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Dekalog and Other Television Works
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • 1.66:1 Widescreen
  • 1.66:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Polish Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • Polish PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 10 Discs
FEATURES
  • Region B, 1080i/50hz
  • All ten episodes of Dekalog plus the television films Pedestrian Subway, First Love, Personnel, The Calm, and Short Working Day
  • Krzysztof Kieslowski: Still Alive (2007), an affectionate 82-minute portrait of the director by his former student Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, including interviews with dozens of friends and colleagues
  • Visual essay by Michael Brooke about Kieslowski's television work
  • Interview with Tony Rayns about Dekalog
  • Audio interview with Kieslowski recorded at the National Film Theatre in 1990
  • Re-release trailer
  • Collector’s booklet featuring a lengthy essay on Dekalog and Kie?lowski by Father Marek Lis, plus Kie?lowski’s own intensely self-critical discussion of all the films in this set and Stanley Kubrick’s famous eulogy to Kie?lowski and co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz

Dekalog and Other Television Works

Dual-Format Edition
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Krzysztof Kieslowski
1988 | 561 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: £64.99 | Series: Arrow Academy
MVD Visual

Release Date: October 31, 2016
Review Date: November 29, 2016

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amazon.co.uk

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SYNOPSIS

When Krzysztof Kieslowski began production on a ten-part Polish television series whose budget was so low that he could only afford two takes maximum, nobody foresaw that the end result would be acclaimed as one of the greatest cinema achievements of the late twentieth century.

But that’s what Dekalog is: as much an intricate work of moral philosophy as it is a collection of psychologically riveting narratives. Each standalone story revolves around the consequences arising from a breach of one of the Ten Commandments, but this is no finger-wagging religious tract: Kie?lowski was one of film history’s keenest observers of human nature, and his troubled, vainglorious, self-deceiving, deeply flawed characters (many played by some of Poland’s finest character actors) are all too universally recognisable.

But Dekalog is merely the highlight of a box set that compiles virtually all of Kieslowski’s television work, starting with his first professional short fiction film and continuing with four feature-length pieces that are in every way as probing and incisive as his better-known cinema films.


PICTURE

With their new box set Dekalog and Other Television Works, Arrow presents Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 10-part film series Dekalog, along with some of his earlier television works, including Pedestrian Subway, First Love, Personnel, The Calm, and Short Working Day. Parts 1 through 4 and parts 7 through 10 of Dekalog are presented in the aspect ratio of around 1.39:1 (a bit wider than Criterion’s 1.33:1 presentation), while episodes 5 and 6 are presented in the ratio of 1.66:1. Pedestrian Subway is presented in the ratio of 1.78:1 (which I admittedly found odd since it’s a television film, though I assume this is just how the master is) while the other films all come in a ratio of about 1.33:1. The films have been spread over 5 dual-layer discs. The discs are all Region B locked and North American viewers will require Blu-ray players that can play back region B content. Also of note, all of the films are also presented at the resolution of 1080i/50hz (to accommodate the original 25fps European broadcasts), so North American viewers will also require equipment that can either handle or properly convert the 50hz signal. My player converted the output to 60hz and I was unable to detect any artifacts or problems because of this.

Since Arrow is using the same 4K restoration that Criterion used for their release it’s not a surprise that the general look of the Dekalog films appear to be about the same in terms of colour, restoration work, and all of that. One area it definitely improves upon is compression. In a wise move on Arrow’s part they have spread the ten roughly 1-hour episodes of Dekalog across all five discs, rather than shoving them on as few as possible like Criterion did, who oddly compressed them onto the first two discs of their 4-disc set. In Arrow’s case that means each disc holds two of the films, allowing them to breathe a bit more, and the improvement is noticeable. The biggest enhancement is grain management which looks far more natural here. Criterion’s presentation wasn’t as distinct and there were times where grain could look noisy when it did make itself evident. Fine object details also look a bit crisper and more distinct, and all of this lends it a more film-like look in comparison to the Criterion presentation. In no way is Criterion’s image awful, in fact I would still say it still looks good, but Arrow’s is just noticeably sharper

The one other, fairly big improvement are the black levels. Criterion’s black levels were a bit off, looking more grayish than black. The image looked a little off and crushing was a bit of problem. This was apparently a problem inherent in the masters Criterion was provided. Though shadow detail isn’t that much better Arrow has at least adjusted the blacks to come off a bit deeper and amazingly this probably offers the biggest upgrade over the Criterion as the balance between the darker and brighter areas of the screen looks cleaner.

Another difference between the Criterion is that Arrow presents the series at its originally broadcast framerate of 25fps, as opposed to Criterion’s 24fps (Criterion had no real choice here since most North American players and televisions can’t natively handle 25fps in a decent way. This is also fine since the films were actually screened theatrically at 24fps). For me the frame rate difference is negligible and I couldn’t really detect a difference. The only advantage with this release I would say (other than the possible audio improvement, which I admit I wouldn’t be able to detect anyways) is that you’ll get through the 10 films 24-minutes or so quicker, so maybe it will better fit your schedule.

As mentioned prior the aspect ratio is slightly wider on this release as well at 1.39:1. Without any direct comparisons I can’t say I noticed a real difference in framing and thought this way looked fine. In terms of restoration the two releases do look the same in this regard: I don’t recall a single flaw and all 10 films look beautiful.

The other films on the set vary wildly, though over all I can’t say any of them look too bad. Pedestrian Subway and Short Working Day are sourced from high-definition masters, while the other three films come from standard-definition masters and have been upscaled for this release.

The standard-def upscales may be a bit of a disappointment but I’ll say they actually don’t look too bad here. No, they don’t look particularly filmic, and grain management can be a bit muddled with weak definition, but they don’t come off as compressed messes and it begins to be easy to overlook the fact they’re not high-def as you get into the films. The biggest weakness is just the source materials themselves, which don’t look to have had much restoration work done, if any: there are plenty of scratches, marks, jumps, and so on. Colours are weak, though I blame this more on the source. But as standard-def upscales go they don’t look all that bad.

The high-def presentations of Pedestrian Subway and Short Working Day do look noticeably better than the upscalse. The limitations here are, again, source materials since it doesn’t look like much restoration work has gone into these: yet again there are plenty of marks, scratches and more, and they’re fairly consistent and heavier during Pedestrian Subway. Grain management looks good in both, though Short Working Day’s isn’t as sharp or as distinct. Black levels and contrast look good in both, with gray tones looking strong in the black and white Subway and colours looking decent, if a bit washed, in Day.

All things considered, I’m still pretty impressed with how the five television films have come out. Yeah, they’re open to improvement in terms of restoration, and it’s a shame we don’t get high-def presentations of three of them, but I was still quite happy with them. Dekalog, though, looks really good, offering a slightly sharper and more filmic look in comparison to Criterion’s. It looks really sharp and I’m very happy with how Arrow has presented it here.

Pedestrian Subway/Short Working Day: 7/10, First Love/Personnel/The Calm: 6/10, Dekalog: 8/10

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AUDIO

The Dekalog films receive 1.0 PCM mono presentations while the other films get Dolby Digital mono tracks. Some people will more than likely notice a pitch difference between the Criterion and Arrow releases because of the framerate difference, but I admittedly couldn’t detect it jumping back and forth. As it is from my perspective, it sounded pretty much the same quality wise as the Criterion. All of the tracks sound good, there were no glaring problems, and both dialogue and music sounded good. Fidelity isn’t super strong, but overall I was happy with the quality.

The other films don’t provide lossless tracks but they’re fine enough. They are audible and clean enough, if flat and fairly lifeless. I didn’t detect any large issues.

Other television works: 6/10, Dekalog: 7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Arrow puts together a fairly extensive special edition, spreading supplements over the five discs. The five additional television works are probably the biggest plus for this set, offering a look at Kieslowski’s early work and his progression from documentary filmmaker to fiction films. First Love is the one flat out documentary (though, as we learn in the supplements, there were moments that were not so much staged as set up) while the others are fiction films with documentary elements looking to more capture a time and place, which I thought they all do rather well, especially Short Working Day, which Kieslowski apparently disavowed but I thought was quite fascinating.

The remaining supplements then offer a rather extensive overview of the man and these television works, starting with the 2006 documentary Still Alive found on the first disc along with Dekalog episodes one and two, and Pedestrian Subway. The 81-minute documentary isn’t too different from most biographical documentaries in terms of structure, though thanks to its interviews with various colleagues, friends, and even former students it has a very personal and intimate feel to it. It goes through his period at film school and then his documentary filmmaking days and then to his eventual theatrical films. It covers a number of his films, but does spend probably the most time on Dekalog, also going over some of the reservations many, including Kieslowski, had around the film. There’s also a look at how his films capture certain times and political climates even if they’re not necessarily political themselves, along with how he was treated in his home country and in the West. I was fairly impressed with the feature, as it’s surprisingly breezy and able to cover a lot of material in what is a fairly brief time.

The second disc (which contains episodes three and four of Dekalog along with First Love) features a new video essay by Michael Brooke called KKTV. This incredibly dense crash course on Kieslowski’s early television work—from 1972 up through 1981’s Short Working Day—not only covers the films in this set but his other output during that time period (even ones that may no longer exist in any form). Brooke gives context to the films by talking a bit about the political climate behind each film and offering backstories about the production where appropriate. He also talks about how certain themes from these films would find their way into his other works, including his feature films. Mixed with various clips from his films and some fascinating background to Polish television productions it’s an invaluable resource, especially for newcomers. It runs 75-minutes.

Disc three (which features Dekalog episodes five and six, and Personnel) includes a new interview with Tony Rayns, who talks specifically about Dekalog. It’s a less showy talking-heads piece in comparison to the previous feature, which used more visual aids I would say, but Rayns keeps it interesting, digging into its production history from its original inception (Kieslowski originally envisioned each episode being directed by different up-and-coming filmmakers) to its somewhat twisty path in getting financing (which led to the two feature film versions A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, both missing from this set since Arrow couldn’t obtain the rights), and then its actual filming. He then talks about the episodes in relation to the Ten Commandments, with the films really just using them as a sort of jumping off point to examine various moral dilemmas—their connections are otherwise loose. He also talks at great length about episode eight and its presentation of Poland’s “wartime guilt” and then looks at how the films are structured to help keep the audience’s attention over the ten weeks the episodes would be broadcast. When I saw the piece was 78-minutes long I admittedly wasn’t looking forward to going through it. I like Rayns—and his 4-hour audio commentary for Criterion’s A Brighter Summer Day is really friggin’ awesome—but a 78-minutes talking-head on Dekalog didn’t sound too exciting. I did enjoy it quite a bit I’m happy to say, and he impressively keeps it all interesting and packs this feature full of great analysis without it coming off stuffy.

The fourth disc (featuring episodes seven and eight of Dekalog and then the television film The Calm) features 93-minutes of audio from a Q&A session at the National Film Theatre, featuring Kieslowski talking to Derek Malcolm while also taking question from the audience (both through Kieslowski’s translator). A more truncated version of this discussion (23-minutes) was also included on the Criterion edition. If I recall correctly Criterion includes the opening and then cuts right to the section where Kieslowski talks about the longer film versions of episodes five and six and then how the Dekalog was received in Poland in comparison to the rest of the world (not as well). That’s all here as well but we also get some more details about the inception of the project and comments on the influences of other films (or as Kieslowski jokes, you “steal” from the good films, like Rear Window and then when you get caught, pass it off as “influence”). He then starts taking audience questions, which are hard to hear but Arrow thankfully includes subtitles for the questions. There are actually a number of good questions, which manage to get Kieslowski’s thoughts on some of his favourite films, Kes being a big favourite of his, and then his own personal comments on documentary and fiction filmmaking. Arrow also presents it over scenes from the film that appear to be in a loop, though in a nice bit of editing we occasionally get scenes from the films being referenced in the conversation. It’s a terrific discussion, and I like that we get a bit more of Kieslowski’s humour here since a lot of it was edited out of Criterion’s presentation of this same discussion; he has a great dry wit.

Disc five (featuring Dekalog episodes nine and ten, and Short Working Day) closes the set off with Arrow’s own rerelease trailer for Dekalog. The set also includes a book featuring an essay on the film by Father Marek Lis, Kieslowski’s own writings about the films in the set, and director Stanley Kubrick’s eulogy to Kieslowski. I received test copies of the set and didn’t get the book. I forgot to request a PDF copy in a timely manner (so yeah, my fault) but when I receive that I will come back to this and update with more details. Like most Arrow releases I suspect the book adds a lot of value to this set.

It’s a pretty exhaustive set as a whole and I love what Arrow has put together here. Yes, it would have been great if Arrow, like Criterion, could have included the two feature length films, A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, but then maybe it was a good thing they’re not here because that does seem to have forced Arrow into a different direction. Where Criterion’s release stayed pretty focused on Dekalog I love how this set expands out and offers a fairly comprehensive overview of his television work, even including five of his earlier ones for your viewing pleasure. In the end I was just as happy with the features here as I was with Criterion’s and what’s even better is that there really isn’t a lot of overlap. An impressive collection of material.

9/10

CLOSING

Arrow has put together a terrific set and I feel it does rival Criterion’s own release. But if I were forced to choose which one to go with? That is admittedly tough. For overall value? I like that Criterion’s includes the two theatrical films, but then I like that Arrow’s includes the five television films. I like Criterion’s new interviews and archival material that all focus on Dekalog, but then I also like that Arrow’s set focuses on Kieslowski’s television work as a whole, Brooke’s essay delving deep into this area. It’s a tough call as they’re both nice sets that each have their own advantages, and since the features don’t overlap much at all one could really get both sets and be happy. But based solely on presentation I would say the Arrow release is the better one. The transfers for all ten parts of Dekalog come off cleaner and more filmic in the end, benefitting from being spread over the five discs.

Either way, Arrow has put together an impressive box set. It is one of my favourite releases this year.




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