Dekalog IV: Honor thy father and thy mother.
Despite that this is one of the more intense and risque segments of Dekalog, it begins in a fairly playful manner. The main characters are a father and daughter: Anka (Adrianna Biedrzyńska) and Michal (Janusz Gajos). As the episode opens, the two are playing an Easter Monday game in which the goal is to unexpectedly throw water on the other person. Kieślowski establishes a strong relationship between the two from the get-go. The major plot device, however, is revealed early on when Anka sees a letter on her father’s desk as he is packing to go out of town that says that it is to be opened upon his death. It is later revealed that this was not the first time that she had seen the letter, but the first time her father had not taken it with him.
While Michal is gone, Anka sees an eye doctor. Kieślowski heavy handedly suggests the importance of the theme of parentage, as the eye doctor gives her a sight test and has her read out the letters “F-A-T-H-E-R”. She later sits by a lake holding the envelope, carefully considering whether to open it. She finally cuts the envelope open only to discover a second envelope, this one specifically addressed to her. It is in this moment that Barciś’s character makes his appearance. This time he is walking away from the lake carrying a canoe over his head. As he passes her, he stops and they make eye contact for a long time. He stares knowingly, as if warning her that once she reads the contents of the letter, she can not unread them. After he walks away, she puts the smaller envelope back into the larger one and returns home.
When Anka meets Michal as he returns from his trip, she is clearly upset. She recites the contents of the letter from memory, presumably having read it after all. She reveals that the letter said that Michal is not her real father. Michal slaps her in the face and walks away. This moment, and the moments after as both are clearly distressed about the event, begin to show the breakdown of their relationship. It is clear that they both know that their relationship has forever changed, and they are both unsure of how to go forward.
Anka finally returns home and the two begin to converse. As the conversation unfolds, the dialogue between the two becomes more comfortable and honest. It becomes clear that Michal didn’t really know the facts of the situation, but had his suspicions. However, the dynamic between the pair begins to take an odd turn. They take a drink of vodka together, and symbolically of where the story is headed, they cross their arms to drink as a married couple would at a wedding. It is not long after that Anka confesses a romantic, and perhaps more strangely, a physical attraction to Michal. As she explains this to him, the pair are interrupted by a coworker of Michal’s.
The next sequence is spectacularly orchestrated by Kieślowski. After Michal’s friend leaves, he goes to Anka’s room where she is lying in bed crying. Kieślowski begins with a shot of Michal from a low angle, with a mobile hanging over his head. This clearly frames him as a father figure, rather than a romantic hero. It cuts to Anka who is face down on the bed crying, and her shirt has come up exposing the skin around her back and stomach. Michal reaches down and pulls her shirt down to cover her. This rejection of her flesh goes a long way to desexualize the relationship and bring them back to a father-daughter dynamic. He later expresses feelings of jealousy that he has felt when she’s had boyfriends and he explains that it’s not the type of jealousy a father feels when his daughter dates, but the jealousy that “a man feels about a woman”. This complexity leaves the viewer feeling as conflicted as the characters.
When Anka wakes up the next morning, she can’t find Michal. She searches the apartment and then sees him outside with a bag, walking away. She opens the window and shouts out, calling him “Daddy”. In this moment of desperation, it is clear that her affection for him as her father has returned. When she runs out to meet him, he explains that he was simply going out for milk. In this moment, she confesses that she made up everything and actually did not know what the letter said. As she makes this confession, Barciś walks by again, still carrying his canoe.
The two decide to burn the letter, preferring to not know the true nature of their relationship. They burn it together, and Anka looks at the last bits of the letter that remain unburned. They can make out the words, “My darling daughter… I have something to tell you… Michal is not…” The ambiguous nature of this ending makes the viewer wonder what may have happened next, but Kieślowski does not give answers. He simply tells the story, and leaves the audience to know that life will go on for these two, now knowing the complex feelings they’ve confessed for each other.