BBC2 this week screens the full version of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Dekalog. Shot in 1988, it offers valuable insights into Polish life at the tail-end of Communist rule. Trevor Johnston finds it is also a film milestone.
Given the recent history ofwhat used to be the Eastern Bloc, 1988, the year in which Krzysztof Kieslowski shot his Dekalog for Polish television now seems an age away. Governments. attitudes, boundaries, have all been pitched into turmoil upon turmoil. The old certainties have been blown away to be replaced by a new dawn of hope, clouded by an insecure immediate future.
Kieslowski’s set ofdramas (the Polish title translates as The Ten Commandments) is sure to stand as the prime visual document of this period, when halfof Europe asked itselfa series of tough questions and was found wanting for not a few of the answers. With each of the ten episodes taking its title from a different tablet ofstone, the Dekalog’s framework might at first seem dogmatic but, paradoxically, what makes it a film milestone is the generous open-mindedness of its conception v and its compassionate execution.
‘I don’t want to influence what people think or do.’ Kieslowski has written. ‘because I don‘t know
the answers. We are not the engineers ofhuman souls, and to pretend we have an influence would be ridiculous. I make films because I want to talk to people, to have a chat.’
BBCZ‘s forthcoming repeat screening of the entire work on consecutive evenings provides a welcome opportunity for viewers to catch up on what has been dubbed ‘unquestionably the finest achievement in European cinema since Heimat‘ but which has proved a problem for cinema programmers to thread into busy arthouse schedules.
Although made for TV, the material warrants the impact and depth that the big screen offers, but as all the separate parts are set in and around a fairly grotty Warsaw housing estate, there’s something to be said for the intimacy and immediacy of the box in the corner of your living room. Either way, Kieslowski’s moral conundrums are haunting and thought-provoking long after the end credits roll. Honour Thy Father And Thy Mother presents a compelling truth or
dare game between dad and daughter; Thou Shalt
Henryk Berenowsklend Wolclech ' . . lnthetirstlilm
' Not Bear False Witness recounts the heartrending
tale of a Jewish child who can gain sanctuary from the Nazis only if a Catholic couple renounce their vows and come up with a false baptismal certiﬁcate for her. The second instalment, Thou Shalt Not Take The Name Of The Lord Thy God In Vain, centres on the dilemma of a consultant whose verdict on a dying patient will prompt the man's unfaithful wife to terminate or continue her pregnancy. '
‘For 6000 years these rules have been unquestionably right,’ states Kieslowski, whose acclaimed The Double Life Of Veronique gets a UK release next year, ‘and yet we break them every day. We know what we should do, yet we fail to live as we should. People feel that something is wrong in life. There is some kind of atmosphere that makes people now turn to other values. They want to contemplate the basic questions of life , and that is probably the real reason for wanting to tell these stories.‘
Dekalog begins on BBC2 on Sunday 8 December at 11.05pm and continues on consecutive nights.
The boldest profession
When George Bernard Shaw's Mrs Warren's Profession was lirst published in 1894, the authorities wasted no time in banning it. Now, in the days at kerb-crawling DPPs, the play can be shown without too much concern iorthe consequences. BBC2 is broadcasting an adapted version at the production which appeared at The Cltlzens' Theatre in Glasgow as part at the 1990 celebrations. In spite ol the changed moral climate, Ann Mitchell, who plays Mrs Warren, leels that
Debra Gillett and Ann Mitchell as Vivie and Mrs Mitchell
Shaw’s play is as relevant today as it
‘it’s an incredibly modern piece, still,’ says Mitchell. ‘I think thatthe issues that were applicable then are very much applicable for women today; the whole idea oi economic independence lor instance, that Mrs Warren is very keen to be tree and not to rely on anyone economically.‘
The play centres on the relationship between Mrs Warren and her daughter, Vivie, and addresses not only the discovery that your mother's protession is whoring but also more ; everyday issues such as the pressure which parents’ ambition puts on their oil-spring. In Giles Havergal’s production, there is none oi the opulent : grandeur which is usually associated ' 4' with Shaw plays. The actors never leave the bare stage and, in this TV ' 8802 on Saturday 14 December at version, there will be no attempt to I
hide the workings ol the studio - cameras, microphones and all will be in lull view. This otters an interesting contrast to the closeted world in which the play is set.
‘it was all behind the curtains and hidden,’ explains Mitchell, “and everybody colluded to keep it a secret. Now it’s very hard to keep that kind at thing quiet and we no longer have a situation where poor people are punished and the rich protect themselves. But I think we’ll always be shocked by a woman openly, and without guilt, saying that she makes her money through sex. The main dilterence is that because ol publicity and media these days, it’s very hard lor people to lead such secret lives as they once did.’ (Philip Parr)
Mrs Warren's Prolesslon will be on
ON FOLLOWING PAGES: PRINCE O REPORTAGE 0 TV REVIEW 0 VIDEOS
The List 6— 19 December 1991 73