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Decalogue 5 left me speechless.
It left me shaking my head in despair. It left me moved about humanity. It made me take a hard honest look at the world around me. It left me raw and abraded. It left me feeling cold about humanity and its inherent evil. It left me feeling deeply touched by humanity and its inherent goodness. It made me rethink my concepts about justice. It made me rethink my concepts about compassion. It left my mind in a total state of shock reeling from the last image. It made me feel like a whirlwind millennia of humanity just washed past me.
All this in one hour.
In short, whoa.
Dostoevskian descent into hell, Dostoevskian comprehension of evil as inseparable from good and inseparably alloyed to suffering, thus deserving of mercy, no matter how brutal. The piling up of detail, the flow of events, is tight, relentless, funereal, and ominous, shot through half-smoked glass to lend it the surreality of a twilit underworld (compare to Alexander Sokurov's Mother and Son, 1997). With a minimum of strokes, the murderer is fully realized; his face alone is unforgettable; his flicking of coffee grounds at the girls in the cafe window illustrates in one simple gesture his murderous innocence. The killing itself is harrowing, hands-on ugly. The narrative is Spartan, matching its hardness to the tale. The only spurious step is the editorializing by the attorney against capital punishment; he would have been more effective if more reserved in his passion and anguish. To its credit, there's no silly color coding, no overtly intellectual structuralism. This is easily the most transparent, thus powerful, storytelling.
Three distinct and distant individuals' lives intersect with the brutal
killing of one by another. The one-hour film only reveals the event
that brings the three individuals together only after half the film is
over. I have seen other segments of the "Dekalog" but this one struck
me as the most sparse one in dialogue and yet most fascinating in
The film opens with a law student practicing a mock plea of defense for a man charged with murder. Obviously the same arguments must have been repeated by the man as a full-fledged lawyer but this is never shown on screen (at least in the short 1-hr version of Dekalog 5). We are made to imagine that this must have been the case. A cab driver who is a misanthrope, has two facets to his character: the good side feeds a mangy dog, cleans his cab meticulously, picks up dirty rags thrown by people who lack civic sense, and remembers his wife while dying; the bad side frightens small poodles, refuses to give a ride to a drunk--probably worried that he will puke in the cab--and ogles at pretty girls. The repulsive protagonist who murders without mercy, drops stones from bridges on fast moving traffic, and pushes strangers into urinals without any provocation, is also a person who can make innocent young girls laugh. Kieslowski's film and the script thus present the good and the bad side of two of the three main characters.
Yet the film is not about capital punishment but more a treatise on killing. The Fifth Commandment "Thou shalt not kill" is explored theologically--("Even God spared Cain...'), sociologically the tenderness of brutes to children and poor forlorn dogs, and psychologically (after effects of drunken night with a male friend that led to the accidental death of his sister, whose photograph he carries with him). What makes ordinary persons turn into killers--this is never fully explained but suggestions are legion.
In Kieslowski's world there is a pattern where events and people are interlinked in a cosmic sense (note the resemblance of clown to the killer, as it hangs from the mirror in the cab). Kieslowski and the young idealist lawyer seem to ask us to look at the Commandment literally and figuratively--why do we kill? Are the people legally killed truly bad? Is there a force beyond society (the drunken night that led to life of a girl) that makes us into abhorrent murderers?
It would be missing the forest for the trees to discuss the two detailed killings in the film--both without mercy. The film invites the viewer to contemplate why we are asked by God not to kill.
I understand a longer full-length version of the film was made by Kieslowski. But even this short 1-hr version is superb with its bleak and sparse script, intelligent editing, interesting cinematography and top-notch direction that provides much more than the sum of its parts.
This segment anticipates the more wholesome Dekalogs 6,7 and 8.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Having seen the full length film Kieslowski made out of this episode of
"The Decalogue" years ago, came back to this viewer as we watched the
complete ten vignettes. As with the other films, this one is loosely
based on the fifth commandment, or, "Thou shalt not kill".
Kryzsztof Kieslowski, writing with Kryzsztof Piesewicz, took a look at the mind of a young man who commits a heinous crime in murdering an innocent person to vent his own frustrations. This installment has a Dostoyevskian character that kept reminding us about "Crime and Punishment", or at least some of the qualities of the novel are passed to the aimless youth who apparently has no redeeming qualities.
The story shows the young man as he roams the streets of the city without a clear idea of what to do, or where to go. The only tender moment he displays is when he visits the photographer's place to ask to have an old picture of his sister restored. Kieslowski leaves it up to fate to have the murderer board a taxi with the intention of robbing the driver, but it's his anger and frustration that get the best of this youth to kill a man that didn't deserve to die. The last moments of this criminal is one of the most gripping sequences in any film, past, or present.
The other element in the story is the relationship between the public defendant and the criminal. Nothing can prevent the court to condemn to death the young man. The lawyer feels at the end he has failed his client and goes to the judge to see where he went wrong. All he is asked by the young man is to retrieve the picture and send it to his mother.
Kieslowski's account of how he interprets the fifth commandment makes for a surprising film that will stay in the viewer's mind long after this episode is forgotten.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is the episode that probably most closely relates to it's partner
law, "Thou Shalt Not Kill," in that it directly brings up the ever
controversial issue, "Why do we kill people who kill people to show
that killing is wrong?" This issue is presented in two parts within the
episode: before the killing, when the film shows the dichotomy between
the idealistic up-and-coming lawyer and the street thug so caught up in
his ways that his life is merely a representation of what he's supposed
to do, followed by the period after the trial and before the execution,
when both are made to suffer for the deaths they feel responsible for
and thus share.
One of the great things about the way these episodes work are in the both small and big ways the story is fully developed, so that we understand both the motivations and histories of characters we're only able to spend slightly less than an hour with. For all his criminal intentions and mockery, the killer is still very sympathetic, revolving the most important part of his actions around a history of accidental death. His way of killing is more a desire to control death than it is any desire to actually destroy. Similarly, the lawyer's idealistic naivety shows one unwilling to allow death to happen in a world where he can't control it. Their meeting is, indeed, important; they both have to give in to it while not propagating it.
As an aside, it's interesting how much this episode affects viewing of Rouge, Kieslowski's later completion of the Trois Colours trilogy. One of Kieslowski's biggest influences seems to be the idea of justice, and considering that the Decalogue is a meditation on something that represents Divine Justice, this one seems almost the most self-conscious.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Though the title is simplified to the point of irony - "Thou Shalt Not
Kill" - the film has a lot things going on; with Kieslowski on the one
hand presenting a moral and humane message (and a visual essay on the
ironies of murder and state-funded execution), as well as the depiction
of a central character who is never allowed to stray into the realms of
caricature, making the performance of lead actor Miroslaw Baka one that
resonates alongside other cinematic depictions of similarly tortured
outsiders from films like Taxi Driver and Naked. Added to this, we have
the world created by Kieslowski and his technicians that is neither
reality nor fantasy, but rather, some in-between living hell, with a
continually desolate atmosphere of damp melancholy that few films can
equate. Right from the opening scene, the filmmaker paints a portrait
of bleaker than bleak squalor, creating a place where wandering misfits
drop rocks from a motorway over-pass, all the while watched by
soulless, faceless vessels that peer from the windows of suffocating,
The central image of the peripatetic loner drifting from town to town with the weight of the world on his shoulders is a universal one, prevalent in both literature and cinema history, though it is important to note that Kieslowski never allows his character to plumb the depths of melodrama in the way similar anti-heroes might, by denying us of a first-act back-story. This makes the character all the more enigmatic... a broken-down loser burning with inner torment that we cannot understand, until it is too late. The real crux of the story (and the moral centre to both the film and the character) doesn't become clear until mid-way into the second act, in which the director allows for moments of empathy and compassion, whilst simultaneously drawing parallels between the ideas of murder in the name of hate and murder in the name of the law. The two murder scenes that close act one and two respectively are, without question, the most devastating moments of cinema that I can ever recall seeing. The atmosphere that is created by the director and that matter-of-fact frankness in how the action is captured (with honesty and conviction) permeates through the nuances of the actors every expression and allows for the transformation from mere performer, through to the fragmented reflection of a real human being. This makes the prolonging of the violence and the character's painful desperation all the more heartbreaking, because Kieslowski understands his characters, and more importantly, understands his actors. The mood and feeling of an expressionistic viewpoint is further heightened throughout by cinematographer Slavomir Idziak's use of colour, composition and strange approach to focus, as he employs an "optical smudge" over one half of the screen in order to draw the audience's attention to what the filmmaker considers integral to the story at that particular point in time.
The world of Thou Shalt Not Kill is as murky and as troubled as the mind of our protagonist, with a great reliance on the colours, yellow, brown and green. This depressing pallet almost chokes us in the final scenes, when only a few sources of urine-tinged light are allowed to break through the darkness onto the tear-drenched face of the young killer during that amazing dialogue between the murderer and his solicitor towards the film's unflinching climax. However, beneath the drab locations and austere realisation of the text, the sense of drama has a strong emotional undercurrent throughout, though for much of the film it is kept secondary to the central message so as to avoid the kind of clichés rampant in this kind of film. As with the work of other directors from the same social-realist background, Kieslowski doesn't offer the viewer any easy answers - we don't get the last minute pardon, or the spoken word narration heaping forgiveness on the world, or a crescendo of violins to further the melodrama - this filmmaker presents us with a simple story and allows us to come to our own conclusions.
Dekalog Five was an interesting viewing experience for me, because of the question Kieslowski seems to subtly ask the audience. Three men are the focus of this chapter, and Kieslowski present the two involved in murder with traits both good and bad (In one's case, almost overwhelmingly bad). With such vile characters, I found myself almost glad that they would receive some sort of punishment. However, when the time comes for the murder (And it's subsequent effect on the murderer), Kieslowski takes an interesting angle and seems to ask those of us who shared my view, "Are you not as guilty as this man?" This sort of indirect address of the audience makes the finale of Dekalog Five that much more profound as Kieslowski (As usual) doesn't stay within the literal confines of his theme. Just as the other parts of the Dekalog don't take their Commandment's theme in it's literal sense, neither does Dekalog Five. It asks us what is murder, who is more guilty of murder, and what should be the appropriate punishment, if any? It's a fantastic film and, typical of Kieslowski, absolutely stunning.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Dekalog 5 may be considered a violent accusation against the death sentence, according to the fifth commandment "Thou shalt not kill": not by chance it puts the concept of a State fully complied with the provisions of an unjust law on the same plane as the figure of a Murderer. "But the law might not imitate the nature, it might correct it," states Piotr, the counsel for the defense, a real catalyst character, "the punishment is a form of vengeance aiming at returning evil for evil without preventing the crime. But in the name of whom the law takes its revenge? Really in the name of the innocent ones?". The horrifying and detailed sequences of the last half hour of a man sentenced to death give value to the uselessness of the deterrent function applied to the death penalty with the purpose of intimidating all potential criminals. "Desperate plights don't demand desperate remedies", Kieslowski says in his message, teaching us how unrighteous can be the act of disobedience to a commandment of God that judges punishment the same way as crime is judged. There are three different moral attitudes here: the innate sense of rebellion of the MURDERER aiming at rousing the hostile torpor of the surrounding environment; the strong sense of chronic indifference of the VICTIM inclined to laugh at other people's requirements; the deserving behavior of the COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENSE always ready to fight against adversity, in favor of human life. The struggle for life is ruthlessly vivisected all of the time; the characters are plunged into scenes of affliction and distress, in an urban landscape accented with greenish tones and seen in its own reflections through the windshield of a taxi. Everything in "Dekalog 5" conveys a dreadful sense of estrangement and isolation: descriptions of a waste undergrowth of violence and folly, scenes of precarious conditions of work, sinister appearances of buildings immersed in an anonymous aura of desolation, aimless wanderings through disenchanting environments. Jazek, the main character, is compelled to struggle with an opponent stronger than himself: a town completely wrapped in profound indifference, apparently hostile, deaf to all his mute calls for help, while a faded photo of a little girl in a first communion dress goes on gnawing his soul. He's irremediably directing his steps towards a disconnected route to damnation seen through the deformations of the 18 mm. wide angle camera lens aiming at distorting every details, altering the reality, making it fade out in remote and alien echoes. Kieslowski doesn't bring extenuating circumstances seasoned with honey-tongued tones of melodrama in favor of the defendant, differently from some Hollywood stereotypes like "I want to live" (by Robert Wise). He doesn't slip on the banana peel of useless pathetic scenes to extenuate Jazek's guilt and to mitigate the brutality of the crime, not interested at all in proximate psychological motivations to justify any display of extreme or violent behaviors and refusing to include any useless judicial proceedings. In other words, in Kieslowsky's opinion "a crime is always a crime": according to the principle of "par condicio" he puts the prosecutor on the same plane as the condemned man, using many signs or symbols to represent a society seen in the most sinister light. And we can't remain indifferent: even if we don't agree with him, Jazek's screams of anguish touch our hearts with pity in the same manner that Terri Schiavo's entreating eyes do.
It would be great if a discussion on this medium length film is initiated with a brief tale about hypocrisy of Hollywood people.It was in 1988 that Chuck Norris saw this film at Cannes International Film Festival.He made a silly remark by uttering that the senseless killing depicted in Dekalog 5 is far more effective than killings which have been filmed in his Hollywood films with him as a potent action star.He was speaking about an innocent taxi driver whose face is brutally disfigured in Kieslowski's film by a reckless psychopath who hits him cruelly with a big stone.There should be absolutely no justification for violence and its perpetrators in a dignified human society.This is the reason why Chuck Norris' statement appears as a cruel joke which defends violent means in a society which is increasing becoming restless.An honest reviewer would not be making a mistake if he/she states that Kieslowski's film "Dekalog: Dekalog,Piec (#1.5)" has universal connotations.This is because the events depicted in Dekalog 5 can happen in any part of world.The best lesson which Kielowski gives to us concerns levels of violence which are acceptable in a just society.This is the reason why the brutal slaying of an innocent cab driver is capable of causing a feeling of repugnance in us.We would not feel the same hatred for homicide when it appears in films featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger,Chuck Norris and Jean Claude Van Damme as they appear much too artificial.One can easily grasp that special effects and modern studio techniques can charm only toddlers but make no sense to serious film enthusiasts.Kieslowski also champions helplessness of human beings in rescuing fellow humans beings from the clutches of death and misery.This is particularly interesting as time and again it has been proved that strict laws and capital punishments have not been able to prevent homicides.
A brutally straightforward tale of murder and capital punishment by the state. So painfully slow and accurate in the description of capital punishment (from the preparation of the gallow to the victim p***ing in his own pants before dying) it has the power to change your mind about death penalty. The whole Dekalog originated from this story: the Dekalog screenwriter was the powerless lawyer unsuccessfully trying to defend and then console the accused.
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