by Nikola Grozdanovic
While it’s nowhere near as accessible as the myriad of binge-formulated shows about crime, guns, spies, drugs, sex, technology and the like, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog is the kind of miniseries that’s more needed in today’s world than 99 per cent of the stuff you’ll find on Netflix or Prime. Through its cinematic structure, compelling storytelling and timeless themes about ordinary people stuck in excruciating dilemmas, Kieslowski uses it to peel the onion of contemporary human nature like a master chef.
Dekalog was such a significant milestone in Kieslowski’s career, in fact, that when cinephiles look back at the Polish master’s body of work (which includes masterpieces The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colours trilogy) they split it between a pre-Dekalog and post-Dekalog period. The miniseries made its debut on Polish television in 1988 and stands as the greatest example (perhaps only equaled by David Lynch’s Twin Peaks: The Return) of the blur between television and film.
Seen by its creators as ten 1-hour-long films or one cycle as opposed to one season, Dekalog is co-written by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewisz and focuses on one or two completely different characters in every chapter, each loosely based on one of the Ten Commandments. Apart from this thin thematic thread connecting the stories, the other two major connectors in all ten chapters are the fact that all of the characters are residents of the same apartment complex and the appearance of one young, blonde, man (Artur Barciś) who never speaks, but whose melancholic expression says a lot. He appears in every chapter, barring two, as a sort of symbolic everyman (perhaps, as us?).
The stories cover murder, kidnapping, abortion, adultery, the death of a child, the death of a parent, voyeurism, family secrets, unrequited love and so much more. Everything and everyone seems tangled up in Kieslowski’s cobweb of metaphysical quandaries, made all the more haunting by Zbigniew Preisner’s incredibly emotive music. Significantly, each chapter is shot by a different cinematographer, giving each its own style; yet Dekalog miraculously manages to crystalise as a singular, wholesome, soul-searching 10-hour television experience that hasn’t been equaled in the past 30 years.