I am always reluctant to single out some particular feature of the work of a major filmmaker because it tends inevitably to simplify and reduce the work. But in this book of screenplays by Krzysztof Kieslowski and his co-author, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, it should not be out of place to observe that they have the very rare ability to dramatize their ideas rather than just talking about them. By making their points through the dramatic action of the story they gain the added power of allowing the audience to discover what’s really going on rather than being told. They do this with such dazzling skill, you never see the ideas coming and don’t realize until much later how profoundly they have reached your heart.
Ten hours of Polish television. From the ’80’s. About the Ten Commandments and focusing on the residents of one apartment block. Why would I want to watch this? Because it was a project of the director of The Double Life of Veronique and the Three Colors trilogy, Krzysztof Kieslowski. And it is simply the most gorgeous, moving television you will ever see.
I first came across it in a book of Roger Ebert’s reviews, back in the nineties. It was unavailable at the time, so I waited for it to come on DVD. I was not disappointed. Rather, it has become the standard that I judge all television against. In fact, I have not watched all of the episodes yet, as they reward time between viewings, allowing you to think about and absorb what you just witnessed.
The first episode is pretty obvious in which commandment it is talking about; Thou Shalt Not Worship False Idols. But from there it gets increasingly murky. Now, I am not Catholic, nor am I religious. And I am certainly not recommending the work from that point of view. The Ten Commandments is simply used as a framework for looking at the world in all its glory. In other words, this is not a mindless diversion, but rather a Mindful Diversion.
So, what are you watching?