‘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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Love and marriage go together like a carriage. Oh yes we all have heard that. But impotence is like a carriage with a stuck wheel. Of course it is a medical condition, which needs fixing. Marriage itself is so fraught with partners falling out of love and compatibility put to jeopardy by so many reasons that need not have anything to do with the body. So how should the problem of impotence be treated viz-a-viz with love? Dekalog 9 unearths several uncomfortable truths. Roman (Piotr Machalica) is a heart surgeon and discovers the horrible truth; he is impotent. One suggestion is that he divorce his beautiful young wife Hanka (Ewa Blaszczyk) and starts his life alone. But his love for her is too deep for that. Hanka is very understanding, accepting just how difficult it’s going to be to come to terms with this problem. She even resents when Roman comes up with plan B. He intimates that she should take a lover.
The irony is that Hanka already has a boyfriend, Mariusz (Jan Jankowski), whom she meets in her mother’s flat. Her sessions are purely on physical level. The only danger is that Roman could discover what’s going on which is what Roman sets out to do. He doubts that there is something strange and his suspicion takes possession of him after he discovers Mariusz’s notebook in the car. Jealousy and not love is that consumes him. Underlying this is that unreasonable demand that she pitches her all in his favor since he is disadvantaged. We can only say, Physician heal thyself!
‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods’
This episode will bring comparison with “American Buffalo.” Decalog deals not with numismatics but with philately. Both have to do with rare collectibles for which collectors will pay huge sums. Thus the commandment is all about greed.
Two brothers are going through the apartment of their father who has just died. They hardly knew him and they stumble upon a very valuable collection. Their father was a major league player in the world of philately. Various others are eager to swindle them, including a prosperous smooth talking dealer (Henryk Bista), whom the brothers attempt to outsmart. The bothers trust each other to a point but introduce greed as a third element anything can go wrong. This is a dark comedy.
Technically and as essays into depths of human nature with particular relevance Warsaw, Kieslowski’s dekalog stands testimony to a major talent that was regrettably cut off by his early death in 1996 at the age of 54. Polish cinema truly lost one of the best filmmakers.
“Dekalog” was set in Warsaw at the end of communist rule, though the ten one-hour movies made for state-owned Polish television. Director/writer Krzysztof Kieslowski once remarked that he did not accept martial law in Poland but had to live with it.
“I don’t have any goals. I’m not going to change anything through movies.”
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