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  • Writer's pictureCharles Cherney

81: Dekalog 8 - 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 8, an exploration of the commandment "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."

Zofia is an older ethics professor at the University of Warsaw. Elżbieta is a woman in her forties from New York who is visiting the university. The film explores the connection between these two, who first crossed paths in World War II in 1943, when Elżbieta was six years old and Zofia had a chance to save her life - and did not.

For me, the character Zofia makes this episode of the Dekalog memorable. As the film plays out, we learn that Zofia has known her share of suffering. Her husband died in 1952; her son for some reason keeps his distance from her; she has her own painful memories of the war. And she lives alone in the drab housing complex at the center of this entire ten-part film series.

And yet Zofia is a person very much alive. She exudes vitality - a quality brought home by the fresh flowers she keeps on the table of her apartment and her daily jogging. This is a woman with a great deal of self-awareness, someone who has clearly led a fully actualized life. Not a perfect life - but a thoughtful one. Zofia meets the world with warmth and humanity. Her facial expressions tell the tale of a life lived from the heart. She has much to teach all of us.

By the way, the soundtrack to the Dekalog is stunning. Click here to listen to it.


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