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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.33:1 Standard
  • Polish PCM Mono
  • English subtitles
  • 4 Discs
FEATURES
  • Selection of archival interviews with director Krzysztof Kieslowski, culled from footage from the 1987 production of Dekalog: Two, excerpts from the 1995 documentary A Short Film About “Dekalog,” and a 1990 audio recording from the National Film Theatre in London
  • New program on the visual rhyming of Dekalog by film studies professor Annette Insdorf
  • New and archival interviews with Dekalog cast and crew, including cowriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz, thirteen actors, three cinematographers, editor Ewa Smal, and Kie?lowski’s confidante Hanna Krall
  • Trailers
  • A booklet featuring an essay and film analyses by film scholar Paul Coates and excerpted reprints from Kie?lowski on Kie?lowski
  • New high-definition digital restorations of A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, with uncompressed monaural soundtracks on the Blu-rays

Dekalog

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Krzysztof Kieslowski
1989 | 572 Minutes | Licensor: Janus Films

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $99.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #837
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: September 27, 2016
Review Date: October 11, 2016

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SYNOPSIS

This masterwork by Krzysztof Kie?lowski is one of the twentieth century’s greatest achievements in visual storytelling. Originally made for Polish television, Dekalog focuses on the residents of a housing complex in late-Communist Poland, whose lives become subtly intertwined as they face emotional dilemmas that are at once deeply personal and universally human. Using the Ten Commandments for thematic inspiration and an overarching structure, Dekalog’s ten hour-long films deftly grapple with complex moral and existential questions concerning life, death, love, hate, truth, and the passage of time. Shot by nine different cinematographers, with stirring music by Zbigniew Preisner and compelling performances from established and unknown actors alike, Dekalog arrestingly explores the unknowable forces that shape our lives. Also presented are the longer theatrical versions of Dekalog’s fifth and sixth films: A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love.


PICTURE

The Criterion Collection presents a new 4-disc box set featuring all 10 films in Krzysztof Kie?lowski’s Dekalog, including the respective longer versions of Dekalog: Five and Dekalog: Six, A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love. Five, Six and the two feature length films are presented in the aspect ratio of about 1.70:1, while the remaining films in the Dekalog series are presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The 10 shorter films, each about an hour in length, are spread out over the first two dual-layer discs. The feature films are presented together on the third dual-layer disc. All of the films are presented in 1080p/24hz and come from new restorations taken from 4K scans of the original negatives.

Criterion has made the questionable decision to condense the ten films of Dekalog, around 10 hours of material, onto two discs instead of spreading them out between the four discs in the set, which allows less room for each film to breathe. The fear with this, of course, is the compression could get pretty bad. The good news is that it’s certainly nowhere near as bad as I would have figured, and the films all look generally good, but there’s room for improvement, and it’s possible more room for each film would have alleviated some of the minor problems that are present.

While detail and definition are generally strong, film grain is a bit weak in its rendering and there still seems to be a certain flatness to the 10 Dekalog films. What certainly doesn’t help it in this area are the black levels to the films. They are incredibly weak, coming off more like a darker gray than a pure black, and shadow detail is practically non-existent: crushing is a big issue here. A few darker scenes can come off a little noisy, though more like mosquito noise than big blocky patterns that have turned up in some of Criterion’s older presentations. The lower bitrate could have played partially into some or all of these problems, but outside of all of those things the image as a whole is still decent.

The general weakness of the 10 films becomes a bit more apparent, though, when one finally gets around to watching the two feature films, A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love. The films do differ from their Dekalog counterparts, and it’s more than just being lengthier: the films do make use of different takes in comparison to the TV versions, with Love offering a fairly different narrative, especially in its last act. The feature films look a bit more filmic, rendering their grain quite a bit better when compared to the TV versions, and detail gets a boost because of this. Black levels can still crush out details but they do look a bit stronger here, not as gray-ish. The combination of these improvements also leads to a better sense of depth, even if the filters on Killing can still limit this at times. I noticed some macroblocking in the blacks during the bar exam interview sequence in Killing, but outside of that I didn’t notice any severe other problems pop up in either film.

Would the 10-part Dekalog have benefitted from the films being spread out over all four discs? Probably. I think some of the limitations to the presentation are based on that, but even if the films are all open to improvement I still found them generally pleasing.

Feature films: 8/10, Dekalog: 7/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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Dekalog: One

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Dekalog: One

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Dekalog: Two

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Dekalog: Two

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Dekalog: Three

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Dekalog: Three

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Dekalog: Four

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Dekalog: Four

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Dekalog: Five

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Dekalog: Five

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Dekalog: Six

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Dekalog: Six

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Dekalog: Seven

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Dekalog: Seven

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Dekalog: Eight

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Dekalog: Eight

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Dekalog: Nine

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Dekalog: Nine

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Dekalog: Ten

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Dekalog: Ten

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A Short Film About Killing

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A Short Film About Killing

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A Short Film About Love

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A Short Film About Love

AUDIO

All of the films on here are presented in Polish 1.0 PCM mono. They’re clean and clear and don’t present any large problems. Still, fidelity isn’t particularly strong and voices can sound a bit flat. The score, on the other hand, does deliver some decent range.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Criterion releases an exceptionally comprehensive special edition for Dekalog. The 4-disc set not only features the 10 films in the series (originally shown on Polish television) over the first two discs, they also managed to get the rights to the two film versions, A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, presenting them on the third dual-layer disc.

A Short Film About Killing is, more or less, an extended version of the original hour-long film, though further engrains that sense of “chance” that lingers over the film (if any character did one thing different the end results probably would have been far different). The two scenes involving the killings are also a bit more graphic, certainly harder to watch, but the most interesting aspect is the fact that alternate takes are used in some scenes (some of this is covered in the special features). A Short Film About Love, on the other hand, is a very different film altogether compared to the shorter version, taking the story in a very different direction. Both films are highly regarded and are certainly deserving of their own individual releases outside of this set, so it makes their inclusion here a significant addition to this release.

The third disc closes with theatrical trailers for each film.

The remaining supplements are then all found on the fourth dual-layer disc. Criterion first gathers together a number of archival materials featuring director Krzysztof Kie?lowski talking about Dekalog. First is a 3-minute excerpt from a Polish television program filmed when Kie?lowski was filming Dekalog: Two. He gives an overview of the series, stressing that they’re individual films and not a “miniseries,” then going over its themes quickly.

More in-depth are segments from the 1995 documentary A Short Film About Dekalog, made by then-students Eileen Anipare and Jason Wood. The 20-minutes’ worth of excerpts feature Kie?lowski talking about the challenges and intent in both Dekalog and Three Colors, “adapting” the Ten Commandments and the colors of the French flag respectively to reflect the times. He clarifies his intentions with the films (and the lack of politics in the films) and also talks quite extensively about the apartment complex where the films were shot and gets into his thoughts on morality. Kie?lowski’s a great interview subject and very open but his intentions with the films. It ends up being one of the more insightful features on the release because of this.

Also included are recordings from an interview with the director conducted in 1990 at the National Film Theater. Here he talks a bit about the world acclaim the films had received (despite a cold reception in Poland) and the effect the films did have in his home country (A Short Film About Killing played a part in the abolishment of the death penalty in Poland). These excerpts don’t offer many more details about what the he was aiming to accomplish with the films themselves (that was covered well enough in the previous feature) but it’s terrific for Kie?lowski’s comments on the films’ receptions and Poland of the time. It runs 23-minutes.

Annette Insdorf next talks about the series and the two theatrical films, examining the structure, the common themes, how characters from one episode will pop up in another, and the importance of Artur Barci?’s appearance in each film. The films also link in other subtle ways, whether through the pains of characters or objects that pop up in the films. Her contribution adds a welcome scholarly ration to the supplements, even if it can be a bit stuffy. It runs 28-minutes.

Criterion then presents a number of cast and crew interviews, starting with interviews with Dekalog’s co-writer, Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Originally recorded for a 2003 Polish DVD release, this 25-minute discussion features Piesiewicz discussing each individual episode, talking about the intentions of each episode and the influences that played into their development. He also, surprisingly (for me at least since I hadn’t seen the interview before), states that episode nine was also intended to start out as a longer feature film called A Short Film About Betrayal.

Another feature from that Polish DVD collets thirteen actors to talk about the films, featuring Graz?yna Szapo?owska, Zbigniew Zapasiewicz, Krystyna Janda, Olaf Lubaszenko, Anna Polony, Maja Komorowska, Adrianna Biedrzyn?ska, Ewa B?aszczyk, Artur Barcis?, Maria Pakulnis, Teresa Marczewska, Miros?aw Baka, and Jerzy Stuhr. The 21-minute compilation features everyone, filmed separated (a few are interviewed at locations from the film) about the experience and working with Kie?lowski and building relationships with the other performers. Certain actors express some frustrations in not getting a lot of info from the director on their characters, but they all seem to have loved the experience. Unfortunately there’s a lot being spread out so we don’t really get any exhaustive insights, but it still offers a terrific overview of the production from the performers’ point-of-view.

Editor Ewa Smal talks about how she came onto the project and she goes over the unique challenges that came with the project (particularly that they had a limited amount of film to work with). She talks about Kie?lowski and his input but the conversation gets more interesting when she gets into editing the theatrical and television versions of Five and Six. Here we get some detailed comparisons and notes about the differences (right down to takes) between these versions, and she talks about the difficulties she had working on A Short Film About Killing. An engaging 16-minutes on the challenges of constructing the films.

Nine different cinematographers worked on the films and Criterion presents interviews with three of them. Recorded by Criterion, Wieslaw Zdort first talks about his work on One and his concerns about having differing looks between each film. Zdort felt he should talk to the other cinematographers but Kie?lowski obviously didn’t want similar looks so he never actually put together any meetings for the cinematographers and left each to their own devices. Zdort talks about his choices, like the glow of the green computer screen, but interestingly he talks about his fascination with the photography of A Short Film About Killing, spending quite a bit of time talking about that. Amusingly, in his short 3-minute interview found here, that film’s cinematographer, Slawomir Idziak, admits that he proposed using the heavy filters figuring Kie?lowski would loathe the idea and not want him for the film. Obviously that’s not how it worked out. Witold Adamek then appears to talk about A Short Film About Love/Six. Adamek talks about some influences (Rear Window does play into it a little bit) and also talks about the construction of the sequences in the apartments, creating the illusion of it looking as though the key apartments were across from one another (they were filmed in completely different locations). It runs over 12-minutes.

Criterion then closes off the features with a new interview with journalist and Kie?lowski collaborator Hanna Krall. She talks about first becoming aware of Kie?lowski’s work and how the two ended up becoming close friends. She did contribute quite a bit to Dekalog, sharing stories that the filmmaker would pick up and use, like the story that appears in Dekalog: Eight. She also reads from a postcard she received from Kie?lowski after she commented about how she couldn’t relate to the female characters in his Three Colors trilogy. It’s nice, very personal discussion about their friendship, adding a more personal layer to the supplements. It runs 16-minutes.

Criterion then includes an extensive 72-page booklet, featuring write-ups by Paul Coates on the overall series and then individual films. The booklet then concludes with excerpts from interviews with Kie?lowski talking about Dekalog and the two feature films, conducted while he was working on Three Colors. The booklet nicely closes out this well thought out collection of features, which thoroughly cover the film’s production and Kie?lowski’s intentions.

9/10

CLOSING

Packaged in a slick looking (and sturdy) Digipak, it’s a nice looking set, packed with some great features, the biggest bonus being the inclusion of A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love. The presentations of the ten are probably open to improvement admittedly, but Criterion still manages the presentations well enough. The set comes with a very high recommendation.


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