Decalogue: Ten (1988) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Decalogue: Ten (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 covet thy neighbors goods."

Andrew COMMENTARYWith the final Decalogue film Kieslowski decided to roll back the tension a bit.  Infidelity?  Not a focus here.  Murder?  Not a chance.  Instead of making an incredibly bleak family drama or portrait of despairing love, he just decides to make black comedy playing on human’s natural level of greed.

And maybe a bit of the old family issues, just for good measure.  It just wouldn’t be a Decalogue film without a little bit of familial tension.

Throughout Ten, you can see the Kieslowski is trying to lighten the mood a little bit after dragging our souls through the pits of the human experience.  This really shows in the presentation this time around.  There’s brightness in the photography that has been largely missing in the other films as the story hops from location to location.  Rather than a dark journey into possible infidelity (such as in Three), we have a relatively lighthearted romp around town with two greedy brothers.  Even the soundtrack gets into the spirit, inject a bit of the Polish punk rock scene in the beginning, and mixing in some lighthearted string music towards the end.

The brothers are Artur (Zbigniew Zamachowski) and Jerzy (Jerzy Stuhr), who have just received word that their father has died.  This doesn’t really cause any of them any stress, as they weren’t really fond of the old guy, and both of them wonder what they can get out of his death.  There wasn’t a will, so they go off to his apartment to see what they can find.  Already they are coveting the possibility of goods, instead of anything that they already own.

Artur and Jerzy are two of the best characters created for The Decalogue.  They feel like robust, full personalities instead of a cad collection of traits that pass as a person in a few of the other films.  Part of it has to do with their relationship.  There is hardly a scene that goes by without the two of them together, and the warmth that they feel for each other resonates in the performances.  But what good would these performances be without a solid hook?  Still great, but Kieslowski has a very fun plot in store for these two.

What waits in the apartment is a thick layer of dirt, and a book of stamps that will serve as this films McGuffin.  Neither brother is knowledgeable when it comes to stamps, and they kind of resented their father for cherishing the collection so much, so it’s strange that they hesitate when a stranger comes to try and get the stamps for “owed money”.  The stamps, which didn’t have value previously, now have some kind of worth to Artur simply because someone else wants them.  After all, they can’t be worthless if someone else wants the stamps as payment.

Jerzy, on the other hand, doesn’t covet the stamps so much and gives them to his son.  This causes him a lot of stress when Artur finds out that they are worth a lot of money, and they begin their long trek to track down the stamps and protect the little squares until they can be sold.

This is where Kieslowski begins to have a lot of fun with the greed of the two brothers.  They’re relying on information regarding the wealth possibilities of something that has little functional value, and take staggering steps to protect this.  They undergo physical harm, financial loss, theft, and humiliation because they want the money.

In the end, Artur is hurt, Jerzy is missing a kidney, they are up in possession one dog and an alarm system, and that has done them no good to prevent the theft of their beloved stamps.  They took all those steps to protect something that they didn’t even know the real value of, and now they’re financially in the hole because of their greed.

In Ten, the characters actually seem to learn something when the credits roll.  Denied their fortune, Jerzy and Artur walk the streets to see that there’s a collection of other folks that suddenly look very well to do.  All the brothers can do is laugh (while, presumably, nursing the scars of a recent kidney donation).  This is funny considering how this ends compared to the other films in the series.   We actually get what passes as a "happy" ending, with nary an ambiguity in sight.

All of the Decalogue films seem to show how the rules of The Ten Commandments have managed to affect modern morality, regardless of whether you are religious or not.  The reverse case is presented here.  We are shown a scenario where the Commandment is broken repeatedly by every single character in the film.  The shady stamp collector wants the collection, the son wants the stamps, the brothers want the wealth, a daughter wants a kidney, a man wants his daughter to live – regardless of reasoning or justification everyone wants something.

No one feels bad at all.  After all of the heavy decisions weighing in on the characters every action, we finally have a series of people that sin because it doesn’t hurt anyone but themselves.  Does it really exist as a sin or even a moral slight at this point to covet someone else’s property the way they do?

And they act so crazy to get it!  Just the possibility of wealth is enough to give Jerzy cause to donate his kidney, and he doesn’t even have any confirmation that he will actually get the stamp once the deal is done.  Greed causes everyone to act in insane ways, and maybe it’s only when we’ve donated a part of ourselves for some kind of wealth that doesn’t exist can we learn that lesson.

You see, it’s funny!

So off we go, peddling little schemes in the hopes of obtaining other items that we don’t have and wish we did.  This is why Kieslowski plays this one in a lighthearted tone as opposed to the others.  He’s investigating the things that we do to ourselves in order to get the things that we want, not the things that we do to others.  The only people that are harmed over the course of Ten are Jerzy and Artur, if anything their coveting ends up benefitting almost everyone that they come in contact with.

It was right of Kieslowski to end the series on an attempted note of humor instead or more depression.  Ten isn’t laugh out loud funny, but observant in the way that looks at our silly behavior and the steps we take to get what we want.  Not all human nature is going to be based around hurting other people to fulfill our selfish desires.  Sometimes that selfishness is going to look pretty damn funny to an outsider, and Kieslowski decides to acknowledge that.

Some days, you’ve just gotta sit back and marvel at how stupid you act sometimes.  It’s nice to see this reflection in Kieslowski’s work.

That’s all for The Decalogue folks.  If you’re finishing up the series, I’ll be picking up my next feature set, Tarr-tastic Tuesdays (not the final title) as I go through every film by Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr.  He’s the best living filmmaker still working, so it’ll be a hoot.  If you’re just starting, give the others below looksie.  Maybe you’ll find a different way of looking at these magnificent films.

Until next time - when we’ve moved from an apartment complex in Poland to…an apartment complex in Hungary.  Guess things don’t change that much.

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”
Five “Thou shalt not kill.”
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.”

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Decalogue: Ten (1988)

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz.
Starring Zbigniew Zamachowski and Jerzy Stuhr.

Posted by Andrew

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