Sunday, 14 March 2010
What is most beautiful about the Dekalog is its plainness. It does not even assume a pose of artlessness. Not realism, not cinema verité, not a film easily categorised except on the basis of its staggering quality.
Even wonderful, human films like Au Hasard Balthazar and Pather Panchali seem to let their gaze wander, if only a little, from the characters and onto themselves, satisfied and preoccupied with maintaining their style, grooming the auteur's reflection. The humble Dekalog wins out over the more gilded works.
The Dekalog doesn't moralise or pontificate. Kieslowski takes potentially sensationalist material (incest, murder, adultery) and, without artificially exaggerating the drama, brings us closer to the people involved. He gets closer than anyone to keeping what people do and what may define them separate. The justice system cannot fully distinguish. It cannot show properly in its gestures that it hates the sin and still loves the man. As Jacek in Dekalog V says to his lawyer:
"They're all against me"
"Against what you did"
"It's the same thing"
The Dekalog is Old Testament law and ideals seen through the prism of New Testament compassion. The most important commandment within the Dekalog is the newest : "Love one another as I have loved you". The Dekalog glows with that love.
Kieslowski depicts a murderer as vulnerable and fearful without diminishing the horrifying and abhorrent act that he has committed. He makes the struggles of the people involved natural and universal. I was never made to think: "All this tragic spectacle in one block, eh?". The Dekalog could have been set in any one of the identical blocks that surround it, or on anyone's street:
"You know the doctor and the patient you heard about at the university live in this block"
"An interesting house"
"Every house is interesting"
The worst moments of Dekalog are shocking because they remind you that it is a film like any other, when that is precisely what it is not. It is uniquely simple and powerful and moving. The fade to black at the end of each episode that invites contemplation, as a Priest might when intoning "let us pray", left me awestruck with thoughts and feelings, uplifted by sadness shot through with hope.
It made an impact on me like no other. I consider it, for now, the best film I have ever seen.
* * *
A couple of miscellaneous notes:
Little Red Riding Hood (Dekalog VII): Ania (above) dreams of wolves and wakes up crying and screaming almost every night. The wolf is the future, her mother (who is in fact her grandmother disguised as her mother) and her real mother Majka, who takes her off into the lush green woods and far away, splitting the family in two. Dreams feature in almost all of the episodes, always with something of the truth to them.
Milk or milk bottles, I believe, appear in all ten of the episodes. It is, I think, being used as symbolic of nurture and nourishment and, whether it is sitting on a sideboard (VIII), poured (IX, II), frozen (I), gleefully delivered in cartfuls (V) or spilt (V, above) it indicates or reflects a certain emotional or spiritual state. Isn't heaven said to be "overflowing with milk and honey"?