Dekalog is a work which can not be easily compared to any other filmmaking effort. In director Krzystof Kieślowski’s filmography, the ten part mini-series stands tall as a transcendent and uniquely profound work of art. It launched a period in Kieślowski’s career where he would create a succession of impeccable works prior to his untimely death at the age of 54. The series would go on to not only change the trajectory of its creator’s already exquisite career, but to influence many filmmakers and earn great admiration from critics like Roger Ebert.
The series is in vignette form, each episode telling one story. The episodes are loosely linked, but largely remain independent of each other. Each story is based off of one of the Ten Commandments. The main thread connecting the stories is an unnamed character, played by Artur Barciś, who appears in all but two of the episodes for a brief time. Barciś’s character is often thought to be representative of a divine presence watching over the residents of the apartment complex around whom the series revolves. The unnamed character has no dialogue, but Barciś’s emotion is conveyed through facial expression as he often observes the events around the apartment complex knowingly. Though the character is not explicitly a religious symbol, given the fact that The Ten Commandments is the inspiration for the series, it’s hard not to view his character in that context.
The original intent was for the episodes to have different directors, but Kieślowski was so intrigued by the project that he decided to take the helm for its entirety with the help of long time collaborator Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Kieślowski created distinction between the episodes by using different cinematographers for each episode with the sole exception of Piotr Sobociński who directed both III and IX. Sobociński would go on to win an Academy Award for Cinematography for his work on Three Colors: Red, also directed by Kieślowski. Musically each episode has its own theme, each written by Zbiegniew Preisner who would go on to write the music for The Double Life of Veronique and the entirety of The Three Colors Trilogy.
Kieślowski did expand two of the episodes, V and VI, into feature length films titled A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, respectively. Both feature films, particularly the former, would earn huge critical acclaim as independent works in addition to playing their parts in the celebrated mini-series.
The episodic storytelling of Dekalog gave Kieślowski the opportunity to diversify the tones throughout the work, though most episodes are somber in nature. The director would maintain this familiar tonal pattern through the duration of his career, as The Double Life of Veronique, Three Colors: Blue, and Three Colors: Red would maintain this sense of melancholy, however he does depart into black comedy in X and later in Three Colors: White.
As Dekalog is truly defined by the sum of its parts, the only way to get an adequate comprehensive understanding of the series is to look at it episodically. Each installment must be weighed on its own before it can be looked at as a complete work, so we include a breakdown of each episode.