Krzysztof Kieślowski’s domestic-scale epic Dekalog (The Decalogue) showed life in Poland in the simultaneously dull and precarious late 1980s*. The series provides a fascinating window on Polish culture and everyday life on the eve of the fall of communism. An in-depth analysis of shifts in social patterns and ways of life between 1988 and today would have been fascinating and, well, hard – so instead we’ve just grabbed some screen shots from the films and taken photos of what these locations look like today (all photos taken by Scatts).
Most of the main characters in the films live on this osiedle (estate) in Warsaw. In some of the films almost all the action takes place here, in others it is just glimpsed, and sometimes you only find out a character lives there when you see them in the background of another film.
Marian the taxi driver from Dekalog 5 on his way to work – his last day of work as it turns out. A longer version of Dekalog 5 was released as A Short Film About Killing, which may give you a clue as to why this is his last day of work.
The Dekalog osiedle, on ul. Inflancka, as it is today. Unfortunately our intrepid photographer Scatts was unable to get inside to find exactly the same scenes because the estate now has a fence around it and guards who have orders to keep deadbeats out. I don’t know if means the place has become significantly more exclusive than it was in 1989, or if this is just an example of a growing trend towards ‘gated communities.’ Oddly enough this is the second time Scatts has fallen foul of security on this estate while on active duty for Polandian. In his series of posts about the Warsaw Ghetto you can see the same estate in the background of an attempted photo of the Umschlagplatz.
The Old Town
A significant portion of the first half of Dekalog 5 (or A Short Film About Killing) is set in Warsaw’s Old Town and surrounding streets as we follow the wanderings of angry-young-man Jacek. Since the Old Town is the most famous part of present-day Warsaw we thought it would be interesting to compare it then and now.
Looking towards the Royal Castle on Plac Zamkowy (Castle Square) from the parapet over the tunnel that carries Aleja Solidarności (Solidarity Avenue) under the Old Town. Jacek pauses here and drops a rock on the traffic below. Presumably Aleja Solidarności was called something else then. Nice piece of prescience on the part of Kieślowski, or an unusually cunning piece of road renaming on the part of whoever renames roads.
The same scene today. Unusually the castle isn’t plastered with advertising. History does not record if Scatts played the same trick with a rock and only time will tell if the street below will one day be renamed Aleja Polandian.
Looking towards the Royal Castle from the steps of Zygmunt’s Column. Jacek can be seen in this shot annoying an old lady by scaring her pigeons away.
Twenty years later the castle is looking smart but there are significantly less old ladies and pigeons, the absence of one possibly accounting for the absence of the other.
A taxi stand on the corner of Krakowskie Przedmieście.
The corner of Krakowskie Przedmieście today, pedestrianized, revamped and generally made pretty as part of the recent renovations to the street.
A young girl has her portrait drawn on a corner of Warsaw’s Old Town Square. In the film we learn that Jacek’s young sister was killed in an accident.
The same corner today. I love the way that little window in the building behind her is still open 20 years later.
The artist drawing the little girl. Most of the Old Town Square is visible in the background.
The same view of the Old Town Square today.
There are not a huge number of identifiable outside location shots in the series, and many of these are set at night. Kieślowski does, however, give us a few other glimpses of daytime Warsaw c. 1988.
In this scene from Dekalog 7 we see the train carrying Majka and her daughter away from Warsaw crossing the Most Średnicowy (Średnicowy Bridge).
Most Średnicowy today from exactly the same position. Vegetation on the far side of the river has encroached on the fourth pillar and it looks like there is now a sand bank that was not there in 1988 – not to mention some graffiti on the third pillar.
Most Średnicowy again, but with a train on it… for those of you who like trains.
Another scene from Dekalog 7. Ewa searches frantically for her lost daughter who is, in fact, her granddaughter and who has been kidnapped by her real daughter, who is pretending to be her granddaughter’s sister – it’s all terribly confusing. Fortunately the location is easy enough to identify – the steps at the front of the Palace of Culture and Science looking towards the central rail station.
The same location today. The most obvious additions to the skyline are the Millennium Plaza tower behind the station and the Zlote Tarasy shopping center (and associated Skylight Tower) peeking out from behind the Palace itself. As Scatts points out, the only buildings that haven’t changed, the Palace and train station, are arguably the ones that would have benefited most from some work in the past 20 years.
A random shot of ul. Nowy Świat from Dekalog 10 (also known as ‘the funny one’).
The same random shot of Nowy Świat today.
*Interestingly (or not) I can’t figure out exactly when Dekalog was released. Some sources say 1987, some 1988, and some 1989.
Mystery Location Challenge!
A really cynical person might say “I see what they’re doing here. They couldn’t find these locations so they’re getting us to do all the work.” Fortunately none of our fine readers are that cynical, so we’ll probably get away with it.
Identifying a street / locations wins points. Taking a photo of said street or location wins BIG points.*
Five scenes from Dekalog 5
1. A street scene during Jacek’s wanderings, but what it that building?
2. Jacek witnesses a fight in a back alley, but where is the alley?
3. Jacek chooses Marian’s taxi, but where was this taxi stand?
4. Marian drives Jacek past this monument, but where is it now?
5. A Militiaman on the street outside the cafe where Jacek spits in his coffee, but which street?
Scenes from Dekalog 7, 9, and 10
6. From Dekalog 7. Majka’s leaving, but from which station (not in Warsaw)?
7. From Dekalog 9. Roman takes his last bike ride. What’s the name of that church?
8. From Dekalog 10. A secret meeting on a street corner, but which street corner?
*Polandian points may be exchanged for super, super prizes! But only in the afterlife.