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  • Writer's pictureCharles Cherney

71: Dekalog 5 - Kieślowski

I am working my way through watching again Dekalog (The Decalogue) - a 1989 Polish television drama series directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski. It consists of ten one-hour films, inspired by the Ten Commandments (the Decalogue). Each short film explores characters facing one or several moral or ethical dilemmas as they live in an austere housing project in 1980s Poland. Made for TV. And, as it happens, a masterpiece of world cinema. I first saw these at the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square in the 1990s. It was time to revisit them, so I purchased the films on DVD.

For the most part, these ten one-hour films are dark and depressing. And absolutely wonderful. Really!

I recently watched Dekalog 5, an exploration of the sixth commandment, namely "Thou Shall Not Kill" or "You Shall Not Murder."

This video with clips from the film will give you a flavor for Dekalog 5:

In this film, a drifter (Jacek) murders a taxi driver. We watch it. It's not easy to watch, as it proves not to be easy for Jacek to murder the man. Thereafter, Jacek is sentenced to death. And we watch his execution. It's not easy to watch, either for the viewer or for Jacek's idealistic defense attorney (Piotr). He struggles with the reality of Jacek's execution. This film is a profound meditation on life and death. On murder. On the death penalty. On the law and idealism. As with the other films in this series, the director does not insist on a point of view. Rather, he tells a story. The viewers are left to decide on the meaning. What drives Jacek to murder? Is he entirely responsible for his actions? And if he is, what does that actually mean? And what to make of the attorney's idealism?

A very hard film to watch. But one well worth watching.


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