Restorations Reviews The Paragon

Dekalog (Blu-ray release)

Dekalog X: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.

In the final chapter of Dekalog, Kieślowski strays entirely from the somber tone of the first nine segments. Instead, Dekalog X falls more into the genre of a black comedy. It can be viewed as a precursor to Three Colors: White, going so far as to star two actors who would play lead roles in that film.

Oddly, one of the most important characters in the episode is not shown on screen in this episode, though he does make a cameo in Dekalog VIII. An elderly man in the apartment building is seen twice in VIII as a close friend of Zofia’s. Dekalog X begins after the man, known by his friends as “Root”, has died, leaving behind two sons. The opening scene is of his elder son Artur (Zbigniew Zamachowski), the frontman of a band called “City Death”, singing a song which quite candidly expresses the sinfulness of rock music. The song speaks of killing, fornication, and even beating one’s family (specifically on Sundays). The implication of sin, and specifically Christian sin, is very clear. After the show, the news of their father’s death is broken to him by Jerzy (Jerzy Stuhr), his younger brother.

500full-the-decalogue-x-screenshotWhen the pair go to Root’s apartment, they have to pass through layers of heavy security. It quickly becomes apparent that the only items of value that he had owned were his stamp collection. The men ponder why their father was so obsessed with these stamps, often making sacrifices on behalf of himself and his family to seek out stamps. They cannot, at first, understand holding the value of a material possession in such high regard.

Soon after they learn of the tremendous value of their father’s stamp collection, they begin to discover just how corrupt the world of stamp collecting is. This is a part of how Kieślowski tells this story comically. The extremely serious nature of the stamp community in Warsaw is far beyond what the viewer would anticipate for what most would consider a fairly mundane and even potentially dull hobby. When the brothers have to trick a corrupt shopkeeper into returning a valuable set of stamps he stole from them, they begin to become fully immersed in this world of stamp collecting.

In embracing their deceased father’s hobby, Artur and Jerzy begin to feel a childlike sense of carefree joy. Their problems fade away as they become more and more immersed in finding these rare and surprisingly valuable items. Through this feeling, they begin to understand their father for the first time in their lives. Artur even takes the liberty to amp up the security in the apartment, getting a guard dog and changing the locks.

When the shopkeeper who they had tricked earlier offers them an opportunity to obtain a one of a kind stamp to complete a three piece set for which they have the first two, they grow very excited. However, the price is neither money nor a stamp-for-stamp trade. Instead, the man wants Jerzy to donate his kidney to the shopkeeper’s 16 year old daughter who is ill. Jerzy is conflicted, but ultimately decides to make this sacrifice in order to complete the set. Artur declines to go on tour with his band in order to stay with his brother through the surgery. When he goes to the hospital to check on Jerzy, a nurse recognizes him and asks if she can touch his face. This moment emphasizes the idea of how much the brothers are giving up for these stamps.

When they leave the hospital, Artur excitedly shows the unique stamp to Jerzy. However, the excitement quickly fades when Artur reveals that they had been robbed of the entire stamp collection while Jerzy was in the hospital. After the two have a falling out, each brother separately calls the private investigator they’d hired to find the stamps, and asks him to look into the other. However, they later separately see the shopkeeper meeting with a couple of other characters who had been after their father’s collection, and realize that these men are likely behind the theft.

On his way back to their father’s apartment, Artur stops by the post office where Tomek (Dekalog VI) works. He purchases three stamps from the young man and goes to the apartment. When Jerzy shows up unexpectedly, he sees Artur looking at the three stamps. He then pulls the same three stamps out of his own pocket. The episode and the series end as with the two brothers, looking down at their new shared passion, laughing joyfully.

It is telling of Kieślowski’s feelings toward the series that it ends on a positive note. Perhaps he is trying to say that despite the fact that many difficult things happen in life, if you sift through it for the things that bring you joy, you can find happiness. Certainly the argument can be made that the episodes are generally less and less grim as the series progresses.

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