A look at each film of Kieslowski’s “Dekalog” masterpiece

dekalogmoviepostertypeimageAll the films of the Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Dekalog” are set in contemporary Warsaw, Poland, a decade after the election of St. John Paul II as pope (he makes a cameo appearance in one installment via photographs), but still a communist-run nation as soulless apartment block after soulless apartment block fills the screen in each episode.

There are a handful of returning characters, mostly having to do with the post office and a university, but no character is a featured player in more than one installment. There is, though, a mute Greek chorus of sorts — Kieslowski himself? — who witnesses a pivotal moment in most, if not all (I hadn’t been looking for him early on) of the films. But with multiple pivotal moments in each episode, you can’t count on this fellow popping up each and every time.

Here is an overview of the plot of the “Dekalog” films, one for each of the Ten Commandments:

One: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall not have other gods beside me.” An agnostic (at best) university mathematics professor, so well off he has not one but two home computers — remember, this is 1988 — also has a bright and inquisitive son who is curious about God, aided and abetted by his Catholic aunt. The lad gets an early Christmas present of ice skates and he wants to try them out on the nearby pond. But, despite Dad’s computer calculations of ice thickness — plus a personal test — tragedy strikes, calling the meaning of virtually everything into question.

Two: “You shall not invoke the name of the Lord, your God, in vain.” A woman whose husband is desperately ill in the hospital insists on a prognosis from his doctor. She’s carrying another man’s child, but will go through with the pregnancy only if her husband dies; otherwise, she will have an abortion. The woman makes the doctor swear to the veracity of his diagnosis once she revealed the truth of her situation.

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A cinematic triumph returned and restored

It’s not often that something that made its debut on Polish television gets this kind of acclaim, but Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Dekalog”(“Decalogue” in English) merited precisely that acclaim — even now, 28 years after its debut.

Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski. (Photo/Krzysztof Miller, Agenja Gazeta)

Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski. (Photo/Krzysztof Miller, Agenja Gazeta)

Kieslowski was commissioned by Polish TV to make a series of hour-long dramas on each of the Ten Commandments. This being state television, there were no commercials or promotions for other programs to rob Kieslowski of precious minutes to tell his tales.

“Dekalog” was heralded as a sensation when viewers first caught sight of it. Eventually, it made its way to the United States. I recall going to a film festival in Washington in 1994 hoping to catch the first two installments. I was at the multiplex a good half-hour early to buy tickets, but it was already sold out. I had thought that if I’d missed the first two, then the remaining eight wouldn’t make much sense to me. So I let them all slip past. The following year, Kieslowski’s “Tricolor” trilogy, based on the French bleu-blanc-et-rouge flag, makes its way to the film-festival circuit. And I caught each of the three full-length films.

Fast-forward to 2016. I’m doing my typical pre-dawn walk up and down the main drag close to my neighborhood. In full view during my walk is the marquee of the Silver Theater in Silver Spring, Maryland. For a week, I pass by the marquee while the words “Dekalog: One and Two” or “Dekalog: Three and Four” roll by. I don’t make the connection, because in 1994 the series was being touted in English: “Decalogue.”

Then, one morning, I look at the marquee. I see five pairs of “Dekalog” encompassing 10 numbers. I realize that “Dekalog” is “Decalogue.” I make immediate plans to get out of work early to take in — well, the last eight. A phone conference commitment followed by a lunch commitment will force me to miss the first two installments yet again. Drat. At least this time, our online world can give me several days’ advance notice of screenings at the Silver, and “Dekalog: One and Two” will indeed play once more at a date and time I can slip out of the office yet again.

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Old mining church keeps Catholic history alive

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VIRGINIA CITY, Nev. (CNS) — You can still hear gunfights on the streets of this old mining town high up in the mountains of Northern Nevada. The main drag at 6,000 feet above sea level plays up the stereotype of an old Western town complete with a saloon next to the jail and the marshal’s office. Behind them, the steeple of St. Mary’s in the Mountains Catholic Church unintentionally peers above.

The parish was created in 1862, just three years after the discovery of a lode of silver ore, known as the Comstock Lode, was made public, bringing in prospectors seeking to make fortunes. But the Catholic Church had been attracted to the remote town before the discovery, as members were seeking to make a spiritual fortune out the boon of people flocking there.

St. Mary’s in the Mountains, say various signs posted around the Gothic church, once was known as the “Bonanza Church” because of the silver mines that surrounded it. The first Catholic church in the town was built in 1860 but burned down shortly after. The church that visitors see today was erected in 1868, was damaged by a fire, too, but was rebuilt in 1876. It is recognized as a national Catholic historic site.

Daughters of Charity, as well as Cistercian monks played part of the landscape of Catholics that once called the mining church home. But as the mining industry dwindled, so did the town and the church population. These days, St. Mary’s may see more visitors than parishioners, but the church and its museum in the basement of the church is one of the top attractions in the town.

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Part of the museum reflects the church’s mining roots. A small cavernous room resembles a mine, where Catholic memorabilia — including the redwood saws used to cut square timbers that lined the mines of the Comstock, as well as the interior of the church — are on display. There’s also a sanctuary bell that arrived in Nevada with the first missionary nun from the order of Our Lady of Victory Missionary Sisters. There’s also a mural on the stucco walls featuring important church figures in Nevada’s Catholic history, including Raider, the official parish cat.

Though it’s clear that the town’s, as well as the local church’s, heyday has passed, St. Mary’s in the Mountains remains an active parish and one that keeps alive the spiritual history of a Catholic past in a remote mining town.

Click here for more photos of Virginia City.

 

A video treasury: #PopeinUS

I’m about to take you on a retrospective journey of what it was like to be a member of the media a year ago while covering Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.

This entry will be complete with videos Catholic News Service produced chronicling the very popular pope’s trip to give you an idea of the impact he made on the people in his country along the way, beginning with this one as he took his first steps onto U.S. soil.

A year ago today I was in Philadelphia during the final days of the pope’s U.S. journey. I remember reflecting on the enormous number of details required to get us to this point in our coverage, from credentialing journalists, photographers and videographers for spots in the events of the pontiff’s grueling agenda in Washington, New York and Philadelphia, to figuring out how we were going to best tell this story to the millions of people following the trek.

My role was to coordinate CNS’s video coverage of the U.S. papal trip. My role, for the most part, kept me in the media centers of each city while our determined video journalists went out and found some spectacular visual stories to share with our audience.

Some of these videos told stories concerning the official events on the agenda, like the pope’s Sept. 23 visit to the White House,

while others captured how the pope’s presence impacted people on the street who braved massive crowds to catch a glimpse of the country’s celebrated guest of honor.

When the pope made his way to New York he was greeted by young musicians who understood the great honor bestowed on them

and his solemn prayer at ground zero, the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, made people from all backgrounds pause.

The pope melted the hearts of people around the world when he visited children at a Harlem school

and the people waiting to see the pope mobile drive through Central Park

couldn’t help expressing their enthusiasm.

One of our most viewed videos during the U.S. papal trip came while he was in Philadelphia visiting prison inmates.

Two of the most touching videos we produced during that trip also came during Pope Francis’s time in the city of brotherly love, one about an Oregon couple who made great sacrifices to bring their five children cross-country to see the Holy Father

and the other showcased the impact the pontiff’s presence at Independence Hall had on a Latino immigrant living in the U.S.

 

As the pope was spending his last day in the U.S., a couple of our video journalists took an opportunity to find out how local Philadelphians were celebrating the historic papal trip.

 

By the time the pope’s plane took off for Rome, the CNS journalists were exhausted, but it was an assignment that energized us and reminded us how privileged we are to work in this profession.

Here’s a link to see all of the English-speaking videos CNS produced during the U.S. papal trip. https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLcRSxXfDzTxZ-y3oJEOf6kesOhhPJdYQT

 

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Sept. 25, 2016

"Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called." -- 1 Timothy 6:12

“Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called.” — 1 Timothy 6:12

 

Sept. 25, Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Amos 6:1a, 4-7

      Psalm 146:7-10

      2) 1 Timothy 6:11-16

      Gospel: Luke 16:19-31

 

By Deacon Mike Ellerbrock
Catholic News Service

I love it when youth say what’s on their mind.

For instance, they’ll ask, “What’s so special about poor people?” or, “If there is fire in hell, do you burn up and disappear?”

Likewise, adults often express confusion about Catholic social teaching’s “preferential option for the poor.” They ask whether the church is saying that God loves the poor more than fortunate people and, if not, then what’s the point?

The church has profound answers to these great questions that are addressed in this week’s Scriptures.

Picture life in the garden before Adam and Eve brought sin into the world: There was no poverty, no alienation and no competition among the species. Everyone lived in harmony; no one was without.

But sin corrupted life in Eden with consequences to this day. Division and conflict arose over the distribution of resources.

However, the Second Vatican Council, St. John Paul II and Pope Francis have taught that God provided the earth’s resources for all, so all property (private and public) has a “social mortgage” obligating its use to serve the common good.

Thus, poverty is the principal manifestation of sin. Whenever and wherever we see poverty, we see the effects of sin.

God loves everyone equally. What he despises is poverty.

The Gospel shows starving Lazarus painfully begging for crumbs from the rich man’s sumptuous table without receiving a scrap.

When they both died, Lazarus was carried to heaven by angels while the rich man in purple garments fell into the netherworld. Tormented in flames, the rich man looks up and now begs for a cool drop of water from Lazarus’ fingertip.

However, the chasm between them is so wide that no one can cross it. This isn’t a physical description of hell such as Dante’s burning inferno.

St. John Paul II said that we should not think of hell as a place, but as separation from God — an immense chasm of lost love whereby one truly knows, sees and feels the pain of having chosen to reject one’s Creator, Lord and Redeemer. To be on the outside of heaven looking in, that is hell.

QUESTION:

In serving the common good, how can we do our part to proclaim and address the plight of the poor?

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Sept. 18, 2016

"The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones." -- Luke 16:10

“The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones.” — Luke 16:10

 

Sept. 18, Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Amos 8:4-7

      Psalm 113:1-2, 4-8

      2) 1 Timothy 2:1-8

      Gospel: Luke 16:1-13

 

By Sharon K. Perkins
Catholic News Service

In this presidential election year, much is made of political candidates and their levels of experience, their platforms and their ability to communicate with their constituents. But nothing seems to raise as much debate as a candidate’s trustworthiness — or the lack of it. In fact, millions of dollars are spent on campaign advertising for the purpose of exposing dishonesty in one’s opponent.

Why is this? I suspect that a candidate’s many favorable qualities are often secondary to the public’s perception of the candidate’s honesty. Whether it’s engaging in deceitful business practices, cheating on one’s taxes or fabricating information, even little falsehoods can add up to an unsavory reputation and seriously damage a contender’s chances of getting elected.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus’ parable of the dishonest steward illustrates the significance of little things as an indicator of trustworthiness in larger matters.

Given the propensity of human beings — especially those in leadership — to bend the truth to suit their purposes, it’s no wonder that the Letter to Timothy emphasizes the necessity of prayer for “kings and for all in authority,” knowing that the common good of all people depends upon their integrity.

The prophet Amos warns those who ‘trample upon the needy” and persist in dishonest dealings with the poor in order to advance themselves: The Lord has a long memory and does not abide injustice. Rather, God’s brand of justice “raises up the lowly from the dust” in order to “seat them with princes.”

In this season of accusatory campaign ads and reciprocal mudslinging, it behooves Christians, as “children of light,” to discern carefully and to exercise their right to vote with prudence and responsibility. But today’s readings also challenge us to look at our own attitudes about wealth and our behavior toward the poor.

You or I might not be running for office — but the common good of our fellow human beings depends on our integrity, wise stewardship and fervent prayers for those who are elected to serve.

QUESTIONS:

In what areas of your life do you tend toward deceit or dishonesty? What part do prayer and discernment play in your own political decisions?

Word to Life — Sunday Scripture readings, Sept. 11, 2016

"I was mercifully treated." -- 1 Timothy 1:16

“I was mercifully treated.” — 1 Timothy 1:16

 

Sept. 11, Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

      Cycle C. Readings:

      1) Exodus 32:7-11, 13-14

      Psalm 51:3-4, 12-13, 17, 19

      2) 1 Timothy 1:12-17

      Gospel: Luke 15:1-32 or Luke 15:1-10

 

By Jeff Hedglen
Catholic News Service

One of the greatest fears of my childhood was of getting caught doing something bad and having to face my dad. It’s not that he was extra mean or abusive, it’s just that I did not want to disappoint him, and this caused a knee-jerk reaction of fear whenever such situations would arise.

Probably the worst and stupidest thing I remember doing happened when I was a senior in high school hanging out with friends. We were roller-skating in the street and then decided to go to another friend’s house. I’d borrowed my dad’s car that night and jumped in and started driving with my skates still on.

As you might expect, there was an accident. Thankfully, it was just a fender bender. It could have been a lot worse, but knowing that the next day I’d have to tell my dad what I had done caused me a terrible, sleepless night full of fear and trembling.

After I showed my dad his dented bumper I was expecting to never leave my room unless I was doing all my siblings’ chores forever! But instead of getting the worst punishment of my life, I got something wholly unexpected: mercy.

Sure my dad gave me a talking to about how our lives are defined by our choices and this was not a good choice on my part. He asked me to think about the kind of person I was going to be, and that was it!

This story came to mind as I reviewed this week’s readings. Each passage tells of God’s mercy, whether it is God relenting on his plan to smite the Israelites, St. Paul reminding us that Jesus came into the world to bring God’s mercy or, most expressive of all, the loving father full of mercy and forgiveness welcoming the prodigal son home.

Benny Hester has a song about the prodigal son with a line that perfectly illustrates God and his mercy: “The only time I ever saw (God) run was when he ran to me, took me in his arms, held my head to his chest and said, ‘My son’s come home again.'” This is one of my favorite images of God, running to us to deliver his mercy!

QUESTIONS:

When was a time when someone had mercy on you? When have you experienced the mercy of God?