I'm thinking about how DEKALOG was a total shoe-in when we set out our A&F 100 a year ago. And I'm wanting to poke at that a bit.
Rosenbaum commented that "some critics' patter to the contrary, Kieslowski belongs to the agnostic Bergman camp, not to the mystical Tarkovsky one." And that feels about right to me. These films poke at ethical conundrums, but neither seem necessarily to invoke God or anything particularly transcendent (depending what you make of the watcher), nor to have a particularly Biblical perspective on the conundrums posed. Sure the Ten Commandments are loosely a point of departure, but... So what? Fascination with moral predicaments isn't necessarily spiritual. Heck, Greenaway and Wertumuller poke away at moral predicaments, but in my limited exposure both seem frankly morally repugnant.
Believe me, I'm not going all fundie here. I'm as fascinated as the next guy by the Dekalog films. Indeed, I love the moral ambiguities: as an artist, I'm much more attracted to the grey areas, questions that land between moral certainties, than I am to the "we can be sure about this one" black and white stuff. So I'm really tickled by Dekalog, since that's where it lives.
But if these ten flicks hadn't been labelled as they are, would it have occurred to anybody to label them particularly spiritual? Are we just so tickled to have our religion name-checked by folks with artsy cred that we lose all perspective? MAGNOLIA is a fab film, and I'm real keen on PTA's movies - but if there were no frogs, and no added-after-the-fact Exodus clues, would Christians have gone so ballistic over MAGNOLIA? And then had their enthusiasm spread, virus-like, to Anderson's other films? (Okay, MAGNOLIA also had the other element that's sure to exaggerate our interest in a film, and that's a sympathetically viewed Christian character, the cop. But you get my point?)
Did our enthusiasm over THREE COLOURS (and VERONIQUE?) stem from the fact that we mistook Kieslowski's interests in DEKALOG for some sort of interest in religion, or transcendence, or the bible, or Christianity or something?
Admittedly, I'm being a bit provocative here. I don't mean anyone to get all bent out of shape about this - it's not particularly important to me that films be religious at all. But... Are these? Or did folks get suckered by a sort of unthinking knee-jerk enthusiasm? "Hey! A great film maker made movies about our commandments! Cool...."
Did DEKALOG get a top seed in last year's "Spiritually Significant Films" tournament just because the films were being discussed in their own special section, so everybody just kind of assumed they must be really really spiritual? The way people vote for candidates just because they've heard the name a lot? Never mind if it was on wanted posters slapped up all over town - name recognition translates into votes. (Because the really curious thing is, now that I get around to watching the rest of these films and work my way through the discussion threads, I realize how little discussion there actually was! A handful of substantial posts specifically about the fims themselves, rarely responded to, in amongst lots of planning and scheduling and apologizing for not posting, and side-discussions about the issues but not the films, and... Are we REALLY so keen on these films? Or did we just vote because they have a Christian-positive title?
I'll put it another way. As groovy as these movies are, as much as they provoke thought about intriguing moral quandaries, compare them to Bresson, Tarkovsky, even DEAR GOD for goodness sake! Those films believe that there's Somebody Out There, that humans are inherently spiritual (if lost and sinful) creatures. Does DEKALOG (or any Kieslowski) go anywhere near that?
(You don't need to argue your case strongly. I'm not even convinced by my own case. Just a simple handful of counter-examples would suffice to put me back onside here...)
Edited by Ron, 08 July 2005 - 02:54 AM.