Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Decalogue VII, VIII, IX, X

Dekalog; drama, Poland, 1988; D: Krzysztof Kieślowski, S: Anna Polony, Maja Barelkowska, Teresa Marczewska, Ewa Blasczyk, Jerzy Stuhr, Zbigniew Zamachowski

Part VII: the 22-year old Majka abducts her own daughter, Ania, who was raised believing that Majka was her sister, and that her grandmother - Ewa - was actually her mother. This was done because at the time of Majka's pregnancy, she was 17 and pregnant with Stefan, her high school teacher. Insisting on the truth, Majka boards a train alone when Ewa and Stefan find Ania... Part VIII: Elzbieta, a Jewish Holocaust survivor in her 40s, confronts the ethics professor, Zofia: Elzbieta was a 6-year old girl during WWII, who was refused shelter in Zofia's apartment, allegedly because Zofia did not want to lie. Zofie admits that her home was spied on by Gestapo and that she could not take Elzbieta in due to that... Part IX: after finding out her husband, Roman, is impotent, his wife Hanka has an affair, but regrets it and returns to him... Part X: two brothers, Jerzy and Artur, inherit a valuable stamp collection from their later father, but are robbed by a store owner.

The final four parts conclude Krzysztof Kieslowski's modern philosophical essay about the Ten Commandments, serving as some sort of annotation to its incomplete rules compared to the complexity of the modern society, as well as questioning numerous cases that show an exception to them due to various 'grey areas'. An appropriate example is in part VII, in which the 22-year old Majka abducts her own daughter Ania who was lied to that Majka is her sister, and that her grandmother is Ania's mother. This situation brings almost a triple insertion of commandments in one, not only "Thou shall not steal", but also "Thou shall not bear false witness" and "Honor thy parents": by abducting, "stealing" her own daughter - i.e. breaking the 7th commandment - Majka is actually invigorating commandments number 4 and 8, by forcing the grandmother to finally tell the truth and by getting her rightful status as a mother. Unfortunately, part VII is arguably the weakest contribution, a far too overstretched and lax story, which ends in a rather inconclusive manner. Part VIII gives another take on commandment 8, and a very tricky one: is it morally justified to uphold the commandment that someone should not tell a lie, even when it means to save a Jewish girl from the Holocaust? Is her life not more important in that context than to lie that she was baptised? Kiewslowski cleverly shows how life outrules some commandments.

After that strong, very thoughtful and very aesthetic segment, parts IX and X somehow finish "The Decalogue" on a lesser finale. However, they are still very good. Part IX gives another unorthodox take, in this edition on commandment "Thou shall not covet thy neighbor's wife": when a husband, Roman, finds out he is impotent, is his wife allowed to have an affair with another man? The segment may not be as powerful as the previous ones, or it may just be that the viewers already got used to the storyline, yet Kieslowski is very subtle and thought-provoking even here, a lot in the terms of spiritual faithfulness in a couple, and especially in the clever notion in which he subtly ridicules the sexist message of the commandment, namely that it only applies to "thy neighbor's wife", but not also to "thy neighbor's husband", thereby showing how one-sided it is. Finally, part X is - surprisingly, and refreshingly - a comedy, and a welcomed change from the previous episodes, even though parts III and IV were already quite cheerful as well. This final part is somewhat less effective, it drags and ends without some decisive point that circles out all the stories into a grand conclusion (as it was the case in Kieslowski's "Three Colors: Red"), but it must be noted for the golden comical performances by the brilliant Jerzy Stuhr and Zbigniew Zamachowski as the two brothers who become paranoid when they inherit a valuable stamp collection (several humorous moments here, as in when Jerzy finds out that Artur bought a dog to guard the apartment, which end in this dialogue: "Show me the dog. It must get used to me." - "I locked him inside the bathroom. I'm a little scared of him, too").


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