if you actually read all this. Oh and go easy on me, as this is my first review in two months.
THOU SHALL NOT...
I must say that for a movie that I've been looking forward to ever since the pages of my Indiana Jones version of THE BOOK have been breached, I was highly disappointed by how this began. Nothing offensively bad or anything, but this is seriously one that I've been chomping at the bit to feast my eyes on and this was really, very *meh*. I also struggle to connect this to any of the Ten Commandments, while Wikipedia notes that it may be tied to the "Thou shall have no other Gods before me" commandment. If that's the case, then I can only guess that the "graven image" of this episode is the computer, whom father and son both put their faith into, seemingly daily. Instead of, for instance, saying a prayer; "Please Lord, watch over my son today as he does thing that could potentially harm him, like skating on ice", they choose to put their faith into a computer and go by whatever it tells them. The ice is thick enough - fine then, it's plenty thick enough, no questions asked. Not only is this crucial at the end of the film, but throughout the film both man and son look to the computer for answers about everything, Pawel (the son) even asking his computer what his mother dreams about. Again though, that's really grasping at straws to tie this to a commandment and I would've preferred something much more straightforward, especially for the initial episode. A quick check to IMDB shows that most fans of the mini-series have this one as one of the strongest episodes, so now I'll worry whether or not it's all downhill from here. In fairness, I have no doubt that with nine more tries, Kieslowski will succeed in impressing me at least once, if not two or three times, especially considering how well I took to the Three Colors trilogy.
RATING 6/10 But really, that's BARELY a '6' and while a '5.5' just seems TOO low, it's probably more accurate. Call it a 5.75 for the ones who want it nailed down to a tee.
Now we're on to something. As simple a story as it was, this was quite better than the initial episode in the Decalogue series. Here you had a story that seemed to have a beginning, middle and end, developed characters who had a purpose, an interesting dilemma - some serious stuff that I could sink my teeth into. Decalogue 2 tells of a woman whose husband is on his death bed. Meanwhile she's had an affair and has become pregnant. If her husband dies, she wants to keep the baby and live a new life with her new lover ("did you know, doctor, that it is possible to love two men at once" - paraphrasing). However, if he lives, she wants to know so that she can get an abortion and thus avoid her husband ever finding out about her infidelity. So she hounds the doctor, whom she lives in the same apartment building as and who is also very reluctant to give her a definitive answer as to whether her husband will live or die. Apparently the movie is supposed to tell the tale of the "thou shall not take the Lord's name in vain" commandment, but "thou shall not commit adultery" is surely a possibility. I've begun to notice already though that trying to figure out how each episode ties to the ten commandments is too much to think about and, at least for yours truly, I think it's better to forget that and just take in the episodes. I feel like I'm missing the whole think just trying to contemplate how the episode ties to the commandment, when I should just say "forget it" and watch. Anyway, this was moviemaking, with lots of pondering to be done as it pertained to the characters and a fine little idea for a short movie.
RATING: 7/10 Call it '7' and call me satisfied. I'm slowly looking forward to more of these.
So here's what I'm noticing about these Decalogue episodes: On one hand, they're the perfect length. I honestly can't see any of the three stories thus far going to maximum, feature length running time. The pacing is incredible, in that they're perfectly wrapped up in the fifty-five minutes, with no opportunities missed and nowhere else to go. On the other hand though, I'm finding these films - which are essentially short films, right? - very hard to rate in and of themselves. This last part, for instance, which was easily the best episode thus far and one that I enjoyed very much, felt very much just like watching a REALLY good episode of a favorite TV show and nothing more. I watched the entire run of Breaking Bad and never during any of the episodes did I get the urge to slap a '10' or an '6.5' on any ONE episode. It was just a series that was good as a whole. I'm rambling. This most recent part dealt with yet another infidel, this time named Janusz, and takes place on Christmas Eve and into Christmas Day. When his adulteress comes a calling one night, telling Janusz that her husband has disappeared, he agrees to help her roam the streets and try to locate him. The film takes place over the course of one night (the beginning of Christmas Day) and the relationship that still possibly exists between Janusz and ex-lover Ewa. Tell me that doesn't sound great, but again, I feel like it was wrapped up nicely in fifty-five minutes and am not sure where else you could've gone, if say you wanted to stretch it to an eighty or one hundred minute film, without making it feel dragged out. For the cinephile with the eye for great cinematography, I think you'll admit that this is easily the best shot of the three thus far too, with more than a handful of shots really jumping out as unique and beautiful.
RATING: 8/10 I'll keep trying to affix a rating, but I'll also rate the whole thing at the end. These most recent two have really got me in the mood to keep on truckin' with these things and see what else Kieslowski has in store for his dedicated viewers.
Just when I make the statement that these Decalogue episodes are just the right amount of story to fit into the fifty-five minute running time, along comes Decalogue IV to prove me wrong. This one started out very slow, making me think that it was going to be the worst yet, but it quickly turned around and ended up being the best yet. The potential here for this to go to full feature length running time was immense and I'd have to really been interested to see some of those ideas explored. The whole film revolves around Anka, a college student who lives with her widowed father, Michal. At the beginning of the film, Anka reveals a letter from her long dead mother (who died when Anka was just five days old), with instructions for it not to be opened until after her death. However, Anka is frightened to open the letter, not knowing what the contents will reveal or how it may impact her life. While Michal is away on business, Anka seemingly gets the courage and upon Michal's return (who also never knew the contents of the letter), Anka reveals that the letter stated that Michal isn't her real father. The meat & potatoes of the film come at this point, with some powerhouse acting from both actor and actress as they verbally explore their newfound relationship and run the gamut of emotions, releasing tears and bursts of rage, as they try and figure out where this leaves them now. The thought of this one going even thirty more minutes and letting Anka and Michal battle it out verbally for ten more minutes and then use the other twenty minutes to expand on previously put forth ideas, is enough to make a cinephile salivate. I hate to sound like a complete sicko here too, but I kind of would've liked Kiselowski to further explore the idea of incest between the two also. I feel like someone as tasteful as Krzysztof would've handled the subject as purely as anyone and it would've come across powerful and emotional, as opposed to sick and twisted.
RATING: 8/10 Great stuff here, but again, I just can't see myself going "full monty" on something that doesn't even break the one hour mark.
Boy, this one was a huge disappointment. Going in, I had high hopes for both Decalogue parts five and six, because these are the two episodes that Kieslowski expanded upon and later presented as feature length films. I figured if they were good enough to stand on their own two legs without the assistance of nine other episodes, they must be the best of the bunch. As it pertains to Decalogue V a.k.a. A Short Film About Killing, it's one of the worst of the bunch (which isn't saying much, since the bunch is quite good on average). The film, as you might have guessed, deals with the commandment, "Thou shall not kill" and it's a pretty typical story about a misguided young man who, after a day bullying, kills an unsuspecting taxicab driver. The whole film struck me as very different from the previous four episodes. Not only did the lens sported a washed out, bleached look, but the whole movie just felt very different and I can't entirely put my finger on why. I would've liked something a bit more intricate as it pertained to the commandment of killing and instead all we got was this youth going around town being a jerk and then finally murdering this cab driver. Then, he goes to death row and we get the other side of the coin with the state killing him, hammering home the grand message, which I'd guess is, "killing isn't good no matter who is pulling the trigger". It was all very straightforward and basic and I guess that's why I was a bit disappointed. For someone who can write an entire script (and a damn good one too) about "Honor thy father and mother" and make it so good, with characters that are so intriguing and then turn around and hand in this very basic premise about a simple murder...well, I guess I just wanted more is all.
RATING: 7/10 Not bad, by any means, just disappointing I guess.
What is it about voyeurism in film that really appeals to me? I swear people, I'm not a peeping tom, nor do I aspire to be one. In fact, if anything, I want to be the one who is peeped upon by Tom. I want someone to look upon me for a week, without hearing any of my dialogue, without knowing anything about me and then tell me what they see, what kind of person I am. What can you ascertain from someone just by viewing their life without sound? There's a certain fascination there for me and I'd probably need an analyst to find out why, but we won't go there. Instead we'll go to Decalogue VI and EASILY the best episode to date. The film focuses on Tomek, a lonely postal worker who lives with his mother and spends his evenings with a telescope poised in his window, watching the attractive woman, Magda, in the apartment across the street, as she accepts gentleman callers. After a while, Tomek, without even meeting her, falls in love with Magda and begins conjuring up ways to meet her. He slips money order notices into her mailbox so that she'll be forced to come to the post office and even takes on a second job as a milk man once he learns that she is in need of milk delivery. Finally he expresses his love to her personally and she writes him off at first, but then becomes amused at the idea of a man watching her while she undresses and makes love. She later invites Tomek to go out and still, the joke is on Tomek, as Magda pays him some attention, but for the most part doesn't take him very seriously. Once back at her place, Magda teases Tomek sexually, causing him to run out of her apartment, back to his and slice open his wrists. It is at this moment, that Magda realizes what she meant to Tomek and begins to realize that no man has ever felt this strongly about her. She rushes to Tomek's apartment, but finds that he has been taken to the hospital, not knowing what really happened to him. Over the next weeks, she turns away suitors who used to be regulars of hers and focuses her thoughts on Tomek, whom is still hospitalized.
Wow, what a powerful film, right? I mean, this really is a true love story. For the first half, it's Tomek who is in love with Magda. At first it's simply a physical attraction and Tomek even admits that in the beginning he'd touch himself while watching her. But as time goes on, you sense that Tomek was just as content watching her drink a glass of milk as he was watching her strut around her flat in skimpy panties. He began to swoon over every aspect of her, from the sound her high heels made as they click-clacked across the pavement outside his post office to the way her hair fell into her face as she bent down to deposit an empty milk bottle. Then he meets her and admits his love and not in so many words, he's made fun of. Without actually laughing, she laughs at him and he then begins to fall out of love. It's like meeting a celebrity that you really like and finding out that in reality, they're an asshole. Upon learning this, he can't cope, so he attempts suicide and fails. Then, Magda, without even knowing that Tomek tried suicide, realizes that he looked at her different, that he WAS very different from any man she'd ever known and she realizes that he actually, truly, down in his heart loved her. And upon finally receiving that love, she begins to feel the same way. She then starts watching out HER window, trying to catch a glimpse of Tomek, to no avail. She swears off men she previously dated, because she realizes they just wanted her for sex and Tomek wants her for much more. The two connect on an extremely emotional level, just not simultaneously. I loved it and would call it a love story unlike any I've seen, with honest performances and a incredibly tasteful approach from Kieslowski who could just as easily have littered this masterpiece with unnecessary nudity, sex and other gory details that weren't particularly needed in such a beautiful film. My only question would be what's the commandment? Is it "Thou shall not commit adultery"? Because really, there wasn't any adultery being committed, right?
RATING: 10/10 I was gonna' go '9', but screw it, I'll take the leap and say it was THAT good. Now I'm chomping at the bit to see the full feature, A Short Film About Love.
Maybe it was because I'd just watched EASILY the best Decalogue episode of the whole ten part series, but I couldn't get into this one at all. In this episode, Kieslowski supposedly covers "Thou shall not steal" and does so by telling the tale of a little girl who was raised by her grandmother (thinking it's her mother) and who always thought her real mother was actually her sister. The little girl is Ania, her real mother is Majka and her grandmother, Majka's mother, is Ewa. Majka and Ewa don't get along, so when Majka hatches a scheme to take Ania with her to Cananda, she does so without the inclusion of Ewa, wanting not only to take Ania away from her, but get some revenge on her too. You see, Majka believes that Ewa is more of a mother to Ania than she ever was to her and that sticks in Majka's craw. So that's exactly what happens, Majka takes Ania away, breaking to her the news that she's actually her real mother and together the two seek refuge at Ania's real father's place, whom Ania has never met before. It's all fairly complicated and just not interesting enough to warrant any sort of grand praise.
One thing I've applauded Kieslowski for throughout all of these films is his ability to introduce and make us care about characters all in the span of fifty-five minutes. I mean, think about it: Each time an episode begins, Kieslowski is charged with the task of getting us to invest in two or three brand new characters, understand their motivations and by FIN, hopefully care enough to have gotten some sort of enjoyment out of his short films. It's really a daunting task and Kieslowski nailed it in the first six. However, when it comes to Decalogue VII, I just don't feel like he did that. I just didn't care at all about the three women and who ended up with who. Again, maybe it can all be chalked up to how good Decalogue VI was, but I'd have to put this one down there with Decalogue I as one of the worst of the lot. Also, I feel like the commandment of stealing could've been better demonstrated with something more simple, kind of like the killing episode. I like how Kieslowski gave us several examples (did Majka steal Ania from Ewa or vice versa or both?), however it was all too complicated to simply tell us not to steal.
RATING: 6.5/10 Not bad, as none of these have been down right BAD, but disappointing compared to the others.
Man, this was easily the most boring episode yet. It's easy to tell that this is the episode that deals with "Thou shall not bear false witness" (sorry I don't know the numbers of the commandments, which is why I'm writing all of them out, instead of just writing the first commandment, the second commandment, etc.) and I'll give Kieslowski credit for trying, but it was always going to be hard to base a fifty-five minute piece on one little lie. Here Krzysztof uses the Holocaust as his basis, as I'm sure it was an easy time for one to get tangled up in a lie, everyone trying to look out for number one and no one wanting to cross the regime. Kieslowski gives us a tale of one woman "bearing false witness" against a six-year-old girl many years earlier, so as not to get caught harboring Jews circa Warsaw during World War II. The woman who could've taken in the child, instead denies her, sending her to a certain death. The film picks up many years later, the six-year-old now a grown woman who travels back to Poland to confront the now old woman who once denied her. The whole plot hinges on this one little thing and deals with the characters facing their past regrets and how & when to forgive. I guess I just can't fathom the six-year-old girl, now a woman, traveling from the United States to Poland JUST to confront this old lady and then basically and then basically treating it like no big deal. She just goes to the old woman, reminds her of what happened (in the process actually setting the old woman at ease, as the woman often wondered what happened to the child) and then that's it. No revenge, no nothing...Also, if I was understanding everything correctly and if this is indeed the tale that deals with "bearing false witness", the old woman and her husband were meant to pose as the godparents to this child, thus throwing off any suspicion that would come from the regime. So had she not been denied, she'd have expected the old woman to lie in her favor? That's what is so great about Kieslowski's tales: There are rarely innocent parties in any of these stories and usually, there's more than one example of the sin the director is trying to demonstrate. Such superb writing...yet, I stand by the opinion that episode eight was a big ol' bore fest!
RATING: 5.5/10 And easily the worst of the lost thus far. I actually REALLY hated to go that low, as I would've liked to say that every episode at least got a six, but in all honesty, it wasn't worth even a '6'.
Now then, from the worst to one of the best! Let me start by detailing the plot and then I'll discuss my opinions. Dr. Roman Nycz has just been diagnosed with impotence. His doctor encourages him to share the information with his wife and find out if she wants to move on, perhaps be with a man who can be with her intimately, as well as bear her children. After an emotional discussion with his wife, Hanka, she tells him that, "In all honesty, she doesn't want to be with another man and that the heart is where love comes from, not from between the legs". The two embrace and share a moment filled with tears and all seems like it's going to be okay. However, Roman begins to see signs that Hanka MAY be cheating on him. First he notices a man wandering around outside the apartment building (the same apartment building that all of the Decalogue characters reside in, in case I've failed to mention that little factoid yet), then suspicious phone calls and later a plethora of other clues. Slowly it becomes more and more evident that, indeed Hanka IS having an affair, until finally Roman flat out catches her in the act. The two share a second moment, again filled with tears and emotion and Hanka promises to leave her infidel ways behind her and commit herself to Roman, even contacting an adoption agency to inquire about starting a family. I'll leave it at that...
Boy, was this great or what? I was beginning to think Kieslowski peaked at Decalogue VI and that it was going to be all downhill from there. Nice to see that he redeemed himself and even if the last part stinks, we at least will almost end on a high note. Here's another subject that I seem to be always interested in, despite not being a participant: infidelity. What is it about things that I would never do that fascinate me so much? Perhaps that's just it. I surely wouldn't be fascinated by things that I already willingly do, therefore am fascinated by things that I would never do, as I get to sort of experience what those emotions would be like (either for victim or participant) through cinema. I'm not a peeping tom, though I watch movies with Jimmy Stewart or Olaf Lubaszenko (Tomek from Decalogue VI) peering at people through their blinds and suddenly I'm totally engaged and rooting for them to get their peepers closer to the telescope. I would NEVER cheat on my wife, but I've rarely seen a movie about a cheater that I haven't liked (Scenes from a Marriage comes to mind as a personal favorite). Hell, I'm a Woody Allen fan, which means I almost have to enjoy infidelity as entertainment as a prerequisite. Anyway, I'll tell you now that, for as much as I liked this episode, I won't be dealing out the full '10/10' and I'll tell you why. The ending left me rooting for tragedy and the happy one we got felt almost just as tacked on as Murnau's The Last Laugh. Instead, what we should've gotten, was a sort of Romeo & Juliet style ending, where both members of the couple swallowed their poison before they realized what was going on. I won't go into all the details of the ending, for if you've read this far you've obviously seen it, but I would've much preferred if Hanka had killed herself before picking up the phone to receive Roman's call. Then it would've been a total catastrophe. I know, I know, I'm a big ol' Debbie Downer when it comes to movie endings. I'm not someone who needs to be sent home happy and would much rather be sent home moved or at least sent home with an ending that makes more sense, even if it's not ideal for the characters. And what was the deal with Roman's relationship with his female, singer patient? You got the feeling that if he could've, he would've been having an affair of his own, as I felt there was some definite sexual tension there. One common denominator in these films seems to be that our sexual desire or lust, if you will, gets us into more trouble than anything else and that temptation is always lurking and is extremely hard to deny. Another thing I want to say about this episode is that, while I'd like to admit that I would have wanted it to go full feature length, I feel like that would have only ruined it. I feel like if this was, say ninety or 100 minutes that I'd be writing a review that said, "Yeah it was awesome, but it could've been easily trimmed a bit to maximum results". Another point for Kieslowski in superbly crafting these ten tales, all of which are AT LEAST decent (most of which are good to excellent) and pacing them almost flawlessly. With these ten shorts, he's a director who is effortlessly climbing the ranks of my favorite director's list.
RATING: 9/10 And had they gone with the big downer, Romeo & Juliet ending, I'd have gladly affixed the full '10'. Here's hoping Decalogue X sends me home a happy cinephile.
We end with the tenth & final part and although the mood is much different and we end with a laugh, the quality is still there, the storytelling is top notch and the characters are worthy of our time. The film recalls a character from Decalogue VIII, a minor character, a stamp collector who is the neighbor of the old woman in that episode. We begin with this minor character's death and by meeting his two sons, Jerzy and Artur. The latter is a famous rock musician and the former, a family man. Upon entering their father's apartment, after his funeral, the boys discover his stamp collection, which they later learned is valued in the tens of millions. Also, while going through their father's belongings, they are visited by a man who claims that their father owed him some money. He seemingly knows how much the stamp collection is worth and suggests just taking the stamps as payment, but the boys tell him they'll find other means of relieving the debt. Meanwhile, Jerzy takes a set of three stamps to give to his son, something to remember his grandfather by and while the son is obviously effected by his grandpa's death, he swaps the stamps. The one he swapped them to, in turn, sells them to a stamp collector, who refuses to sell the stamps back to the boys. Later, a deal is brokered: a stamp for a kidney. "Thou shall not covet" is apparently the sin on display here, but again the complexity at which Kieslowski chooses to tell his tale is interesting, intriguing and genius. Instead of going a simple, basic route, we instead get a intricately laced, little tale about stamp collecting, brotherhood, betrayal and a little dash of criminal activity thrown in to spruce things up a bit. While not as serious as the previous nine episodes (this one lacks that depressing, yet moving score that was prevalent in previous chapters), it still packs a punch, gets the point across AND allows Kieslowski to wrap things up on a light note, avoiding sending audiences away a head full of depressing thoughts, images and ideas. This is another reason why Decalogue IX should've ended terribly for all involved, since you had this lighter story still to come. However, I digress...
RATING: 8.5/10 Good stuff as far as I'm concerned and I'm happy with the selection Kieslowski made to end with this one. Had you started with this, you'd have set up the whole series wrong, leaving audiences to suspect that everything that proceeded wasn't to be taken seriously.
I don't think there's much to say that I didn't say in the ten summaries above. All in all, The Decalogue was definitely my cup of tea. While I didn't take to ALL of the episodes, I took to most of them and even when I didn't care for the story that was being told, I still enjoyed the tone and the mood of the episodes. Kieslowski is definitely a director for me to seek out the rest of his filmography and these ten short films will now force me to mention him when I'm rattling off great directors. Couple these with the Three Colors trilogy and the mildly interesting Double Life of Veronique and you have a man who demonstrates a lot of what I look for in movies. Serious, bordering on depressing tone, check. Characters that aren't too deep, but deep enough to make you interested in them, make you care about their motivations, check. Stories that are easy to follow while at the same time being detailed, well thought out and clever, check. These are just a few of the qualities you'll find in the Decalogue series. What I really love about the films is how unique they are, as they pertain to their specific commandment. A story about stealing, being not just about thievery but perhaps about a mother abducting her own daughter from her mother (probably, again which commandment goes with which film is NOT blatantly obvious). "A Short Film About Killing" that is not just about man killing his fellow man, but also deals with capital punishment, while never becoming preachy, in the slightest. The other thing to be admired is the fact that there is no culture clash. Ten films filed and taking place in Poland and entertaining worldwide. i think any director who can make movies in their home country and have them transcend worldwide, while simultaneously speaking about his country specific ideas and politics...well that's just genius moviemaking. I don't really know what else to say without beginning to ramble, so let's wrap it up with a ranking of the ten episodes and a final rating for the whole shebang.
RANKING THE DECALOGUE
FINAL RATING: 9/10 I can't go all the way, mainly based on the merits of episodes VII and VIII, but what was good was REALLY good and what was bad still had good qualities, so a '9' is a solid choice for an overall rating.
MOVIES WATCHED: 920
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 81
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