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Gristmill: Two Commandments

Wed, 11/08/2023 - 17:33

From the city comes word of the wonders of the big screen. As in very big. As in the AMC theater near Lincoln Center. This was from my college-freshman son, and it was as necessary as it was new to him, as the showing was the panoramic “Killers of the Flower Moon,” maybe the last by the Sicilian-American master, Martin Scorsese.

Once I got over the pang of missing out, I thought of the last time I sat dwarfed by cinematic immensity. Happily, it involved Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Blue,” from 1993, probably the most accomplished movie I’ve seen, when all’s said and done — from cinematography (by Slawomir Idziak) and score (by Zbigniew Preisner), to Kieslowski’s understated screenplay, to sheer profundity of theme (self-realization against the backdrop of the birth of a new Europe), and on to the lead, Juliette Binoche, because, I don’t know, has a woman ever been more beautiful on film?

Of course it hit harder because I went by myself.

The screen was inside the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the time was the dawn of the new century, during a strange interlude staying in the spare room of a friend’s bungalow within sight of the Hollywood sign. I thought at first I might make a go of it there, but instead before long found myself driving back up the coast to my quiet, temporary life in Bellingham, Wash.

See, what you don’t want to do is dwell on the what-ifs. Is the course of a life a series of accidents you can’t predict? Or is it fated, the accidents only appearing to be so, and you were never going to change your destination anyway.

L.A. was no wasteland. I’ll forever be grateful for the art house that introduced me to Kieslowski’s “Dekalog.” He was a filmmaker unafraid of exploring his own Catholicism, and these were 10 short films set around a gray Warsaw housing complex and based on the Ten Commandments.

In the first one, the false idol is technology, as faith put in computer modeling of the thickness of lake ice leads a father to let his young son go skating, a decision he regrets, to put it mildly.

Equally pertinent today is the fifth installment (after “thou shalt not kill”), in which an idealistic lawyer blames himself for failing to save his client from the death penalty. We leave him parked roadside, alone in his car and shouting to himself, “I abhor it! I abhor it!”

As they say, now more than ever.

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