August 23, 2003 [The Decalogue]

Before sitting down to write about The Decalogue, I had to hunt up a copy of one of several short story anthologies I have lying around, most of them cheap paperbacks filled with famous public domain tales, some of them going back to Washington Irving and Hawthorne, some of them genre-based--all of them yellowing and frayed, smelling like the sawdusty earth of a lumber mill.

And inside, Ring Lardner waits, and "Saki" and Sherwood Anderson and Steinbeck and Gogol and the Jameses Joyce and Thurber, Katherine Mansfield and Sarah Orne Jewett, Sinclair Lewis and James Baldwin--all of them equally alive and distant, speaking quietly of things that still matter, that seem as elusive as Kipling's "Them" or the first time someone brought out the black box for Shirley Jackson's lottery--but whose whispers are still clear, like far-off sounds when a light snow falls.

Watching Kieslowski's ten films fifteen years after they first aired in Poland felt like that, down to the slight grain of the images, the murmur of the Polish voices, the plots like blankets pulled from the closet and quietly unfolded, the quilted pattern soft, sometimes indistinct--but symmetrical, so that I can see the shapes and their opposites on the other side, both lying along the lengths of the beds each character makes, for him- or herself or another, little epiphanies as all good short stories must have, even if the light extends not quite far enough for me to see everything. It's enough that I spot the ovals of the faces, like Ezra Pound's "petals on a wet, black bough," the flowers dying but sticking for a while in suddenly profound contrast, the moral weight great but as common as "faces in the crowd."


  1. This has been on my list to watch for more than a decade now. I own the Three Colors trilogy and was especially moved by Rouge, which prompted me to seek out Decalogue in a time before Netflix and from stores that had never heard of it. Eventually, I veered toward hundreds of other films, never setting aside the time to watch Decalogue. I really must get on that.

  2. Yes, Aaron, it's quite an achievement. Try not to watch too many at once! They have their own moods and rhythms.


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