Polish film director Krzysztof Kieslowski created ten modern stories inspired by the Ten Commandments for television in 1988 - 1989. They all take place in the same Warsaw apartment complex, and some of the characters in one film show up peripherally in others. These powerful stories deal creatively with some of the deepest and most difficult complications of the human condition. Although the commandments never appear on the screen, viewers will see the connections. Kieslowski has rendered an inestimable moral service by showing the relevance of these ancient principles and imperatives to contemporary life.
The writer/director's dramatization of the First Commandment ("I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me") revolves around Krzysztof (Henryk Baranowski), a mathematician who teaches at the university. He is a single parent looking after his very bright eleven-year-old son Pawel (Wojciech Klata), who shares his love of technology. After solving a math problem with the help of his computer, the boy goes outside and comes upon the frozen body of a neighborhood dog. Very upset, the boy returns home to ask his father about the meaning of death and the existence of the soul. Krzysztof, who has left behind the God and Catholicism of his childhood, struggles honestly to answer his questions.
The boy's aunt Irena (Maja Komorowska) is a practicing Catholic. She's interested in Pawel's spiritual growth and has already asked her brother to enroll him in a religious education program at a local church. In one of the drama's most poignant moments, she demonstrates that God's love is incarnated in the love we have for one another.
This engaging and emotionally affecting depiction of the First Commandment is similar in spirit and intention to the parables of Jesus. The story draws us into the drama and beckons us to see ourselves in each of the three main characters. In our technology driven culture, it's easy to identify with the father who thinks he has outgrown religion and has put his faith in information and reason instead. We feel the tremendous spiritual vitality of Pawel, a young boy filled with wonder about everything in his life from pigeons on the windowsill to a chess game to the gleam on his new ice skates. And we can put ourselves in the shoes of Irena, a Christian who wants her nephew to learn about the mystery and the magnificence of the invisible world of Spirit.
Every day we are tempted to put our faith in all kinds and sources of meaning. All the while, the God who asks to be put first stands squarely in the midst of our lives and challenges us to believe.
Note: The Decalogue I appears with The Decalogue II (see separate review) on Volume 1 of a 5-volume slip-cased set. You can also purchase the individual volume of the two films.