I am teaching a film class, and last night I showed my students The Decalogue by Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski. It was made in 1988, when Poland was still under Soviet Communism, a year before independence. “The Decalogue” consists of ten one-hour films, one for each of the Ten Commandments. Each film is a highly-realistic, character-driven drama showing ordinary people living ordinary lives, but running smack into the Law of God. In each episode, the same mysterious figure–the Watcher–is there somewhere in the story just watching what the characters do. The series is sophisticated European filmmaking, with no Hollywood conventions or commercialism. It’s intense, deep, difficult, and moving. I wanted to show my students that Christianity is that way too.
I also wanted to stretch their thinking about Christian filmmaking and the larger project of Christians making art in and to a non-Christian culture. Kieślowski did not just follow the dominant and officially approved style. He did not make another socialist realist film, tacking on a Christian message. Instead, he defied socialist realism–which insists that characters exemplify a social class and demonstrate the Marxist class struggle–but rather presented individualized characters with rich, if tormented, inner lives.
My plan had just been to show the First Commandment (“Thou shalt have no other Gods before me”), but my class got into it so much, they wanted me to go ahead and show the Second Commandment (“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”), a film that also deals with abortion.
Have any of you seen “Decalogue”? I wonder if film critic Martin Luther over at Strange Herring has seen it. He would at least like the numbering. (Actually, What Luther says about the First Commandment in the Large Catechism is the best gloss on film #1: Whatever you have faith in, that is your God.) Pastors, this film could be a good catechetical tool if you have catechumens who can handle it. (But watch the episodes first. Some are not for the faint of heart or mere entertainment seekers.)