The most riveting movie experience of the summer requires some 10 hours of your life and a willingness — for non-Polish speakers — to read subtitles. Yet once you succumb to The Decalogue, leaving it will be the only hard part. More and more savvy art houses are now programming the late, lauded filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski’s series of 10 freestanding short films made for Polish television in 1988-89 — and the word masterpiece has rarely been more aptly applied. (Marathon endurance isn’t demanded. The usual theatrical release is two episodes a sitting, running less than two hours; relative to The Patriot, the time flies.)
Kieslowski went on to make The Double Life of Veronique and his acclaimed ”tricolor” films Blue, White, and Red before his death in 1996 at the age of 54. But in The Decalogue — 10 profound human dramas, free of dogma yet loosely linked to each of the Ten Commandments — he dug deepest, creatively freed by the hour-long format. In One (”I am the Lord thy God; Thou shalt have no other gods before me”), a college professor who worships the reliability of calculation learns, tragically, that logic is a false god; in Five (”Thou shalt not kill”), a horrible murderer receives a brutal punishment; in Six (”Thou shalt not commit adultery”), a teenage boy’s obsession with a sexy neighbor he spies on turns into complicated love. Although each works on its own, the dramas are all set in the same nondescript, high-rise Warsaw apartment complex.
The stories are shocking, tender, sometimes funny, with a soap-opera abundance of plot. Always, the camera stares, respectfully neutral about ordinary people grappling — inconsistently, as men and women do — with the ordinary mysteries of being human. You’ll stare back, amazed it’s taken more than a decade to spread the word. A