‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’
In the seventh episode Kieslowski poses the question of whether you can steal something that is already yours. The world we live in is so complex and there are simple thefts and subtle forms of theft. A young woman, Majka (Maja Barelkowska) is planning to leave for Canada and at the passport office she also wants to obtain a child’s passport and that requires the mother’s signed permission. Majka is Ania’s birth mother, which in the eyes of law could be challenged. The same evening a girl of six, Ania (Katarzyna Piwowarczyk), is crying in a nightmare and Majka attempts to comfort her. The effort ends in failure though when their mother Ewa (Anna Polony) takes charge. The father, Stefan (Wladyslaw Kowalski), holds and soothes Majka, even as Ewa is doing the same with Ania. Could the two women with a child in between live in amity? For a casual observer they represent a happy family but between the women there is an undercurrent of tension. Majka was underage when she became pregnant so Ewa steps in for all intents and purposes as the mother. Ewa wants the sole control over Ania. (The irony is that Ania is actually sired by a young teacher, Wojtek (Boguslaw Linda), from the school where Ewa is headmistress.)
On the following day Ewa takes Ania to a pantomime with all of the other mothers and kids. However, Majka manages to take the child out of the building and disappear. Ania is a pawn in the tug-of- war and is the ultimate loser. As with the first Dekalog 7 proves Kieslowski’s to write for and direct children. He presents an extremely believable and thoroughly tragic commentary on the Commandment that essentially related to material goods. Stealing money and stealing affection are on the same scale but in the eyes of law are not punished equally.
‘Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness’
In the woods close to a familiar apartment complex an old lady, Zofia (Maria Koscialkowska), jogs carefully and she exchanges a few words with her stamp-collecting neighbour and prepares for work. She is a professor of ethics within Warsaw University. That day as usual she takes class with Elzbieta (Teresa Marczewska), an American translator of Zofia’s work, sitting in.
During the session when Zofia comments on a true-life tale, and impresses upon her students the point that a child’s life is of paramount importance, Elzbieta feels compelled to relate another tale. In this one, set in 1943, a 6 year-old Jewish girl is about to be lodged with some willing Catholic protectors, since her parents are in the ghetto. Unfortunately, at the last minute, the man and woman renege on their promise, leaving the child to an uncertain fate. A tragic story without a doubt but Zofia seems shaken far more deeply than the situation warrants, suggesting a hidden connection (since she is of roughly the correct age for wartime exploits). The question is, how does Elzbieta know the story and why is she choosing now to have her say?
Advancing in years and well grounded in logic and ethics do not remove life’s incidents perhaps forgotten or glossed over. Elzbieta and Sofia meets accidentally and yet there are points in the past that connect them.
Motives and actions do not exactly match point to point. An action carries so many overtones, some of which are of contrary to what is done. This point is brought home to Sofia by her translator.
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Dekalog 4 hangs upon the Commandment, “Honour thy Father and Mother”. In the familiar apartment block, teenage Anka (Adrianna Biedrzynska) has lived with her father Michal (Janusz Gajos) all her life. Their bond is very close considering that her mother has been dead soon after she was born. Even the existence of a friend Jarek (Tomasz Kozlowicz) closer to her in age has not hurt the relationship. Her father leaves for abroad and she discovers a letter addressed to her, with instructions that it is only to be opened after Michal’s death. In succumbing to the temptation and breaking his command she realizes her own relationship with both have changed. Personal desire of Anka compete with the moral obligations imposed on her by her father and also the society and in violation there are consequences. Anka finds a second letter, addressed directly to Anka in her mother’s handwriting. When Michal reappears, she confronts him with the contents and thereafter that bond which had held so securely for long is broken forever.
Dekalog 4 deals with sexual love and when it is between May-December it is treading on thin ice of social conventions. Given the family structure in which this is expressed the result could be explosive indeed.
‘Thou shalt not kill.’
A state is a vast machinery where man is a cog that enmeshes with other parts to keep it running. Some are small and others have much more importance. The Fifth segment deals with three such cogs whose lives are bound to meet. Jacek (Miroslaw Baka) is one of the luckless youths with a mean streak. The middle-aged taxi driver (Jan Tesarz) is the second and Piotr (Krzysztof Globisz), a young and idealistic lawyer is the other. The cabdriver picks up Jacek and heads out of town; behind, Jacek fingers a cord, nervous yet determined to kill. In a horrifying act, all the more brutal for its mindless nature the taxidriver is killed. There are two deaths in this film in fact, one reckless and the other legal. Both are executed without an iota of compassion. Do two deaths set thus in juxtapposition cancel each other out? What follows is a sort of carnaval where Law takes its course with regards to the condemned man while his failed defence lawyer Piotr looks on.
Dekalog 6 (1988)
“Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery”is a commandment that needs be examined afresh considering how lack of living space bears upon ordinary people in Warsaw to settle for concrete high rise apartments where privacy is often lacking. Voyeurism was practiced then as now. Of course Susannah had to deal with the elders and Bethsheba, with David, a royal admirer. But in the modern times couples copulate under the very noses of everyone else. All one needs is to have a yen ‘for watching how others live across the block.’ Tomek (Olaf Linde Lubaszenko) who works in the local post office spends his free time spying on Magda (Grazyna Szapolowska) and her succession of lovers. Lust in the eyes calls for desperate measures and Tomek does what he can with all the skills in his possession. He can make silent phone calls or even disguise as her milkman. When his brief contacts however unsatisfying, feeds his lust, one day he chases Magda down after creating a crisis at the post office. He pours out his lust that repels Magda. But that night Magda titillates Tomek, and coolly tells her lover of the peeping Tom. Following this there is a fistfight in the carpark. Magda doesn’t believe in love but in sex.
Irony of love is such Magda becomes now obsessed. Love redeems and lust enslaves. But given the flawed human nature condemned to guilt, loneliness and fear even lusty Magda must own up to her role and be vulnerable.
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Inspired, though not chained to, the second Commandment, Dekalog 2
deals with a hospital consultant (Aleksander Bardini) who lives alone surrounded by his cacti in one of the nondescript apartment complexes. He has a bustling housekeeper. Most of energy is spent on medical matters and he tends critically ill patients such as Andrzej (Olgierd Lukasiewicz). Burdened with possibly terminal cancer a violinist Dorota (Krystyna Janda) his wife is so desperate that she hangs around near the consultant’s flat, even though he only officially sees relatives at 2-5 on Wednesdays.
Dorota is pregnant but not with the child of her husband. So her desperation is not purely for her husband’s cure but for the certainty. In case he regains health she must abort the baby that is someone elses. The consultant and Dorota already know each other under rather unfortunate circumstances( she ran over his dog a few years previously.)
As a physician he invites Dorota in and he explains how difficult it is to make accurate predictions. At the moment all he can counsel is to wait and see,- news, which fails to satisfy Dorota. She is fixated upon obtaining a definitive answer for what is really a moral and psychological problem. The consultant is unwilling to play God just for her. She uses him rather to make a choice between two lives, that of her husband or her unborn child.
Once again, great camera-work and a suitable choice of music form part of the greater whole.
On a snowy Christmas Eve, Janusz (Daniel Olbrychski) a taxi-driver has dressed up as Santa Claus to surprise and delight his children-(an annual tradition).Toting a sack bulging with presents, he stomps merrily into the apartment block where his wife (Joanna Szczepkowska) is delighted. They head off to Midnight Mass. There Janusz briefly spots a familiar face amongst the crowd, that of Ewa (Maria Pakulnis) who had come visiting in the neighborhood.
Later on, Janusz and his wife are disturbed by entry of of Ewa. On the brink of hysteria, Ewa hurriedly explains how her husband has gone missing and that she can’t find him anywhere. Should he help her in such a special night when she could have turned to others as well? Kieslowski in this episode explores with affairs of the heart and their consequences. While Janusz surely loves his family, there was an episode between him and Ewa that had not been fully settled. Things are not what they seem especially when Ewa takes Janusz back to her flat. The dynamics, which guide the actions of the characters are under deep shadows that the past casts on the present, however commendable they may appear to be. The principle actors do a fine job of emoting with each other, expressing the ambiguities and uncertainties of love.
Excellent camerawork is another strength of this part.
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