August 26, 2003

I see an epicenter with agendas

Krzysztof Kieslowski on the origin of the Decalogue.

We ignored very Polish specifics, in other words, the daily grind of public life around us: queues, meat ration cards, petrol shortages, a bureaucracy which readed its ugly head in even the most trival of matters, the noisy public on the buses, the price increases as a constant topic of conversation, the ill dying in hospital corridors and so on. Everyday life was unbearably monotonous and terribly uninteresting. We knew then that we had to find extreme, extraordinary situations for our characters, ones in which they would face difficult choices and make decisions which could not be taken lightly. We spent some time deciding what sort of heroes they should be. They had to be credible and recognizable to the extent that the viewer would be able to thing: 'I've been in that position. I know exactly how they feel.' or 'Something very similar occured to me once.' And yet the films could not in any way be an account of ordinary life -- on the contrary, they had to take the form of highly compact, streamlined bullets. It very quickly became clear that these would be films about feelings and passions, because we knew that love, or the fear of death, or the pain caused by a needle-prick, are common to all people, irrespective of their political views, the color of their skin or their standard of living.

I believe the life of every person is worthy of scrutiny, containing its own secrets and dramas... Finally we decided to place the action of Decalogue in a large housing estate, with thousands of similar windows framed within the establishing shot. Behind each of the windows, we said to ourselves, is a living human being, whose mind, whose heart, and even better, whose stomach is worthy of investigation... The most important problem remained -- how to adapt the action of each film to illustrate the relevant Commandment. We read everything it was possible to read in libraries; a mass of interpretations of the Commandments. But we decided fairly quickly to despense with all this. Priests draw upon it every day and we weren't here to preach. We didn't want to adopt the tone of those who praise or condemn, handing out a reward here for the doing God and a punishment there for the doing of Evil. Rather, we wished to say: 'We know no more than you. But maybe it is worth investigating the unknown, if only because the very feeling of not knowing is a painful one.'

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