Dekalog (1989)

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Released 8-Jun-2010

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Featurette-I'm So-So (55 min Documentary)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1989
Running Time 555:39 (Case: 616)
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered
Multi Disc Set (4)
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Krzysztof Kieslowski

Umbrella Entertainment
Starring Artur Barcis
Olgierd Lukaszewicz
Olaf Lubaszenko
Piotr Machalica
Jan Tesarz
Katarzyna Piwowarczyk
Henryk Baranowski
Krystyna Janda
Aleksander Bardini
Stanislaw Gawlik
Krzysztof Kumor
Maciej Szary
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $49.95 Music Zbigniew Preisner

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown Polish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.29:1
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English (Burned In) Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

“I have one really good characteristic: I'm a pessimist”
Krzysztof Kieslowski

     Since his tragic and untimely death in 1996, the films of Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski have become even more relevant and profound. The philosophical themes and methods in Kieslowski's work are universally studied in film schools and universities, finding appreciation with scholars and cinema audiences alike. Ironically, in the early 1960's his own application for enrolment at the Lódz Film School was rejected twice (he was accepted on the third attempt). This renowned film school also gave cinematic grounding to the likes of Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polanski.

     Like many filmmakers, Kieslowski began his career in the theatre before moving onto documentaries. In 1975 he made his first feature length film, a tele-movie called Personnel, using a familiar documentary style. Kieslowski went on to create an impeccable body of work over the course of his short career. It’s rather ironic that one of Krzysztof Kieslowski's most eminent films was actually made for Polish television in 1988.

     Dekalog or The Decalogue as it is also known, is a ten-part anthology of films which is globally regarded as a true masterpiece of filmmaking. At the time of writing this review, it has an incredible rating of 9.2 on The Internet Movie Database.

     Dekalog consists of ten, fifty-five minute films, each with a theme representing one of the biblical Ten Commandments. The stories revolve around the lives of ordinary people living in a large apartment complex in Warsaw. Each film has been meticulously crafted, examining the complexities of human relationships and the fragility of life. It was beautifully shot on 16mm and cost the small sum of $100,000 to produce. While each film is a stand alone piece, Kieslowski and co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz converge incidental moments with certain characters, creating a desecrate link in their lives. This is a trait that Kieslowski loved to explore in his work.

     In the same year of Dekalog, Kieslowski expanded Dekalog V and VI into feature films. A Short Film about Killing and A Short Film about Love were produced directly from these two Dekalog films respectively. Both films won wide international acclaim, with A Short Film about Killing winning two awards at Cannes that same year. A plan to expand Dekalog IX into A Short Film about Jealousy never eventuated.

     Krzysztof Kieslowski was an undisputed master filmmaker who was openly admired and respected by the likes of Stanley Kubrick. In 1994 at the completion of Three Colours: Red (the third film in his Three Colours Trilogy), Kieslowski shocked the cinematic world when he announced his retirement from filmmaking. Ironically he was planning a return when he died tragically after open-heart surgery in 1996. He was just 54 years of age.

     Dekalog has been available on DVD in other countries for many years, so it's pleasing to finally get a local release. This Umbrella edition features all ten films contained across four discs. I believe it's best to know as little as possible about each film before viewing them. With that in mind, I have listed each film in chronological order with its corresponding commandment, but have left out a synopsis. Enjoy.

     Disc One:

     Dekalog I - "Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me" (52:23)

     Dekalog II - " Thou Shalt Not Take The Lord's Name In Vain" (56:03)

     Dekalog III - " Thou Shalt Remember The Sabbath And Keep It Holy" (55:15)

     Disc Two:

     Dekalog IV - "Thou Shalt Honor Thy Father And Mother" (54:50)

     Dekalog V - "Thou Shalt Not Kill" (56:10)

     Disc Three:

     Dekalog VI - "Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery" (58:12)

     Dekalog VII - "Thou Shalt Not Steal" (54:41)

     Dekalog VIII - "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness" (53:26)

     Disc Four:

     Dekalog IX - "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour's Wife" (57:43)

     Dekalog X - "Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbour's Goods" (56:56)

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


     Dekalog is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.30:1 and is not 16x9 enhanced. This is extremely close to the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Given the origins of the source material, I was a little concerned about how this would look on DVD. All things considered though, the image has come up pretty good. The image however, isn't consistent across all ten films. Dekalog IV, V and VI have an inferior image in comparison to the previous three and last four films. These three films have a VHS-like quality, which is disappointing for the overall presentation. This also seems to be a familiar issue with DVD editions of Dekalog from other regions. The UK Artificial Eye release reports a similar image downgrade in Dekalog V and VI. This is a rather strange element when you consider the individual DVD releases of A Short Film about Killing and A Short Film about Love both have decent image quality. It is important to realise however that Kieslowski never intended to have a vibrant image in Dekalog. The sombre ambience is generally well reflected in the transfer with a balance of moderate sharpness and film grain. With that in mind, blacks and shadow detail was generally fine and consistent throughout. With the social and artistic importance of Dekalog, I would expect that a full restoration will be done on at some stage in the future - here's hoping.

     Another important and consistent aspect of Dekalog is the subdued colour palette. Kieslowski uses a similar palette in most of his films and with great purpose. The soft palette is an essential element in portraying the environment, both on a physical and emotional level. Colour quality was consistent with the overall transfer and didn't present any serious issues. As previously mentioned though, colour detail was quite poor in Dekalog V - this is a film in which Kieslowski used green filters to further mute and limit colour.

     I didn't notice any MPEG artefacts in the transfer. Film-to-video artefacts were not overly problematic. The odd instance of minor aliasing and telecine wobble was evident on occasion. Thankfully though, these were infrequent. Unobtrusive reel change markings were also evident every twenty-minutes or so. Film artefacts were also noticed and mainly consisted of the occasional small scratch or speckle of dirt. Overall though, film artefacts were not at all problematic.

     The only available subtitles are in English. They are easily legible in white and are burned into the print.

     Three of the four discs in this edition are DVD 9, dual layer discs. The layer change on disc one occurs during Dekalog II at 33:38. The second disc is a DVD 5, so there is no layer change. The third and fourth discs are DVD 9. The layer change on disc three is well placed and occurs during Dekalog VII at 26:08. The layer change on disc four is also well placed and occurs at 29:43 during Dekalog X.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     There is only one audio track on this edition of Dekalog; Polish Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (224Kb/s). This is faithful to the original audio track.

     Although I have no comprehension of the Polish language, there didn't seem to be any issues with dialogue. Likewise, audio sync appeared to be accurate throughout all films. The occasional, insignificant audio pop was evident in the audio track.

     The original music in Dekalog is credited to Zbigniew Preisner. He uses music on a minimal scale here, but his score for Dekalog is beautifully effective. Zbigniew has written many scores for Kieslowski's films.

     The surround channels and the subwoofer weren't used.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



     The menu on each disc is static, but features a sample of Zbigniew Preisner's music.

Featurette Documentary - I'm So-So (55:21)

     This excellent documentary was filmed in May 1995 - nearly a year before Kieslowski's tragic death. The film was made by Kieslowski's assistant director, Krzysztof Wierzbicki and it gives some insight into the life and mind of the late master. Kieskowski discusses his life and work with genuine candidness. He even tells Wierzbicki at the beginning of the documentary that he will open up to him because they are long-time friends. The film also highlights many of Kieslowski's films including, Taking Heads, The Scar, Dekalog, Camera Buff, Blind Chance and Three Colours: Red.

     I'm So-So is still available on DVD in other countries in its own right, which makes it a truly significant inclusion in this edition of Dekalog. A few years ago, Umbrella also included I'm So-So on disc five of their now out-of-print Kieslowski Collection.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     As I mentioned earlier, there are a few DVD editions of Dekalog available around the world. For the purpose of comparison, I will highlight the US and UK sets.

     The Region 1 remastered edition by Facets Video was released in August 2003. It is a three disc set, containing all ten films and a few extras. The extras consist of an interview with film critic, Roger Ebert, short featurettes - "On the Set of The Decalogue", "Kieslowski Meets the Press" and "Kieslowski Known and Unknown. This set also includes a booklet.

     The Region 2 edition by Artificial Eye is in two separate two-disc editions. These were both released in May 2002. The first set contains the Dekalog films, I - IV and the second set, V - X. The first set includes minor extras - director biography and filmography. The second set features a brief interview with Krzysztof Kieslowski.

     The Umbrella edition seems to mirror the Artificial Eye sets in terms of transfers. The Umbrella set also comes up trumps in the extras department with the inclusion of the excellent I'm So-So documentary. All things considered, there seems no reason to look past this four-disc edition from Umbrella Entertainment.


     The late Krzysztof Kieslowski has a left a body of work which will remain pertinent and timeless. A gleaming example of this is Dekalog. This anthology of ten short films is an undisputed masterpiece from one of the world's most brilliant filmmakers. If you're a lover of world cinema, this is an essential addition to your collection.

     With the exception of Dekalog IV, V and VI, the image quality is reasonably good. The image reflects the condition of the source material, rather than the merit of the video transfer. This element seems consistent with other DVD editions. The audio transfer is faithful to the original source.

     The fascinating documentary, I'm So-So, is an outstanding inclusion and complements the presentation.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Steve Crawford (Tip toe through my bio)
Thursday, October 07, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDPanasonic DMP-BD35 Blu Ray Player, using HDMI output
DisplayHitachi 106cm Plasma Display 42PD5000MA (1024x1024). Calibrated with THX Optimizer. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080i.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with THX Optimizer.
AmplificationPanasonic SA-HE70 80W Dolby Digital and DTS
SpeakersFronts: Jensen SPX7 Rears: Jensen SPX4 Centre: Jensen SPX13 Subwoofer: Jensen SPX17

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