Restorations Reviews

(11) Dekalog (Blu-ray release)

Dekalog VII: Thou shalt not steal.

“Can you steal what is really yours?” is the question that is broached in the seventh installment of the series. The episode’s main character, Majka (Maja Barelkowska), is a young woman living with her parents and a six year old girl whom the opening of the film presumes to be her sister, but is in fact her daughter. Ewa had the child, Ania (Katarzyna Piwowarczyk), when she was 16 and slept with her professor, Wojtek (Boguslaw Linda). Her mother, Ewa (Anna Polony), has been presenting herself as the girl’s mother in order to prevent Majka from the burden of raising a child and damaging her reputation, and protect Wojtek from losing his job.

In one of the episode’s first scenes, Majka tries to comfort Ania who is screaming in her sleep. Ewa comes up behind Majka and places her hands on her shoulders, seemingly to comfort her. However, she quickly pushes her daughter aside telling her to leave and insisting that she does not know how to help the young girl. Though the viewer has not yet been told of the nature of the relationships at play, it is clear that Majka is very upset as she goes to cry to her father, Stefan (Wladyslaw Kowalski).

Dek07_grab_002.tifWhile Ewa and Ania are at a school show, Majka manages to abduct Ania and take her away before Ewa realizes that the young girl is gone. Majka had been seen earlier trying to obtain a passport for herself and her daughter. However, since Ania is legally Ewa’s child, she needs her mother’s consent to obtain the passport. As Majka is sneaking Ania far from Ewa’s presence, she tells the little girl that she is in fact her mother. She proceeds to flee to Wojtek’s apartment,  although he is apparently not in on the scheme as he is surprised to see them. Wojtek is clearly conflicted throughout the episode. He seems to appreciate what Ewa did for him and Majka when their lives could’ve been destroyed by the affair, but he also has some sympathy for the young woman and their child.

The middle of the episode is driven heavily by conversation between the former lovers as they discuss Majka’s future plans. She recounts the horrible time she has spent watching her mother raise her child. She tells a particularly disturbing tale of coming home while Ania was very young, and seeing Ewa trying to breastfeed the baby. Ewa later comments, in a conversation with her husband, that she felt possession over Ania that she had never felt toward Majka. Stefan notes that she couldn’t have felt that sense of motherly possession over her eldest daughter, as she put too much pressure on her. It is clear that Ewa feels that she failed as a mother the first time, and she views Ania as her second chance to be a proper parent.

When Majka calls her mother from a payphone, Ewa struggles with the idea of giving up any control over the little girl that she had taken to be her own daughter. Majka gives Ewa two hours to consider whether she is willing to give up control of the child, as she returns to Wojtek’s house. Clearly upset, she begs Ania to call her “Mommy”, but the confused young girl refuses. While Ania never seems upset with Majka over what is happening, she does not seem to fully understand the situation that she is in.

On her second call with Majka, Ewa offers to allow the girl to get her own apartment and to spend time with Ania on the weekends. Majka counters by saying that Ewa must give her permission for Ania to get a passport, or she will never see the two again. After Majka counts down from five and hangs up the phone, Ewa agrees, but it is too late for her daughter to hear her. Majka then sends Wojtek to get his friend’s van to take them home, and uses the time to flee to a train station with her daughter.

Ewa and Stefan arrive at the train station and find Majka and Ania sleeping in the ticket booth, waiting on the train. When Ewa opens the door to the booth, Ania sees her and runs to her, still not fully understanding the dynamic of the relationship. Moments too late for them to escape, the train pulls into the station and Majka runs onto it without saying a word to her parents, and looks out at her daughter sadly. Ewa helplessly watches as Majka leaves, and utters “my daughter,” as if recognizing too late that she had always had the child that she wanted. As the train pulls away, Ania pushes out of Ewa’s arms and runs next to the train in a way that very much recalls Kieślowski’s earlier film Blind Chance. As the train pulls too far away for Ania to keep chasing it, the little girl stops and looks on, finally understanding that her mother has just left.

The film does not close the narrative completely, but instead leaves the viewer to wonder what the future looks like for these characters. Certainly, Majka’s departure does not mean that she will certainly never see her family again, and Ania’s implied recognition in the final moments of the film seem to imply that she will be facing some new emotional challenges. Kieślowski does not tell you whether mother and daughter will ever be reunited, or whether Ewa will ever get the chance to apologize to her eldest daughter, but instead simply allows you to ponder what may happen next.

Dekalog VII is the first of two episodes in which Barciś does not make an appearance. Kieślowski intended to include him in one of the train station scenes in some capacity, however a technical issue prevented the footage from being used in the final cut. It is unfortunate, and in my opinion Kieślowski’s only failing in the series, that he could not include this device in all the episodes, as the scenes with Barciś tend to be very effective. The impact of the device may be slightly weakened by its omission in episodes VII and X. Still, the raw emotion and ambiguity of this episode leave a deep impact.

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