The actors and actresses who populate the dreary high-rise apartment complex in The Decalogue are a treasury of Polandís contemporary performers. Given the variety of stories and the age range of characters, The Decalogue needed a number of experienced and versatile actors. Many played characters who are not likable but who must elicit sympathy and compassion in the viewer - no small feat for any actor.
Despite lengthy careers and appearances in widely acclaimed films, most of these actors remain unknown outside of Eastern Europe. The following represent those performers whose careers are unique, either because of longevity, breadth, or a special connection to Kieslowski.
Known as Andrzej Wajdaís signature actor, Daniel Olbryschski appeared in his first Wajda film, Ashes (Popioly), in 1965. Because Wajda was the first Eastern European director whose films were widely shown in the West, Olbrychski received more international attention than most actors from the old Eastern Bloc countries. The pair eventually made a dozen films together over a span of more than 30 years.
Born in 1945, Olbrychski was educated at the Warsaw School of Drama. He made his film debut in 1964 in the little-known Wounded in the Forest, but it was his appearance in Ashes that propelled his career forward so that he became Polandís most popular young actor. One of his strengths as an actor was his versatility; he played characters who were rigid authority figures, and he played those that were benign, sympathetic everymen. The international recognition from the Wajda films helped him land roles in the films of Europeís most respected directors -- Miklos Jancso, Margarethe von Trotta, Joseph Losey, and Claude Lelouche, among others. In 1984, he appeared as the devious bureaucrat in his first Hollywood feature, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, directed by Philip Kaufman.
By the time Krzysztof Kieslowski cast him in Episode 3 of The Decalogue, "Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy," Olbrychski was arguably Polandís most recognizable star. As a quiet, reserved man whose past love affair comes back to haunt him, the legendary actor skillfully underplays his role, so that his presence - cultivated from years of experience - fills the screen in every scene.
Also a graduate of the Warsaw School of Drama, Krystyna Janda made her screen and stage debut in the mid-1970s. In a way, Jandaís career offers a parallel to Olbrychski, because like Olbrychski, her career was firmly established because of her appearance in a film by Andrzej Wajda, Man of Marble. In that film, she plays a documentary filmmaker who learns the price of fame in a communist country. After appearing in several other films by the great director, including The Conductor and Rough Treatment, she became the actress most associated with his work. So rapid was the progress of her career that she was the subject of a Polish documentary in 1978, Actress.
During the 1980s, Janda began appearing in a variety of film styles and genres, including romantic comedies and science fiction dramas. In 1987, Kieslowski cast her in "Episode 2: Thou shalt not take the name the Lord thy God in vain," as a woman who is contemplating an abortion. International recognition came in 1990 when she received the best actress award at the Cannes International Film Festival for Interrogation, directed by Ryszard Bugajski. The film had been completed in 1982 but had been banned by Polish authorities until after the collapse of the communist governments in Eastern Europe.
In the mid-1990s, Janda tried her hand at directing. Her debut effort was a romantic drama titled Pestka (Pip), which tells the story of a career woman who falls in love with a married man. As fate would have it, Daniel Olbrychski stars as the family man torn by his affair with another woman.
An outstanding theater, film, and television actress, Maja Komorowska graduated from the Faculty of Puppetry of the National Academy of Theatre in Krakow. Her acting career began in the theater during the late 1960s, when she appeared on Polandís most prestigious stages in a variety of theatrical work, from the Theatre of Mask and Puppet Grotesque in Krakow to King Lear at the Contemporary Theatre of Warsaw. She is still collaborating with the latter on some of its major productions.
During the 1970s, Maja Komorowska made her screen debut in a short film by Krzysztof Zanussi titled Mountains at Dusk. The gifted actress became the director's favorite, and, over the years, she starred in Zanussiís Family Life, The Quarterly Balance (Balance), Spiral, and At Full Gallop. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, her stage career took a back seat to film as she appeared in the work of other prominent directors, including Andrzej Wajda, Tadeusz Konwicki, and Istvan Szabo. It was during this period that Kieslowski cast her in "Episode 1: I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before me" as a religious woman whose nephew is too enthralled by the capabilities of modern computers. Not coincidentally, Henryk Baranowski, who played opposite Komorowska as the father of the boy, is also involved in the theater. He is a major stage director and playwright.
During the following decade, Komorowska appeared on the stage more often. She created several outstanding performances in mature parts, including those in Samuel Beckett's The Happy Days directed by Antoni Libera, Thomas Bernhard's At the Goal staged by Erwin Axer, and Ausloeschung-Erasing/Ausloeschung-Wymazywanie directed by Krystian Lupa. Komorowska is considered an outstanding artist and respected mentor in the actors' community because of her charismatic personality and perfection in her craft.
According to Jerzy Stuhr, "It all began in 1975 with Krzysztof Kieslowski." In addition to appearing in five of Kieslowski's films, including Episode 10 of The Decalogue, "Thou shalt not covet thy neighborís wife...," Stuhr was mentored by the older director when he moved from in front of the camera to behind it. Moreover, he was inspired by Kieslowski's style and his preoccupation with "moral concerns." Stuhr's second film as a director, Love Stories (Historie miosnie), released in 1997, was dedicated to Kieslowski, and a later feature, The Big Animal (Duze zwierze), shot in 2000, employs an early, previously unshot Kieslowski screenplay.
A lesser-known connection is that Stuhr teaches directing at a film school in Katowice, Poland, named after Kieslowski. The school was founded in 1978, and Kieslowski taught there in its earlier days, which was the impetus for naming it after the beloved director.