Restorations Reviews

(11) Dekalog (Blu-ray release)

Dekalog IX: Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.

In many ways, Dekalog IX revisits the themes of Dekalog VI (A Short Film About Love) in its confrontation of the distinction between sex and love. The subjects of this episode, however, are a couple who have been married for ten years. Roman (Piotr Machalica), the husband, sees a doctor and learns that he is impotent. Moreover, the doctor assures him that the situation is incurable, and even goes so far as to advise Roman to seek a divorce because he will be unable to make love to his wife. While he seems calm and logical about it in the doctor’s office, he begins to fall into crisis as soon as he leaves. In his car on the way home, he screeches to a halt and begins hitting the steering wheel in his frustration. At this moment, Barciś rides by on a bicycle, and glances into the car and the upset Roman.

de09When he finally returns home, it is pouring rain, and it is night time. Presumably he had spent all day out, unable to face his wife. When his wife, Hanka (Ewa Błaszczyk), sees the car parked outside, she walks out in the rain to bring him in. They do not discuss what heppened for some time, as Hanka senses that the news is grim. When she is finally ready to hear what Roman learned, he explains to her that his impotence is permanent. It is clear that Roman feels emasculated by the situation, and even suggests that if Hanka wants to stay with him that she should find a lover if she doesn’t already have one. She assures him that she does not, and expresses that her love for him will conquer his inability to express it physically. She states, “Love is in one’s heart, not between one’s legs.” This is the reversal of the position that Magda holds in Dekalog VI.

A dynamic in the episode which both serves as a symbolic guide to Roman and foreshadows much of Kieślowski’s later work is between Roman, who works as a surgeon, and a young woman who is one of his patients. The girl is a singer, and is contemplating whether to get a surgery that could be life threatening but would also allow her to sing. She describes that, while she likes to sing and is very good at it, her heart is too weak to perform. This parallels the protagonist of one of Kieślowski’s next films, The Double Life of Veronique. When Roman asks the girl about what type of music she likes to sing, she lists the names of several well known classical musicians, as well as Van Den Budenmayer. Budenmayer is a pseudonym for Zbigniew Preisner found in several of Kieślowski’s films, and it is used as a way to attribute Preisner’s original music to a composer in the films. This is the first time that Kieślowski would mention Budenmayer in a film, though the fictional composer would come up again in The Double Life of Veronique and Three Colors: Blue. According to these films, as well as Kieślowski and Preisner, the Budenmayer character was a Dutch composer in the 18th century.

As Roman continues to talk to the girl, she explains that while she likes to sing, she is fine knowing that she will live, even if it means never singing again. This provides Roman with some guidance in his own situation as he realizes that he wants to be with the woman he loves even if he can not have a sexual relationship. However, the girl later comes back to Roman upset, explaining that she’s realized how much she loves to sing. While she is not angry, she halfheartedly blames him.

Later, while listening to a Budenmayer record, Roman gets a phone call and a man answers looking for his wife. He also finds a student’s notebook in the glove compartment of his car, which is broken and continues to unexpectedly fall open. As his suspicion builds that his wife is having an affair with a younger man, he starts to search for evidence. Roman learns that the two are meeting at Hanka’s mother’s apartment. He even goes so far as to make a copy of the key to search the residence, where he finds the notebook that had previously been in the glove compartment, as well as a postcard that the young man had sent her at that address.

He finally hides at the apartment to confirm the affair, and he listens as the two make love. As Hanka becomes more and more overcome with guilt, she decides to end her extramarital relationship. She tells her lover, Mariusz (Jan Jankowski), that it is over, and after he leaves she discovers Roman hiding in the closet watching them. As the two talk, Mariusz returns and pleads with Hanka to divorce her husband and marry him as Roman watches from his hiding place. When she turns Mariusz away again and returns to Roman, he is gone. She searches the apartment in a panic and finds him sick in the bathroom. She pleads with her husband to hold her and they resolve to spend some time apart and then inquire about adopting a child in the hopes that it will make their situation easier.

Hanka decides to go on a skiing trip so that she and her husband can have time alone. After Roman puts her on a train to her trip, he sees Mariusz packing for a skiing trip. Kieślowski then shows the audience alternating moments as Mariusz shows up uninvited on Hanka’s trip, and Roman writes Hanka a letter and leaves it in their apartment. As Hanka flees to return home to her husband, Roman rides his bike along a road. He passes by Barciś again, who looks at him as they go in different directions, and then Roman rides his bike off a ledge. Barciś is seen one final time looking at Roman’s unmoving body in the dirt, before sadly riding away. Hanka returns home in a panic and sees Roman’s letter. As she reads it, she grows more and more upset. Presumably the letter was a suicide note, and Hanka sits helplessly, not knowing whether her husband is alive. However, Kieślowski shows the audience that Roman did indeed survive and is in the hospital. He calls her and when she picks up the phone she is relieved to hear that he is alive.

This episode is in the minority, ending on a somewhat optimistic note. Though the couple have had their problems, the ending implies that they will attempt to work through them because they really do love each other. In contrast with Dekalog VI, the couple managed to triumph over the battle between sex and love.

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