Using the Ten Commandments as the basis of its prose and meaning, the Krzysztof Kieślowski series, Dekalog, is a testament to the strength of television as a medium. It uses each commandment as a launchpad, detailing a story of ordinary people struggling through life to the backdrop of a single commandment. An interesting premise, and clocking in at ten episodes, it is bound to give audiences at least something interesting. That it does, and for the most part, Dekalog is a thoroughly enjoying show that lingers on its messages often, trying to grapple with the morality and mortality these characters have come to avoid thus far.
With each episode, the only hugely noticeable similarity is the strong form of Kieślowski. For the most part, he paints simple structures and considered, meaningful camera shots. Lingering on the emotion of a character, rather than the beauty of the scene around them, Kieślowski opens his characters wide and pokes around their emotions looking for a narrative thread. Some are incredible, truly worthwhile moments that grip the episode with fear and worry. Others peter out somewhat with predictable themes that, even at the time, had made the rounds all too often. Still, it is nice to see the spin which Dekalog can put on these moments.
There are no bad episodes, each have their own enjoyable premise and characters. They are performed well and directed better. Obvious highs come from the two episodes Kieślowski adapted into feature films, A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, and having seen neither, it is still vaguely easy to gauge which episodes inspired those. Clear highlights for the show include the final episode, a rather comically dark piece about two brothers attempting to sell their father’s stamp collection, and the fourth episode, which grapples with family tensions the best out of every other episode. It is a series of wholly strong proportions, where even the weakest episodes have characters worth basking in, writing worth listening to, and direction well worth the respect of its audience.
Dekalog has much to unpack, and with it comes the inevitability of discussion. It is a rare series in that regard, where every part of the piece can be picked apart to varying degrees. Strong performances and writing that feels natural and bold enough to process such strong ideas. Ten unique episodes that reference or kindle the ideas of mortality and death, the Ten Commandments pulled apart as narrative threads are wrapped around them. People will always struggle to live, but the characters throughout Dekalog are stumbling through hell and back, and although the series may base itself on the laws of the Almighty, there is not a soul within that can safely say they are protected by God. They are doomed to their insolence or their greed, and whether or not they are good people, they serve as even greater metaphors for the downfall of the sinful.