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Of Elephants and Toothaches

Of Elephants and Toothaches: Ethics, Politics, and Religion in Krzysztof Kieslowski's 'Decalogue' OPEN ACCESS

Eva Badowska
Francesca Parmeggiani
Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: Fordham University
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  • Book Info
    Of Elephants and Toothaches
    Book Description:

    MIXTEC EVANGELICALS is a comparative ethnography of four Mixtec communities in Oaxaca, detailing the process by which economic migration and religious conversion combine to change the social and cultural makeup of predominantly folk-Catholic communities.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6713-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Film Studies
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  1. Eva Badowska and Francesca Parmeggiani

    Krzysztof Kieślowski’sDekalog(The Decalogue, 1989), which the film critic Robert Fulford has called “the best dramatic work ever done specifically for television,”¹ had arguably humble beginnings. The director recalls a chance meeting in the streets of Warsaw in the early 1980s with an attorney friend, Krzysztof Piesiewicz: “I bumped into him. It was cold. It was raining. I’d lost one of my gloves. ‘Someone should make a film about the Ten Commandments,’ Piesiewicz said to me. ‘You should do it.’”² In a later documentary, the director adds, “I thought [Piesiewicz] had gone mad.”³ The idea continued to percolate, gradually...

  2. William Jaworski

    The Ten Commandments are often taken to represent a prototypical rule-based approach to ethics. What the Commandments are supposed to provide, on this interpretation, is a set of rules for evaluating the status of actions as right or wrong. They are thus taken to be similar in their goals to modern moral theories such as Kantian ethics or utilitarianism. I will call this the “moralizing interpretation” of the Commandments, which goes hand in hand with a single-discipline conception of moral inquiry. According to this conception, serious moral inquiry is the task of philosophy alone. Other disciplines may be able to...

  3. Joseph G. Kickasola

    In the filmsThe Double Life of Veronique(1991) andThe Three Colors Trilogy(1992–94), Krzysztof Kieślowski left behind most of the aesthetic trappings of his early documentaries and moved into more sensuous and formalistic territory.¹ Much of the power of Kieślowski’s later cinema hinges on the aesthetics of immediacy—that is, the perceived directness of affect-as-meaning it produces.² I argue that in the series of films beforeVeronique—the monumentalDecalogueseries (1989)—we see hints of this stylistic shift as he searched for new ways of expressing the spiritual and moral themes that interested him.³ If we...

  4. Moshe Gold

    Viewers and critics commonly question the relationship between Krzysztof Kieślowski’s ten films entitledThe Decalogueand the biblical Decalogue. Although the films and the screenplays receive diverse theoretical, theological, and emotional responses, few studies have considered Kieślowski’s work from the perspective of Hebrew scripture, even more precisely, from the perspective of specific rabbinic and halakhic traditions of responses to those verses.¹ Given that Kieślowski is portraying Poland, a Catholic country, most critics have privileged readings of the films from a Christian perspective. Yet in neglecting interpretations that offer rabbinic perspectives, we have failed to understand adequately the complex relationship—one...

  5. Eva M. Stadler

    Each of the films in Krzysztof Kieślowski’sDecaloguecalls into question the certitude implicit in the word “commandment.” As a result, the relation of each film to the biblical commandment is often ambiguous and has been the source of disagreement and discussion among critics.¹ Kieślowski himself insisted that he did not intend to teach a lesson or set forth a moral point of view in these films. Rather, his aim was to start a conversation with the spectator. As he explained: “I am someone who does not know…. Someone who searches. I like to observe the fragments of life and...

  6. Joseph W. Koterski

    According to an old legend, there were originally fifteen commandments. But at one point when Moses was carrying the tablets down the mountain, he is said to have tripped and fallen, shattering one of the stones on which the laws had been inscribed. When he met the people assembled at the base of the mountain, he explained: “I’ve got good news for you, and bad news. The good news is that there were fifteen commandments, but now there are only ten. The bad news is that adultery is still on the list.”

    Smile as we might at this rather curious...

  7. Gabriella Ripa di Meana

    A young woman of twenty who lives alone with her father informs him one day that she has found a secret envelope that he has been hiding from her for years. The envelope contains a testamentary letter from her mother, who had passed away a few days after giving birth to her. The father has kept this letter, addressed to his daughter, inside another envelope containing, in turn, his own testament to her. On this envelope, the father, with the conscious intention of delaying its dreaded opening and disclosure for as long as possible, wrote these words: “To be opened...

  8. Michael Baur

    Decalogue Fivetells the story of Waldemar Rekowski (Jan Tesarz), a jaded taxi driver, Piotr Balicki (Krzysztof Globisz), an idealistic, newly-licensed attorney, and Jacek Lazar (Mirosław Baka), a young and troubled drifter, whose lives intersect with one another as a result of fate, or contingent circumstance, or some combination of both. With brutal detail and detachment, the film depicts Jacek’s seemingly aimless wanderings through Warsaw, his senseless killing of Waldemar, his interactions with Piotr (his court-appointed attorney), and his eventual execution after a failed defense in court. Like other films within theDecalogueseries,Fiveillustrates what happens when human...

  9. Eva Badowska

    When the state of exception (stan wyja̧tkowy), also known as the state of war (stan wojenny), was declared in Poland on December 13, 1981, Krzysztof Kieślowski sought to “record the tanks, clandestine news-sheets, and anticommunist slogans daubed on walls.”¹ Trained in the venerable tradition of Polish documentary cinema, Kieślowski was driven by the documentary impulse—the desire to stand witness—even long after he had shifted entirely to making fiction films. In 1981, the director aimed to chronicle political trials that took place under martial law: Thousands of political activists were “interned” in makeshift prisons and detained for long periods...

  10. Francesca Parmeggiani

    According to Krzysztof Kieślowski, his task as a filmmaker is “to find out what lies behind [one’s] actions,” what makes one “get up in the morning” and go about one’s life, and to engage the viewer in this heuristic process.¹ He also explains that only love, understood as desire (“that which moves one towards something”), grants meaning to and rules human life. As he states, “all books and films speak of love. Or the absence of it, which is the other side of love.”² Yet, “captur[ing] what lies within” the characters, namely their feelings and emotions, the desire—a moving...

  11. Emma Wilson

    The eighth part of Krzysztof Kieślowski’sDecaloguebegins with a brief flashback sequence where a child is led down a passageway. The scene, a liminal image of a missing child, is missing from the screenplay and not part of the initial conception of the film.

    I want to begin by looking at these images more closely.¹ The shots first encountered in the film privilege movement and touch as a handheld camera passes along a passageway to the echoing sound of footsteps. The camera appears to share the viewpoint, and embodied angle of vision, of a small child. This illusion is...

  12. Philip Sicker

    Recalling his underlying assumptions and method in theDecaloguefilms, Krzysztof Kieślowski casts himself as a psychological and ethical detective: “I believe everybody’s life is worthy of scrutiny, has its secrets and dramas. People don’t talk about their lives because they’re embarrassed. They don’t want to open old wounds, or are afraid of appearing old-fashioned and sentimental. So we wanted to begin each film in a way which suggested that the main character had been picked by the camera as if at random.”¹ In setting the primary action of all ten films in and around an anonymous-looking Warsaw housing estate,...

  13. Regina Small

    In Krzysztof Kieślowski’sDecalogueseries, a cloistered apartment building in an alienated and shattered communist-ruled Poland serves as the backdrop for a sober examination of the significance of each of the commandments. The actions and attitudes of the characters (all tenants within these isolated, lonely quarters) drive each installment, as Kieślowski examines the weighty moral and ethical decisions each faces. The series is characterized by a grave treatment of the subject matter with precious few moments of levity, impressing upon the viewer the critical nature of choice. Although in the tenth and final film ofThe Decaloguethe exploration of...

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