The Series (5/5)
2016 has been an overall great year in home video releasing on the Blu-ray format. I am trying to avoid saying that one release over the other is the best or most important film or piece of visual media to come out this year. However, as long as there has been a Blu-ray format I have wanted Krzysztof Kieslowski's Decalogue (Dekalog) on it, and though TVP in Poland previously brought it out to Region B viewers, Criterion has finally issued the 10 episode mini-series to Blu-ray for Region A consumers and include the short works A Short Film About Love and A Short Film About Killing to sweeten the deal.
The Dekalog is a 10 hour anthology mini-series that is thematically connected by The Ten Commandments. It uses these as the subtext to form a sort of moral core for each of the stories it tells. Now, as this review and most reviews of the Dekalog will tell you, and even the director himself would state in interviews, it is best not to outwardly look for the commandments in each episode of the Dekalog, and they certainly don't appear in order. You might find one in a certain episode, and a few combined in another. Where in others it might not be apparent at all, and it is up to the viewers abstract interpretation to find what Kieslowski and in turn his co-writer on the project Krzysztof Piesiewicz were referring too.
The Dekalog takes place in an unspecified amount of time during the late 80's at the end of the communist reign in Poland. All the stories follow the denizens of one apartment block (apparently the best in Warsaw according to Kieslowski). It tells the story of 10 different sets of people all dealing with different goings on in there lives. In Dekalog One for example a Father in trying to explain the concept of death and dying to his son, but using scientific concepts and computers to keep it tied into reality. Dekalog 3 follows a woman trying to get back together with a man who she was a mistress to. In order to do so she gets in his cab, and has him drive her around looking for a supposed lost lover all night long. Dekalog: Ten involves the madcap adventure of two brothers who inherit a valuable stamp collection and can't figure out what to do with the financial fallout from it.
Like his later Three Colors Trilogy characters from one episode can be spotted in other episodes, but after their initial appearance have no impact on any other events in the series. They are just symbols that these take place in the same continuity. Dekalog 8 does make a reference to Dekalog 2 showing that events that occur in the show are in a way tied together. The film deals in drama and comedy, and a whole range of emotions, but the stories are mostly simple, yet effective.
Those viewers that are familiar with Kiewslowski through his later works like the Double Life of Veronique and Three Colors might be taken back by the Dekalog as the film though elegantly shot, is much more simple nd less colorful than his later works. This works in favor of the series as the film depicts the lives and stories of people in a harsh city, during a difficult time, and tells stories that are far from happy for the most part, and allows the viewer to concentrate on both the nuances of the performances, and the subtleties of the stories.
Criterion have presented Dekalog in a 1:33:1/1:70:1 (more on that) AVC encoded transfer. Episodes 1-4 and 7-10 are 1:33:1 Episode 5-6 and their extended counterparts A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love being they were released theatrically were presented 1:70:1. All 10 films look quite good for the most part with excellent detail, blacks levels, and an intact grain structure. Some of the episodes seem to veer a little too much to the blue/green compared to the original look, but it's a minor issue overall. The transfers themselves have a solid natural look to them, and I didn't notice much in the way of damage from the source material or any sort of digital manipulation which was apparently present on the TVP transfers.
The audio is presented with LPCM mono tracks in Polish. The tracks are quite solid with dialogue and score coming through nicely. I did not detect any issues with the tracks on my listen.
Criterion have put together a fantastic slate of extras for their release of the Dekalog. It has a series of archival interviews with director Kieslowski. There is also a program on the themes specifically on the Dekalog by film studies professor Annette Insdort. Following on that We get new and archival interviews with the cast and crew of the series. There are trailers for the series, and a booklet of liner notes.
The Dekalog is ultimately one of if not the finest release of 2016, and is long overdue a release on the Blu-ray format. The series looks and sounds wonderful here, and comes with a solid slate of extras. I'd be insane if I didn't say this one was HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.