Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Dekalog 5 by Krzysztof Kieślowski

The Dekalog is a series of ten 1-hour films, each dealing with one of the ten commandments of Christianity as reflected in the modern world.

Dekalog 5 is about the commandment "Thou Shalt Not Kill" and is the most polemical of the ten films, giving expression to a personal, strongly held belief of the director.

The film raises a great many questions about modern society and the alienation it can cause.

There are three principal characters in the film: The Defense Counsel, The Taxi Driver and The Young Man.

The defense counsel is a lawyer, fresh out of the academy. He defends his heartfelt thesis opposing capital punishment during his bar exam.

The taxi driver is a mean, sadistic boor but one who also has his moments of kindness.

The young man is a homeless vagabond, full of bitterness and hatred. He encounters many people in the film. Each encounter says something about his relationship to the world.

His first encounter is with a sketch maker and a young girl in a red dress.
(He also sees the red girl later, outside the window of the cafe).

His second encounter is with an old woman feeding pigeons in the square.

His third encounter is with an unknown man in a public restroom.
(He sees the unknown man again on the road when instructing the taxi driver to go left).

What these three encounters mean is for viewers to subjectively interpret.


Using hundreds of filters to render a dark, brooding atmosphere as the film progresses, Kieslowski presents a chilling view of man's violence to man, whether it be born of emotion, or of reason.

It is easy to present a case against death penalty by pointing to the unjustness of it in cases the defendant is innocent or is unable to defend himself with able lawyers, but in this case the lawyer is an outstanding one, the crime is premeditated, without a doubt horrendous and the culpability certain.

In this way, stacking the odds against himself, the director proceeds to show why, still, we must feel what he wants us to feel.

It is easier to jail and take away someone's life than to reform an environment in which man cannot find a reason to be kind. Much easier.

The final sequence in the jail is a masterful tour de force, and it moves me deeply every time I see it. The fore-knowledge of one's end lends a strange poignancy to one's thoughts, words and acts. Never did the smoking of a cigarette on the screen burn so deep a hole in one's heart.

Recommendation: Must-see


Anonymous said...

The "Ten Commandments" were just ten of the 600+ laws that the Jews (not Christians) were given by God to obey, primarily given to show that as imperfect humans they could not help but sin and instead needed a ransom or redemption by a perfect man's death to compensate for the life that the perfect man Adam had lost for humankind.

Jesus Christ emphasized that he came to put an end to this law-based system from Mose's time and confirmed to his followers (who were essentially Jewish; after Jesus' death, Paul and Peter later preached the good news also to the Gentiles) the importance of just two commands to follow: "Love your God with your whole heart, whole soul, whole strength and whole mind" and "Love your neighbour as yourself". Following these two commands, his followers were told they would gain life (Luke 10: 25-28). By following them, they would be obeying virtually all of the other laws, as it happens.

Interestingly, when asked what the Dekalog was really about, Kieslowski said: "I simply wanted to show that life is complicated... nothing more" adding that the series' only message is to "Live carefully, with your eyes open, and try not to cause pain."

For Kieslowski, life and understanding the world was not as straight-forward as scientists in smart white coats imply who come across as knowing just about all there is to know about the universe, origin, history and purpose of life with their rather exact numbers for the age of the earth popping out of their computers, etc.. (Dekalog 1).

Kieslowski was not keen to make assumptions on anything in the world he lived in. Until his death, he acted mainly as an observer of the world who asked questions and did not provide neat metaphors or "this means that" answers in his films despite comments to the contrary by his film critics.

He did leave "clues" in his films like the hotel room 281 in The Double Life Of Veronique or the Café Joseph in Three Colours Red for film critics to excitedly "discover" even though these "clues" were not, in themselves, associated with the main message of his films. He would later explain them by saying they were only there to show how interlinked everyone was on this earth without knowing.

He was remembered as a "down-to-earth guy" by Harvey Goldstein (then head of Miramax Films) and never tried to imply that he knew the answers. He realized that rather than logical (like computers), humans are essentially emotional beings, as the self-improvement writer Dale Carnegie remarked.

Anonymous said...

Similar to Dead Man Walking and the fifties I Want to Live.I remember the series for the sombre depicticn of life behind the so called curtain.