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  • Writer's pictureP D Dawson

Kieślowski's Dekalog, Part One of Ten (Film Review)

Dekalog, One

Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth: thou shall not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them, for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.


Dekalog is a polish television series by director Krzysztof Kieślowski. It was inspired by the Bible’s Ten Commandments, an idea put forth by lawyer Krzysztof Piesiewicz, who had collaborated with the director on an earlier film. The references to the Commandments in the series are subtle rather than explicit, but the concept spawned the most accomplished dramas of Kieślowski’s career. The series was originally aired for television in the late 80's early 90's, but I like to think of them as hour-long films rather than episodes. What they achieved, reportedly under a strict budget that only afforded two takes at most, is a series that everyone should see.

In part one, we have eleven-year-old Pawel who is being brought up by his single father. His mother lives in Australia and his aunt wants Pawel to be taught about religion. His agnostic father agrees, but only if that’s what the boy wants. The opening of part one is a flashback that foreshadows the tragedy yet to play out towards the end of the film, and a man sitting in the snow by the lake with a fire, who is witness to this tragedy, stares right at the viewer with a sad intensity filling up his eyes.

Part one handles many moral and philosophical questions about life, death and the meaning of existence, and those questions are answered by a believer, his aunt, and an unconvinced agnostic, his father, who sees the family computer as being just like any other God. This is in direct violaton to the Bible's Commandment of ‘Thou shalt have no other gods before me’

The story is emotionally powerful and exhausting to watch, with the ending tragedy (no spoilers here) so sad it will make any empathetic soul teary-eyed. To see Pawel’s father juggle hope and despair is an awfully gut-wrenching affair and his initial violent and melancholic response is so poetically poised and belief affirming, that we are suddenly remembering of the opening to the film, in which a man stares into the camera with sadness, and perhaps a little defiance too.

As for the cinematic quality of the film, it is brilliantly shot, with tones of cold blues and harsh whites, which effectively and vibrantly bring winter to the screen, and in the newly-released 4k restoration edition released by Arrow Films, the picture is absolutely flawless, film grain still rightfully present, and the image so sharp you’d think it was shot yesterday, rather than in 1989/90.

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