Sunday, March 05, 2017

Film Notes: Dekalog 9

In the late 1980s, the celebrated Polish filmmaker, Krzysztof Kieślowski, set out to make ten short interlinked films. The films all shared a common location, a giant monoform set of flats in Warsaw, which create a drab and deadening canvass for each piece. The films all share a common form, in that they are all dramas built around the human relationships in the flats. The films sometimes even overlap, with characters and scenes from one film appearing as extras or backdrops in others. Most significantly though, the films are each loosely connected to one of the biblical Ten Commandments: "the dekalog". Having previously admired Kieślowski's Tricolore series, I was intrigued to learn that he had previously attempted something with its roots in the bible.

The ninth film in the series, shares all the features which marked the first eight; faded filming, moody, atmospheric music, sparse dialogue, the plot mostly driven emotional developments, not action scenes; where the ability of actors to reveal the inner lives of their characters while the camera lingers long on their faces; is more important than any stuntman, let alone special effects (of which there are none!) In Dekalog 9, the prohibition against adultery (and coveting a neighbour's wife) is in view. However, rather than using the commandment to ask complex questions (Do Not Steal; Dekalog Seven) or to deliver a political polemic (Do not Kill: Dekalog Five); Dekalog Nine is more of a straightforward story of tragedy, and relationship breakdown.

The film begins with a man being told by a Doctor that his sexual impotence is medical, permanent and untreatable. (An issue Kieslowski would return to with comic effect in Tricolore Blanc). Anxious, frustrated and angry, he tells his wife about the diagnosis, and also tells her that he would understand if she took a lover. She assures him that, she would remain faithful to him, declaring that, "Love is in one's heart - not between one's legs." As the story unfolds however, the husband discovers that his wife is unwilling to live up to these sentiments; and has a lover - a physics student who is many years her junior. He seems to be infatuated with her, and loves her both with his heart and er..... with what's between his legs; while she merely uses him for her sexual needs. The remainder of the film (along with some little sub-plots) charts the man's disintegration as he discovers the affair; and his attempted suicide.

Rather than leading the viewer to think and wrestle with complex moral issues, this is like a little morality play; in which selfish actions produce great pain and suffering amongst those closest to them. Dekalog Nine, is far from being the best of the series, it lacks the complexity and intrigue of the best of the works. It is still memorable in its own way though, because of the rawness of the human tragedy which underlies it. Another wonderful thing in this episode is the hauntingly beautiful soundtrack music by Zbigniew Preisner, which seems to perfectly amplify the emotional darkness of the characters.

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