Dekalog

Now restored and being re-released to theaters, Krzysztof Kieślowski's Dekalog -- the massive, 10-part miniseries based on the Ten Commandments -- certainly lives up to its reputation as a mind-altering masterpiece. You marvel at the precision of its filmmaking even as it spreads an atmosphere of moral unease. Each episode takes place, at least partly, in a massive Warsaw apartment complex. And while individual flats vary from luxurious to monk-like, the overall mood is bleak, verging on despair. Kieślowski would become something of an aesthete and a mannerist in later years -- his movies filled with bursts of color, delirious movements and other stylistic ornamentation -- but in Dekalog, maybe due to its TV origins, his camera is mostly still and close, though the films don't lack poetry. The tales start quietly but gather complexity, ambiguity and emotional force as they proceed. They pose ethical conundrums and present simple, dramatic scenarios; by the end of each installment, we're faced not with answers, or even hints of answers, but with the irreducible, unresolvable messiness of life.

Re-watching Dekalog after all these years, I marveled anew at its precise construction, the beauty of its images and music, the twists and turns of its human drama. But I was also struck by something that resonates even more today: the depth of its compassion. Kieślowski stood, at the end of the 1980s, in a decaying authoritarian state and presented to us a vision in which God, the law and socialism all came up empty. And just think about it: He had the gall to make a film about the Ten Commandments that refused to judge anyone, even allowing the worst murderer moments of grace.

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