The ‘Dekalog’ series concludes with a fascinating treatise on possessions and losses, with capitalism rearing its ugly head.
Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
1988 | Poland/West Germany | Drama | 59 mins | 1.33:1 | Polish
Not rated (likely to be PG13 for some mature themes)
Cast: Jerzy Stuhr, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Henryk Bista
Plot: Jerzy and Artur’s father dies, leaving behind a valuable stamp collection, which, they discover, is coveted by dealers of varying degrees of shadiness. The more involved the brothers get in their father’s world, the more dire and comical their situation becomes. (from The Criterion Collection)
Awards: Won FIPRESCI Prize & Children and Cinema Award (Venice). Official Selection (Cannes).
Source: Telewizja Polska S.A.
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray – first published 5 Jun 2017)
After watching nine episodes of Dekalog, one might think: how does it end? Although far from the narratively episodic manner in which most television series are, there’s still that uncertainty of closure and consistency that Dekalog‘s final piece is inherently obliged to address. And boy did Kieslowski deliver a satisfying work that while staying true to the humanistic core of the series—of circumstances and relationships that shape the lives of its flawed characters—he also managed to produce an episode with a different kind of tone from the rest.
Beginning with loud, rap music with lyrics about killing and fornicating—a reference to Ep. 5 and Ep. 6 in particular—that are completely at odds with Zbigniew Preisner’s beautiful themes that accompany the much more delicate openings of previous episodes, one can immediately sense an artist deviating from his mainstay approach. The end credits also reprise the hard-edged music, as if welcoming (or forewarning) a new age of individualistic rebels, of capitalism possibly triumphing over communism.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods.
What’s more interesting is Preisner’s strategic use of percussion to create tension and punctuation during conversations, giving the film a rougher, rumbling edge. All these are in service of a story about two brothers whose reclusive elderly father dies, leaving behind a stamp collection worth millions. They try to fend off suspicious neighbours and strangers eyeing a slice of the cake.
On a superficial level, overprotection and complacency are themes that drive the plot. But on a deeper level, Dekalog: Ten becomes a treatise on possessions and losses—both material and historical, prophesying the promise and peril of capitalism in a Poland awakening itself to an uncertain future. Should a nation and its people desire to possess the equities of the past, or to lose all baggage to move forward?
With Dekalog: Ten, Kieslowski wraps up his magnum opus on a high, a series that grapples with universal human themes of love, family, guilt, regret, reconciliation and kinship, with a kind of sensitivity rarely afforded in television or cinema. The final shot of Dekalog: Ten encapsulates this very spirit—it is bittersweet, both a closure and a new path forward.