Wednesday, September 4, 2013


In the early 90s I had my cinematic brain blown by Krzysztof Kieslowski's "THE DECALOGUE", a 10-episode series made for Polish television in 1988. Kieslowski was hitting big in US foreign film circles, and with critics, for his "BLUE"/"WHITE"/"RED" series – the order in which I saw them – and The Roxie Cinema in San Francisco, building on this momentum, showed all ten hour-long episodes of "The Decalogue" over five days, two at a time each day. I caught six episodes, and later saw an expanded version of one of them when it made its release into theaters as "A Short Film About Killing". Then I waited, impatiently, for "The Decalogue" to finally come to DVD. I bought it on day one, finally immersing myself in the dark, disconnected world of late-Communist-era Poland and the interconnected lives of a group of dreary apartment block dwellers, each searching for personal meaning and fulfillment in a world running on autopilot. Each episode is loosely fit around one of the Ten Commandments, which gives it some marketing coherence, at least, though adding little to the actual narrative of the films.

Until I saw the DVD at my local library two weeks ago, I'd had no idea Kieslowski had made another expanded version of one of the episodes, #6, and called it "A SHORT FILM ABOUT LOVE". This is the one modeled on the commandment, "Thou shalt not commit adultery", though no one in the film actually does. It's an expanded version of the episode; or rather, the episode appears to be a slightly slimmed-down version of this film. A young post office worker, an obviously lonely and unworldly orphan named Tomek, spends each night spying via telescope on a beautiful older woman, Magda, in the adjacent concrete apartment block. His obsession appears to be the only thing that fuels him, and he finds every avenue he can to up the ante and actually meet Magda in person, including sending her phony money orders so she'll visit his post office to cash them.

Her annoyance, and later, scared avoidance of Tomek's advances, is predictable and understandable. He's spied on her, watched her have sex with a series of men, and presumably is looking for same. Yet his innocence inexperience, and total obsessive, noncommittal love becomes beguiling for her. As he draws closer, so does she become more aggressive and sexual with him, leading to an encounter that poisons everything. In the shorter version of this film, things resolved themselves fairly neatly. In "A SHORT FILM ABOUT LOVE", they don't, and we find that it is Magda who becomes the obsessive lover. Like each episode of "The Decalogue", there are tertiary characters who flit about the edges of the film and connect it to the other nine – which is a cool device, sort of like anxiously waiting for Alfred Hitchcock to walk past the camera in a crowd shot in one of his films. I found this to be terrific reintroduction to one of the landmark and formative films (the film being the entire "Decalogue" series) of my lifetime, and it only makes me want to watch the other nine again as soon as possible.