Decalogue: Five (1988) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Decalogue: Five (1988)

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My examination of The Decalogue is a full analysis of each film, its themes and visual strategy.  If you have not seen The Decalogue, I would highly advise stopping here and watching it before continuing.

"Thou shalt not kill."

Andrew COMMENTARYIt’s inevitable that the death penalty would come up in The Decalogue.  The whole “not kill” commandment pretty much dictates a solid path towards a story dealing with it.  But rather than pose moral questions about the actions of the characters, we are instead left to ponder the circumstances surrounding them.  They each make their own choices, but are really left up to fate rather than having a strong say in their destinies.  The question then, is it right for the government to be that force - especially when determining if someone will live or die?

Personally, I abhor the death penalty.  Certain people are too dangerous to be kept around us “normal” folk but no one has the right to determine who lives or who dies.  Perhaps my tune would change if someone I knew was murdered or raped.  But that’s a circumstance that I never hope to face, and one no one in Decalogue: Five has to go through.

Five toys around with the fate of three different characters.  These are Piotr, a young lawyer, Jacek, a drifter, and Waldemar, a taxicab driver played by Krzysztof Globisz, Miroslaw Baka and Jan Tesarz respectively.  Kieslowski works with cinematographer Slawomir Idziak to shift back and forth in time between all three.  In the past, Jacek is seen murdering Waldemar in what appears to be cold blood.  In the present, Piotr is responsible for defending Jacek and securing his life.

This is one story where, other than the murder, the actions of the characters mean very little.  Waldemar seems a pleasant enough person and does no harm to anyone in his brief time onscreen.  At the worst, he’s a harmless peep who likes to look and smile and pretty women.  Jacek seems disaffected moreso than evil.  He is consistently annoyed by the people that he comes across over the course of the day and punishes them a bit harshly (scaring away an old woman’s pigeons, pushing a man into a urinal).  Then Jacek hires Waldemar to take him out of town and after stopping the car, strangles and beats Waldemar to death.

It’s clear from the beginning that Jacek is not going to get away with this and that he will be put to death.  Kieslowski allows this fact to linger on throughout the film, as we know what fate awaits Jacek later on after the murder.  What Kieslowski plays with most in this film are the two deaths, and the bitter irony of how little Waldemar is missed versus Jacek.

Both Waldemar and Jacek are killed with rope.  Waldemar is strangled whereas Jacek is hung.  But no one seems to miss Waldemar.  He whispers out “Wife...” while Jacek is beating him but we never see her or any other concerned family.  Given his slightly lecherous nature, we can also conclude that he may be estranged from his wife and doesn’t really have anyone left to miss him.  Jacek, on the other hand, has a grieving family that he will be leaving behind.  They are present at every step of the trial and weep openly when the verdict is delivered.  So why does Jacek have to die?

Kieslowski answers that it is because the system has determined that he must die.  The same system that cannot deter these violent actions will use similarly violent actions to no real purpose or end.  In a sense, it’s to give jobs to those that need them and reward themselves for failing the populace.  But is there any way that they could have succeeded?  Jacek is seen earlier very wary of the police but despite their presence he does not change his course of action.

Another layer of brutal irony is added to Jacek’s death when he tells Piotr the story of his young sister.  She died very young in a car accident caused by one of Jacek’s friends.  Jacek never fully recovered from this and he did not realize how much it had affected him until days before his hanging.  Fate does not spare any of them.  Piotr is powerless to stop the government, just as Waldemar was powerless to stop Jacek, and Jacek unable to do anything to save his sister.

The innocent do not get to make the rules by which others are punished.  In this case, we see that the power responsible for making those guidelines doesn’t even have support from Waldemar’s family to go through with anything.  In a bitter twist, Jacek’s death ends up mattering more than Waldemar’s.  Jacek, the man who could murder someone in cold blood, leaves behind a grieving and broken family while Waldemar died alone.  Both deaths are equally pointless, but one could have been prevented.

Kieslowski utilizes the young lawyer as a voice of reason throughout all of this.  He forces himself to watch the execution so that he understands why it is that he abhors the death penalty so much.  We feel this pain in the final shot of Five.  After witnessing Jacek’s humiliating end we are left watching him scream into another empty field about the abomination of the death penalty.  All the deaths were equally pointless, and none of them served a purpose.

Admittedly, Five does not hold up as well on rewatch as the other films.  Part of it has to do with the way Slawomir shoots the film.  He uses very little color and mostly browned out surroundings to show the past, and intensified blues in the present.  In later works this technique will be quite beautiful.  However, on the video stock that Kieslowski had available for The Decalogue it proves to be a bit of a headache.  It is highly ambitious given the limitations, and Kieslowski would return to Slawomir to shoot the amber beauty of The Double Life of Veronique.

We are left with a fable more straightforward than the others.  It is clear where Kieslowski stands on the issue but complicates everyone’s motivations and actions as much as possible.  What cannot be denied is the dreadful power in both murders.  They are intense, cold, and absolute.  That one was the decision of a group instead of a single man is just as inexcusable.

Because of last week’s Romaniathon I will be doing two Decalogue articles this week.  Tomorrow is “Thou shalt not commit adultery” featuring one of the slipperiest moral slopes in all of Kieslowski’s films.

The Decalogue:

One “I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me”
Two “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”
Three “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”
Four "Honor thy father and thy mother"
Six "Thou shalt not commit adultery."
Seven "Thou shalt not steal."
Eight "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."
Nine "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife."
Ten "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods."

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Decalogue: Five (1988)

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz.
Starring Krzysztof Globisz, Miroslaw Baka and Jan Tesarz.

Posted by Andrew

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