The Decalogue (1989) Episode 10

The Decalogue 10

Spoilers occur about the ending, this review is intended for those who have already watched the film.

Jerzy and Artur are brothers, but don't see each other very often, because Jerzy is a family man, while Artur is a successful rock singer who mingles with people, a family man wouldn't get along with. Now they meet, as their father has passed away. They didn't spend much time with dad, while he was alive, and they are curious why he has so many locks on his door, in spite of apparently not having many valuables in his house. There are quite a few stamps, which maybe will be worth something. It turns out that their dad was a passionate collector, and his accumulation of stamps is worth millions. The two brothers decide to carefully guard the treasure. Jerzy neglects his family duty. Artur his love of rock music. They end up on a trail for a very rare stamp, which Jerzy must sacrifice his kidney to obtain. But someone covets what belongs to them, and is the apartment properly safeguarded? No, and on top of that, the brothers begin to suspect each other. Unfortunately the stamp collection wasn't insured.

Analysis and interpretation:
Perhaps the opening music concert is Kieslowski taking a dig at the music business, and how it’s bordering on ridiculous that a singer singing about murder, stealing and committing violence can be a role model for young people. Or should the concert be interpreted from another angle, in that The Decalogue has thoughtfully looked at sins such as those, and music is simply a different outlet to contemplate these topics. Whether the rebellious lyrics are harmful is questionable, because on the other hand the concert has brought all these people together to enjoy a night out. Rebellion is part of growing up, especially in light of the fall of the iron curtain, and Berlin wall falling in 1989, the energy of this event spreading to neighboring countries. Maybe the concert guests aren’t even listening to the City Death lyrics, and just dancing, drinking, and having a good time.
As Stephen Innes at the site damaris points out, the song by Artur’s band City Death, at the beginning of episode 10 “sets the atmosphere of a self-centred, materialist-driven society. The lyrics implore us to break all the commandments because we are the only ones who can make our lives meaningful. You are entitled! This may seem like a rather dark message, but is it not, in fact, an honest reflection of human behaviour?”

For Kieslowski a stamp has a fictitious value no matter the financial worth, the collector assigns it a personal value. It's a film about incredible selfishness and devoting oneself to one’s passion. The price to be paid is neglecting your family and children. The two lead character’s priorities are a home, on the one hand, and fame on the other. Perhaps both now look at things a little differently by going through the experiences in Episode 10.

Artur expresses anger through his songs lyrics, a rebellion that reeks of hatred towards his parents, siblings, and god knows who else. In some ways, the father is the main character, even though he has died. Likewise the girl needing help is not seen during episode ten. The brother's realize that the father's stamps symbolize his love. He has put all his time, energy and attention into the collection, a love that the son's would have liked had gone in their direction too. Are the two son’s equally to blame for this distance? We don’t know. The two sons are distant to each other, presumably because they are so different. Perhaps not having much in common is also why they are so distant to their father.

The treatment of stamps in this film is such that they almost become a character in themselves. The chairman of the stamp club says it best when asked about their father: "He didn't do it for the money. He did it out of love". After hearing these words, the brothers find it increasingly more difficult to part with the stamps for a financial reward. In becoming interested in stamps, they feel closer to their deceased father.

There is a feeling of hope and reunion between the brothers, even though we presume towards the end, that the stamps will not be recovered, and justice will not prevail.

Kieslowski did not want the silent witness in Episode 10, because it's a comedy. Perhaps the witness in E1-E9 conveys God, but we do not receive insight into his perspective or thoughts.

Connected to the tenth imperative of the Ten Commandments: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

The tone of Dekalog part 10 is a little different to the previous episodes, arguably including satirical comedy elements. As Deciphering the Decalogue writes: “A great deal of the comedy arises from the extreme differences between the brothers.”
In terms of story, it’s deceptively straight-forward. Granted, the father’s stamp collection bringing the brothers together in the closing scene is a little contrived, so on the basis of that, you might rank it among the weakest episodes, and it’s likely Kieslowski was worn out at this point. But I beg to differ, and think it’s a strong conclusion, which includes good performances. The way contemporary music, personal belongings, and the death of a parent are examined are interesting discussion points.
The best thing episode ten has going for it is the chat between the two brothers, which works well, and I believed they were brothers. Maybe there could have been a scene of the older brother’s family life, we only witness a brief moment on the phone with his wife. The heart of the story is of two brothers trying subconsciously to hold on to the last vestiges of a father they never really knew. Finally, the message is obvious, a universal truth about friendship and love is more important than greed for new possessions. Another message could be, that it is unwise to deal with things which one is not knowledgeable.

(Apologies for the small print of the subtitles, you may want to zoom in to read the words)

This concludes my look at Kieslowski's The Decalogue. I hope you enjoyed reading the posts! All ten episodes have now been rewatched and reviewed, including an introduction article. You can find the links on the sidebar, if you missed them, or want to reread anything. Readers of this review, any thoughts on Episode 10?

Kieslowski on Kieslowski / Danusia Stok

damaris / Stephen Innes

Deciphering the Decalogue

IMDB reviews


  1. You're right in saying that this one is different from the other nine, and mostly for its tone. Because of that, it's the one I have the most trouble assigning a personal rating to. It almost feels like it doesn't fit.

    1. @SJHoneywell: I can totally get the trouble you had assigning a rating to episode 10.
      In comparison, I think people also have mixed feelings about Three Colors: White (1994), because of the Polish Kieslowski humor, which takes some getting used to, and is quite different in tone to Red (1994) and Blue (1993)

  2. I have been skipping these Decalogue reviews because I haven't watched them and want to avoid possible spoilers. But I read the first paragraph of this summary and I'm intrigued. It sounds like this show might be a nice mix of relationship dynamics and mystery.

    1. @Quirky BookandFilmBuff: If you don't mind subtitles, you should give The Decalogue a try. One of the finest tv-series ever made, in my opinion. Basically 10 episodes each lasting an hour.

      You can read my introduction post here:

  3. Decalogue 10 was Kieslowski's first comedy, the second being Three Colors White, which he said was his favorite of the Three Colors trilogy.

    Kieslowski explained that because the final episode of the Decalogue series was a comedy he would leave out the serious witness. Artur Barcis does appear though in the first nine episodes, one just have to look for him.

    The deceased stamp collector in Decalogue 10 is actually the same stamp collector of Decalogue 8 played by Bronislaw Pawlik.

    Kieslowski put in dozens of connections in this series to show his audience how people living in a Warsaw housing estate were interconnected, brushing past each other everyday, without ever being aware of it.

    Taking this even further, in Three Colors White, the police officer seen is the same police officer in Decalogue 10.

    The stories in the Decalogue were often more about what human beings share in common, rather than specific morals or lessons. One question Kieslowski liked to ask was, "Is it OK to break one commandment in order to obey another?" This does not have to be one of the literal ten commandments of Exodus either.

    Kieslowski appears to be in one of the Decalogue episodes with his back to the camera. I won't tell you which one - you will have to watch the series again...

    Kieslowski did like to repeat things - he has his back to the camera walking a cow toward the end of his earlier 1967 film, Koncert Zyczen (Concert of Requests). Here is the shot in question from the film.

    When asked about what he was trying to do, Kieslowski said he was simply filming the same film every time. He was just trying to get closer to the inner part of the human being with each attempt.

    Incidentally, tomorrow I'm posting an interview of Irene Jacob on Krzysztof Kieslowski on my new website, Theatre Harlequin.

    Feel free to drop by anytime and, if you wish, leave your website details in the Guestbook. :-)

    1. @Alexandre Fabbri: Thanks for the comments. Been a while since I've heard from you.

      I read a conflicting comment to yours, in that Kieslowski didn't like the way the scenes with the silent witness turned out in E7 and E10, so that's why Artur Barcis was left out of those episodes. I didn't notice Artur Barcis in E7, I'll have to take your word for it. Would be interesting to know your sources for all this stuff you mention.
      I like what you said about: "Is it OK to break one commandment in order to obey another?" I remember that going through my head while watching the series.

      Not sure why you deleted your awesome site Kieslowski's World, but glad too see you've decided to return, and I'll add your link to my bloglist.

  4. Chris, in each episode of the Decalogue the witness is to be seen watching what happens when an event occurs - an event which can go one of two ways - when an alternative choice could be taken. In Decalogue 7, this occurs when the biological mother suddenly turns and decides to jump on board the train and leave her daughter behind. This occurs at 52:24 into the episode. Watch this scene again and you'll have the answer to your question. I felt that Kieslowski's World was not really important to anyone at the time. Anyway, I believe that if something is forgotten that later seems to be very important to someone, it will come back into that person's memory at another time, the right time. There is 'A time for everything'. It's a song that I put on my old website. It's also on my new website. That's why I put it there. It is something that Kieslowski believed in. I will go further and say that more than once, chance will play a game with you, you may just not be aware of it happening. Kieslowski was trying to do draw his audience's attention to the need of sensitivity to our lives because in this world that we live in, with all our senses over-saturated by everything around us, it is so easy to overlook things. I had to go back and watch Kieslowski's films again and again to find out all that I had overlooked, years after I had first seen them, which was at the back-end of the 1980's. I was shocked at how dull I had been whilst watching his films back then. I thought then, quite naively, that were about morals, etc. It frightened me when I found out more of what Kieslowski had slipped into them. I mentioned little of what I discovered in Kieslowski's World because first, there was a lot of small things difficult to explain with words and second, I didn't feel it was the right thing to do anyhow. Kieslowski had burnt himself out trying to do what he was doing and I wasn't ready to undo all his good work by blabbing away behaving as if I knew something important or discovered some special meaning in a film of his. It was nothing about special meanings, never in fact, as he kept trying to point out in interviews. The point he was making, was how important it was to be aware of others, to be sensitive, to be kind, to feel an acute sense of responsibility toward others' welfare. It makes me really despair when film critics confidently tell their listening audiences that the Decalogue is about the Ten Commandments or that this means this or that means that. It has almost nothing to do with the Ten Commandments of Exodus in the Bible, other than the fact that there are ten episodes of the just one film. For now, have a really good evening, Chris, and by all means add yourself to my Guestbook. I do appreciate knowing that you have a keen interest in Kieslowski. In this day and age, it's rare and it's something of a relief to know that are still some thinking persons alive in this world. Un de ces jours. A.F.

    1. @Alexandre Fabbri: Thanks for the reply. I just checked that scene in episode 7. There is indeed a person on roller skates on the train platform, unfortunately he is so far away, that his face is not visible. Probably is the silent witness, as you said.

      Perhaps we have a tendency to over-analyze the Decalogue, and for me there is no harm in that. I think Kieslowski's work has taken on a life of its own, because it is so open for interpreting. Maybe it takes the mystery and magic away, if we try and reduce it to one particular interpretation. That's just my opinion. I don't think there is a set answer when dealing with art. It can mean 100 different things to 100 different viewers, and that's the beauty of it. It can be tempting to read and watch everything Kieslowski said, but at the end of the day, I don't think there should be definitive solutions. By reviewing all ten episodes I don't believe that I have the definitive solutions. My interpretations are my interpretations, and your interpretations are your interpretations.
      I like what you say about "how important it was to be aware of others, to be sensitive, to be kind, to feel an acute sense of responsibility toward others' welfare." It's a great message in Kieslowski's work. I just think the Decalogue doesn't have to mean just that, it can mean other things, too.

      Remember what Irene Jacob recalls in interview about Double Life of V, that Kieslowski's theory was that if you said to people that you already knew what the film was about, nobody would offer any suggestions.
      I'm sure Kieslowski was ok with, that his work meant different things to different people. That's what keeps the interest in his work alive.
      I'll go to the guest book soon.

  5. The silent witness was a roller skater? That would explain why he got off the train on crutches right at the end! You know, I totally agree with you, Chris. There's no meaning. No interpretation, except that which we put forward. Kieslowski detested pretension or people voicing off what they thought that they knew off his films. Always shrugged his shoulders in ignorance when someone suggested to him that he was trying to say this or that in his films. "Don't know. You might be right." sort of reply. "You know better than me." That's why I like him. Thank you very much for adding a link to my site and also good to see you in the Guestbook. Ciao.

  6. @Alexandre Fabbri: I rewatched the train sequence again, he got off the train on crutches, you are correct. I was mistaken, I thought it looked like roller skates, when he moved in an odd way.

    I'm glad we agree there is no interpretation, except that which we put forward.
    You're welcome. Bye for now.

  7. Excellent series of posts, Chris. I remember this being one of the weaker episodes, as you mentioned is common, but I need to rewatch it. After I catch up on more 2012 releases, I'll definitely give it another look.

    1. @Josh: Thanks for showing an interest in the Decalogue posts. I watched the whole series twice in the space of about two years, and still feel I missed things. So you're right, worth returning to.

  8. This one I had the most fun watching as I loved seeing Zbiginew Zamachowski and Jerzy Stuhr as I remembered them from Trois Couleurs: Blanc. I loved the fact that these two guys are trying to get something but it all goes wrong. The ending I think is perfect. Not just for the episode but for the series itself.

    1. @thevoid99: no 10 is pretty different to the other episodes, happy you liked the ending so much!


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