By a cruel twist of fate, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s major work, made in 1988, is finally receiving its Chicago theatrical premiere only a few days after his death at the age of 54. Ten separate films, each running 50-odd minutes and set mainly around two facing high-rises in Warsaw, are built around a contemporary reflection on the Ten Commandments–specifically, an inquiry into what breaking each of them in today’s world might mean. Made as a miniseries for Polish TV before Kieslowski embarked on The Double Life of Veronique and the “Three Colors” trilogy, these concise dramas can be seen in any order or combination, and they don’t depend on one another, though if you see them in batches you’ll probably notice how major characters in one story turn up as extras in another. (Facets Multimedia is running two at a time, three or four times each, over the next two weeks, which offers many possible options.) One reason why Kieslowski remains such a controversial filmmaker is that he embodied in certain ways the intellectual European filmmaking tradition of the 60s while commenting directly on how we live today. The first film, illustrating “Thou shall have no other gods before thee,” is about trust in computers. With the other films the often ironic and ambiguous connections between the commandments and their matching stories tend to be less obvious. (One of the 60s traditions Kieslowski embodies is that of the puzzle film, though he takes it on seriously rather than frivolously, as part of his ethical inquiry.) The fourth (“Honor thy father and mother”), for instance, pivots around the revelation of incestuous feelings between a young acting student and the architect who may or may not be her real father, and the eighth (“Thou shalt not bear false witness”) focuses on an American Jewish academic’s investigation into why she was denied sanctuary from the Nazis when she was a little girl. (The fifth and sixth were expanded into A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, and though the former is less pretentious at 57 minutes, the latter ends more effectively in its longer version.) One of Kieslowski’s best ideas was using a different cinematographer for each film (with the exception of the third and ninth-both shot by Piotr Sobocinski, who also shot Red), which entails a somewhat different camera style for each story. But contrary to Kieslowski’s later films, the script-which he spent a year preparing with Krzysztof Piesiewicz, his regular collaborator–is more important than the mise en scene (which took less time to carry out). Each film is shaped like a well-constructed short story, often with a sardonic twist at the end. Though the performances by many of the best actors in Polish cinema–are powerful, the direction is more a matter of realization than of stylistic filigree. For complex reasons the Decalogue still has no U.S. distributor–even after showing in most other Western countries–so this exceptional engagement is a rarity. Facets Multimedia Center, 1517 W. Fullerton, One and Two: Friday and Monday, March 22 and 25, 6:30 and 8:45; Three and Four: Saturday, March 23, 2:30 and 7:00, and Tuesday, March 26, 6:30 and 8:45; Five and Six: Saturday, March 23, 4:45 and 9:15, and Wednesday, March 27, 6:30 and 8:45; Seven and Eight: Sunday, March 24, 2:30 and 7:00, and Thursday, March 28, 6:30; and Nine and Ten: Sunday, March 24, 4:45 and 9:15, and Thursday, March 28, 8:45; 281-4114.-Jonathan Rosenbaum

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