Divine ‘Decalogue’ film

Mark Hornberger

Villanova’s Cultural Film Series invites students and guests to see Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Decalogue 2: Thou Shalt Not Take the Lord’s Name in Vain.”  Rarely exhibited on this side of the Atlantic – for a long time, North American distributors refused to show most of the ten-part “Decalogue” series – the CFS offers a rare opportunity to view the second installment on a big screen.

“Decalogue” was initially produced in the late 1980s as a miniseries for Polish television. Each one-hour segment concentrates on one of the Ten Commandments. Kieslowski felt that the commandments are still a point of strong moral conflict in contemporary society. This series examines the problems that arise from sin in the lives of everyday people.  Often mixing violence with sexuality, Kieslowski’s dramas are potentially unsettling; however, they offer a reminder that human failures addressed by the commandments are just as challenging to people today as when Moses brought them down from Mount Sinai. Considering the subject matter, it is a fair assumption that “Decalogue” would be preachy. Don’t worry; although each of the 10 episodes is ostensibly about one of the commandments, don’t expect an overbearing approach.  Kieslowski claimed, “The relationship between the films and the individual commandments [is] a tentative one. The films should be influenced by the individual commandments to the same degree that the commandments influence our daily lives.” For example, in “Decalogue 2,” a physician is forced to play God when a patient’s wife demands to know whether her husband will live or die. How can the doctor know for sure? Isn’t divine intervention possible in even the most hopeless of cases?

While it’s true that anyone can make a movie about the Ten Commandments, it is rare to find the subtlety and depth that characterize Kieslowski’s vision.  His concentration is on the internal emotions of the character, rather than the exterior circumstances.  It isn’t the subject matter that gives Decalogue its greatness – it’s the manner in which the material is handled. The films, long hailed masterpieces, have all of the qualities that mark Kieslowski’s better-known work, such as “Veronica/Veronique” and the “Tricolor Trilogy” made up of “Blue,” “White” and “Red.”

There’s a sense of bleakness tempered by hope, a fascination with voyeurism, and a world that is influenced by social realism, yet it also gives voice to the fantastic and even the miraculous.

Kieslowski’s initial intention for “Decalogue” was for it to be used as a type of teaching tool for aspiring Polish directors.  Each episode was scripted by Kieslowski and his writing partner, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, with the belief that a different Polish director would tackle each project. Though this was a noble idea, it was not long before Kieslowski realized that his efforts were too great to simply hand them over to others, and he ended up directing all 10 himself in less than a year.  This was a wise decision when you take into account that “Decalogue” is considered by many to be Kieslowski’s crowning achievement.

You have four chances to see “Decalogue 2” in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 2 at both 3:30 and 7 p.m., Monday, Nov. 3 at 7 p.m. and Monday’s screening will feature an introduction and a discussion about the film led by Ruth Perlmutter, who has spoken on Kieslowski for the CFS many times before. Admission is $3 for students and $4 for others.