Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Decalogue

If you have seen Krzysztof Kieslowski's last three movies (The three colours trilogy: Blue, White and Red) then you don't need anything else to realize how ridiculous it sounds to compare Sanjay Bhansali with him (at least at this stage of his career... its like saying Sehwag is next Tendulkar after his first international series!) In fact, that Sehwag-Tendulkar analogy is probably wrong as it seems to suggest that the major difference is between sustained quality over a large number of performances rather than the quality of the chosen performances themselves. Black - even though it is pretty good- is not half as good as any of those three.

However, it wasn't this trilogy that made his work famous internationally. It was The Dekalog that was first noticed the world over. Based loosely on the Ten Commandments, it was a series of ten movies - each about an hour long - that were first shown on Polish television as a ten episode series. Each episode interprets one of the commandments (in fact probably more than one in many cases.. its a matter of viewers' interpretation I guess) by weaving a story of common people facing a moral dilemma in their lives. All the stories are about people living in a huge apartment building somewhere in Poland with a different set of people being the focus in each story. I have seen the first four movies (and hope to see one or two more before leaving for India), and each one of them is great. Consider these themes...

A college professor who brings up his super-intelligent son in a highly faith-in-science and skepticism-in-religion oriented manner having to face a tragic unpredictable turn of fate.

A woman whose husband is fighting for his life in a hospital wanting his doctor to tell her if he's going to live or not because she is pregnant with someone else's child and cannot have the baby if her husband lives. But its her only chance of being a mother and she also loves the real father of the child, so she will definitely have the baby if her husband can't recover. And she has to decide within a few days.

A family man leaves his family on Christmas night to be with a former lover who seems to need his help to find her husband who seems to have vanished.

A girl finds that her mother, who died when she was born 20 years ago, left a letter for her which tells her that her real father is not who she has spent her last 20 years with. The uncertainty leads to a complication of the bond between the two leading to a night of emotional turmoil.

These one hour long movies have more content in them than most movies of more than twice as much length. They draw you in very quickly and over the ten movies involve so many different emotions that its difficult to compare them with any single movie you might've seen. I don't know if everyone would like movies like this as they might be a bit slow for some people used to hollywood's fast-food inspired movies. But they are definitely worth checking out for anyone who loves movies. And if you are like me, you'll love them (at least the first four!!).

If you still need a reason to go and rent it, Stanley Kubrick's recommendation should provide it. Kubrick is known to have said that The Dekalog is probably the only masterpiece he has seen in his life and he would've liked to make it himself. It can't be too bad, can it?

Update: finished Decalogue Five and posted about it here.

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