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Film preview: "The Decalogue"


Each year, the Rochester Polish Film Festival kicks off with a series of screenings focusing on a few selected classics of Polish cinema. (A second part, featuring a lineup of contemporary films, traditionally begins in early November.) This year, Part I of the festival will be devoted entirely to "The Decalogue," the masterful, epic, 10-part miniseries from director Krzysztof Kieślowski ("The Three Colors Trilogy"), inspired by the Ten Commandments.

Created by Kieślowski along with co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz, the series was originally made for Polish television in the late 1980's, and presented in 10 one-hour films (the Dryden will show them in pairs), each based loosely around one of the commandments. Kieślowski directed each story, and worked with a different cinematographer for each installment, giving every episode its own subtly distinctive look. Though each of the stories are self-contained, they all focus on residents of the same Warsaw apartment complex, with characters from one tale sometimes popping up in the background of another.

Far from a dry examination of religious dogma, Kieślowski and Piesiewicz ask us to consider how these basic societal guidelines inform our everyday lives, as each of their characters face some rather difficult ethical questions. The Dryden Theatre program elaborates: "Although the films explore moral questions, they do so in the context of lives of a modern, generally areligious, urban populace. The films do not pretend to provide answers, but to present questions."

In "Decalogue Two," a woman waits to find out from the doctor whether her critically ill husband will live or die -- she's pregnant with another man's child, and the answer will determine whether she chooses to have an abortion. "Decalogue Five" revolves around a young attorney, vehemently opposed to the death penalty, who finds himself trying the case of a seemingly amoral killer. In "Decalogue One," a father and his son put their faith in a computer that can calculate when the ice on a nearby pond will be safe enough to skate on. Each new story presents new ambiguities, and nothing is ever as simple as black and white. Taken cumulatively, the 10 films offer a rich, often moving portrait of humanity in all its beauty and complexity.

The Rochester Polish Film Festival screens "The Decalogue" beginning Thursday, September 29, at 8 p.m., with "Decalogue One & Two," and the series continues every Thursday through October 27. Tickets can be purchased at the Dryden box office before each screening. General admission is $8, $6 for members, and $4 for students.

Part II of the film festival begins on November 2 with "11 Minutes," from director Jerzy Skolimowski.