When vid distrib Facets untied the legal Gordian knot that had kept “The Decalogue” largely out of general U.S. circulation since 1989, it confirmed to a larger audience what core enthusiasts already knew. Here was one of the most sublime mega-films of the late 20th century — all 10 parts and 562 minutes of it. The life-summarizing work feels all the more so considering how director Krsysztof Kieslowski’s career had been cut short by his unexpected death in 1996. The new “deluxe” DVD edition, however, does not quite live up to the label.
The first of several projects co-written by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz (who came up with the idea to create dramas inspired by the Ten Commandments), “The Decalogue” was a series produced for Polish television. It then became a cause celebre on the international fest circuit in 1989 and ’90.
Yet just as the film had once been a Holy Grail for American cinephiles and video store regulars, so was the DVD, which went out of print soon after its release in 2001. So Facets’ decision to unroll a three-disc DVD set would seem to satisfy any remaining hunger for the complete “Decalogue” experience.
In Roger Ebert’s cursory and unremarkable 15-minute intro (jarringly lensed on the set of his “Ebert & Roeper and The Movies” syndie show), he declares the film to be “visually enhanced.” The prints and transfers are actually unchanged from the previous issue. The earlier release’s flaw of a slightly blurred transfer of Part Six has unfortunately not been rectified this time.
Kieslowski wanted a slightly different look for each part, so he worked with nine different D.P.s. The change helped motivate him throughout the year-long shoot, as he explains in his essay on the film reprinted from Faber & Faber’s published screenplay edition. The essay anchors the set’s 18-page booklet, which also contains critic Judy Stone’s thoughtful profile of Piesiewicz.
Except for hardcore Kieslowskians among owners of the 2001 DVD, most of the extras — segments or shows originally aired on the cultural channel of Polish TV — hardly merit an additional purchase.
By far the most entertaining addition is “Kieslowski Meets the Press,” a 41-minute program in which Kieslowski guested in 1988 on Polish TV’s “100 Questions For …” His patience grows thinner with each succeeding query (fortunately not totaling 100). The confab amusingly degenerates when he openly condemns “the incompetence” of most Polish critics. He compares them unfavorably with their counterparts in France — where, oddly enough, a “Decalogue” DVD has yet to appear.