By Siam Shankhan
Ever since the early 2000s there has been a fierce debate between film and TV critics about which medium has produced higher quality content in recent years. I find it hard to pick a side in this argument, when both film and television producers consistently provide amazing hours of entertainment. However, I recently found that I could have the best of both worlds when I discovered Krzysztof Kieslowski’s monumental masterpiece: Dekalog.
Well known in film circles for his Three Colors Trilogy, Krzysztof Kieslowski filmed Dekalog in mid-80s Soviet era Poland. As is typical of most Kieslowski films, Dekalog is a deeply humane and moving look at the stories of individuals residing in a bleak-looking apartment block in Warsaw. This ten-part series focuses on a new story in every episode, the only thread connecting all these stories being that they are based on the Ten Commandments. Some of the commandments are made explicit in the episodes, whilst in others they are not as obvious. Although this is technically a TV series, all ten episodes can be separately viewed as short films.
The episodes vary in quality, but I can safely say that all of them are rich films with tightly constructed plots and terrific acting. Episodes three, four, five and six in particular are great achievements in screenwriting and drama.
Episode one focuses on the first commandment, “I am the Lord thy God… thou shalt not have other gods before me.” In this episode, a father and his son bond over their shared love of science and computers. The father, an atheist, allows his son to ice-skate over a frozen lake, because his computer tells him that the ice is thick enough. Disastrous consequences follow. Although the series is based on the Ten Commandments, it does not apply a religious view of the commandments, but it has a secular and humanistic approach to these ancient tenants. The third episode is particularly emotional in its message. It follows a young woman who leads her ex-lover on a wild goose chase on Christmas Eve because she can’t bear being alone during the holidays. The high mark of the series is the sixth episode, which is one of the best explorations of romance and unrequited love ever portrayed on screen. In this episode a young man falls in love with his attractive neighbour on whom he spies from his room through a telescope; the tale that ensues is full of heartbreak and melancholy.
It has been taken for granted in recent years, but storytelling in television series has advanced so much that it no longer resembles the television of yesteryear. In that respect Dekalog is ahead of its time. With smart, confident writing and assured directing by Krzysztof Kieslowski, this work of art still stands the test of time.
In recent years, with the rise of Netflix and other streaming services, it may be tempting to binge-watch the whole series over the weekend, but I would suggest watching one episode a day and letting it wash over you slowly, like you would a sermon.