Dekalog and Other Television Works: Dekalog Nine & Ten/Short Working Day
This is the fifth of five reviews of Arrow Academy's dual-format box set. For the other reviews, go to:
Dekalog One & Two/Pedestrian Subway
Dekalog Three & Four/First Love
Dekalog Five & Six/Personnel
Dekalog Seven & Eight/The Calm
Dekalog, Nine (Dekalog, dziewięć, 58:09)
Thou shalt not covet they neighbour's house
Roman (Piotr Machalica) is married to Hanna (Ewa Błaszczyk). They have no children, and Roman has been diagnosed with permanent and incurable impotence. Hanna swears to him that they will stay together, but he suggests that she should find a lover as he can no longer sexually satisfy her. But when she does take the younger Mariusz (Jan Jankowski) as a lover, Roman becomes increasingly jealous.
When Kieślowski approached the Polish Ministry of Culture for funding for Dekalog he gave them a choice of the nine other scripts to be expanded by about half an hour, along with Dekalog Five, to become a cinema feature. In the end, Dekalog Six was the choice, with the longer version becoming A Short Film About Love. However, Dekalog Nine was the other contender. If it had been expanded into a feature, it would have been called A Short Film About Jealousy. Though, given its relationship with the Commandment it interprets, Dekalog Nine could just have easily been Dekalog Six and it is also an even shorter film about love, and love's concomitant jealousy. In fact, Roman does make a brief appearance in that earlier episode.
Kieślowski shows, rather than tells, Roman's increasingly paranoid state of mind. A scene of a car's petrol tank being filled is filmed like a penetration shot. Dekalog Nine is another finely acted and precisely filmed drama between a small number of characters. Not that I want to wish A Short Film About Love out of existence, but it's intriguing to think how Kieślowski and Piesiewicz might have expanded this episode into a longer version for the cinema.
Zbigniew Preisner, Kieślowski's regular score composer since No End, has his own showcase here. A subplot refers to the work of a fictitious Dutch composer, Van den Budenmayer, whose music we hear. Van den Budenmayer's music (composed by Preisner) also turns up in Kieślowski's post-Dekalog work, in The Double Life of Véronique and especially in Three Colours: Blue. Artur Barciś cycles past at key moments, making his final appearances in the series. His scene was deleted from Dekalog Seven and he was never planned to be included in Dekalog Ten.
Dekalog, Ten (Dekalog, dziesięć, 57:24)
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods
Dekalog Ten is a major change of tone from the preceding episodes. In the opening moments, Artur (Zbigniew Zamachowski) jumps on stage as lead vocalist of punk band City Death and exhorts us to break as many of the Commandments as we possibly can. Artur and his brother Jerzy (Jerzy Stuhr) meet again at the funeral of their father. Their father collected stamps and the brothers soon realise that his collection is actually very valuable. (This takes place after the events of Dekalog Eight, as their father appeared in that episode.) However, the wealth that they have inherited certainly hasn't brought them happiness.
The other episodes of Dekalog are moral dramas. Dekalog Ten is no less moral but but is a black comedy. Complications involve theft and one of the brothers selling a kidney to buy a stamp to complete a series. And they're not better off at the end than they are at the start. After the seriousness up to now, Kieślowski seems relaxed and the episode is fleet of foot. Some of this may come from the fact that Kieślowski is working with the actor he collaborated with more than any other, Jerzy Stuhr, whose son Maciej plays Jerzy the character's son. Zbigniew Zamachowski went on to play the lead role in Three Colours: White. As mentioned above, Artur Barciś does not appear, but Tomek (Olaf Lubaszenko, also the assistant director of this and three other episodes) does, in his day job at the post office.
Short Working Day (Krótki dzień pracy, 73:28)
It's a day in the office for a local Party secretary (Wacław Ulewicz). But today is different, as he has to deal with a protest about rising food prices taking place outside his window...
Short Working Day was Kieślowski's final film for television before Dekalog. It's his only intended period piece, being set mainly five years before it was made, in 1981. Kieślowski completed it and Blind Chance near the end of the year, just as General Jaruzelski, in the wake of strikes and unrest and the rise of the Solidarity union, declared martial law in Poland. Both of Kieślowski's films were banned by the authorities, as were other challenging works like Ryszard Bugajski's Interrogation and Agnieszka Holland's A Woman Alone. This caused Bugajski and Holland to leave the country and to work abroad. Kieślowski remained in Poland. With no possibility of films being made under martial law, he tried to find a job as a taxi driver, unsuccessfully due to his short sight and his not having had a driving licence for long enough.
Cowritten with Hanna Krall, Short Working Day was a film Kieślowski was always disparaging about. This may have been because it was an intentionally not uncritical but also not unsympathetic look at a Party official. The latter was a no-no amongst the artistic circles Kieślowski moved. Shot in 35mm with a view to a cinema release (which never happened) as well as a television showing, Short Working Day does feel an endpoint in Kieślowski's work. I've said that the earlier television films in this boxset show Kieślowski's roots in documentary, and parts of them could indeed be parts of a documentary along the lines of the ones he made about the workings of a railway station or a hospital. There's less of this in Short Working Day, which is realistic to a fault. This may be in part due to the use of 35mm, as handheld camerawork is much less overt. The interest in inexplicable happenings and the workings of fate are more or less absent. He left that to his cinema work: Blind Chance can be read as his only excursion into science fiction, even if it plays as political parable - the same way as films with a similar premise, such as Sliding Doors and Alain Resnais's pair of Alan Ayckbourn adaptations, Smoking and No Smoking play their SF themes for, respectively, romantic comedy and narrative gameplaying. The central figure of No End is a ghost. The major disruptions of traditional narrative in Short Working Day occur during the very well-staged protest sequences. On a half-dozen occasions during the film, Kieślowski freeze-frames the face of a protestor and a short blue-tinted flashforward shows us the aftermath: a beating at the hands of the police, a trial, and so on.
It took a long time for Short Working Day to be disinterred. In the interview in the book included in this boxset (see below), Kieślowski implies that he opposed its being shown. It was finally broadcast on Polish television after his death, on 27 June 1996.
Dekalog and Other Television Works is a dual-format boxset released by Arrow Academy. It comprises five Blu-ray discs and five DVDs, encoded for Region B and Region 2 (PAL) respectively. These reviews are from supplied Blu-ray checkdiscs. Ratings apply to the boxset as a whole, not to individual discs.
The boxset as a whole carries a 15 certificate. Short Working Day is a PG. Dekalog Nine and Dekalog Ten were given a 12 and a PG respectively in 1991 for their cinema release.
All three of the films on this disc were shot in 35mm at a ratio of 1.37:1 (Academy Ratio) and while that was the ratio they were shown at in cinemas, or would have been shown at in cinemas in the case of Short Working Day (Academy still being a viable ratio in Polish cinemas in 1981), they would have been shown on television at the slightly narrower ratio of 1.33:1. The two Dekalog episodes have been restored at 4K restoration and Arrow's Blu-ray transfer derives from this. The results speak for themselves, with strong colours, fine detail, solid blacks and filmlike grain. This is undoubtedly the best they have looked at in the home, especially if (like me) you have only seen these episodes on standard-def television broadcast and DVD before. Short Working Day has been transferred in HD and, while not restored, still looks very good. There is some minor damage to the source materials and some may find the presence of a square than a circular cue marker every ten minutes or so (that is, at the end of each 1000-foot reel) distracting. As the series was shot at twenty-five frames per second instead of the cinema standard of twenty-four, the transfers are 1080i50 to respect the correct framerate.
The soundtrack is mono in all cases, rendered as LPCM 1.0 for the Dekalog episodes and Dolby Digital 1.0 for Short Working Day. English subtitles are optionally available.
The only on-disc extra is Arrow's trailer for this 4K restoration and release (1:21).
Included with the set is a 128-page book. Stanley Kubrick was a great admirer of Dekalog and the book begins with his fairly short but certainly heartfelt foreword to Faber & Faber's 1991 publication of the Dekalog scripts, the only foreword he ever wrote. Next, for reference, are the Ten Commandments as rendered in the Book of Deuteronomy in the King James Bible.
“Before Dekalog” and “Dekalog” are essays by Father Marek Lis, which looks at Kieślowski's films and career up to and including Dekalog from a theological point of view. Even though Kieślowski was a professed agnostic and not sympathetic to the Church, he still had a profound interest in portraying “the undescribed world”.
Following this is a list of credits for the crewmembers who worked on all the ten Dekalog episodes. Each episode has a listing for the cast and the remaining crew, plus a short appraisal, also by Father Lis. After this are extracts from Faber & Faber's 1993 book Kieślowski on Kieślowski, first talking about Dekalog and then about each of the other television works in this set, the latter with cast and crew credits and transmission details for each. The interviews which make up Kieślowski on Kieślowski were transcribed and translated by Danusia Stok. Finally, there are transfer notes and disc and book credits and plenty of stills throughout. A fitting companion to one of the Blu-ray releases of television material of the year.