Thursday, February 23, 2017

Film Notes: Dekalog Seven

The seventh film in the Dekalog series by Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski, is his response to the biblical commandment "You Shall Not Kill", found amongst the 10 Commandments of the Old Testament. While Dekalog Five and Six, contained powerful messages, Dekalog seven reverts to the pattern found earlier in the series of asking questions around the fringes of what the commandment means in practice. While this film doesn't challenge the commandment directly, it does question what ownership means, where moral and legal 'ownership' clash. The critical line in the entire piece is delivered by the central character, Majka when she says, "Can you steal something that belongs to you?"

The plot of the film is revealed more slowly than the action; in as much as the meaning of the unfolding drama is only drip-fed to the viewer, as the complex back-story of the characters is slowly unveiled. Bit by bit, the action begins to make sense, as the characters turbulent past is brought to bear on the present. In short (spoiler alert!) however, the drama focuses on a fragile young woman Majka, who appears to be kidnapping her little sister Ana, from her parents, who eventually successfully reclaim her. The plot-twist is that the child is not her sister, but her daughter, fathered by a school teacher with whom she had a scandalous affair - all part of the back story. To complicate matters, Majka's mother, Ewa (who was unable to have any further children after Majka), is obsessed with mothering Ana, and excluding Majka. Majka's father is a kind, but weak man, who fails to intervene in the unfolding crisis, cowering before his wife's power.

While this is one of the weaker films in the series, it is certainly a gripping and absorbing hour's viewing; which raises profound questions. While the cast may not have had as much to work with as their colleagues in some of the other films in the series; they turn in some riveting performances. Ana Polony as the Ewa is a strong and domineering force. Maja Barelkowska plays Majka with an amazing delicacy and vulnerability which is rather beautiful in its fragility. The performance of Katarzyna Piwowarczyk as the little child Ania is though quite remarkable. It perhaps suggests that Kieślowski, along with his love of signs, symbolism, and mystery - is also rather adept at directing children, and enabling this one to give an amazingly natural performance.

You shall not steal, might be the starting point. The end point though, seems to be that ownership is up for question - and can sometimes what is established as 'ownership' is more a matter of might than right.

No comments: