Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Film Notes: Dekalog 6

The sixth short film in the Dekalog by Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski, is his take on the biblical commandment, "You Shall Not Covet". While some of the earlier films in this series took an exploratory and non-judgemental angle; Dekalog 6 feels like a morality play; a sort of warning about the consuming and damaging nature of covetousness. This follows on from the violent Dekalog 5 which takes a strong moral stance against capital punishment which it portrays as the flip-side of murder. While never being in the remotest sense didactic or 'preachy', Kieślowski definitely shifts from asking questions to stating opinions in these middle episodes of the series. It will be interesting to see if this is a pattern for the remainder of the series - or a little diversion in the middle.

The covetousness in question here, is that of a lustful teenage boy, spying on his attractive neighbour and her various boyfriends and lovers. His initial lust, turns to obsession with her, and a consuming covetousness which controls all his life decisions. Some have suggested that the strongly sexualised storyline indicates that the commandment 'do not commit adultery' is in view here; but this is surely incorrect. None of the characters involved here are married, and so adultery is not the issue - rather the destructive power of desiring what one does not, (and should not) have, is. With some nicely comedic farce, the plot involves the teenager falsely reporting gas leaks, in order to interrupt the lady of his desires when her lovers visit. As with all these films, the setting is the 'Dekalog' flats in Soviet era Poland, which provide a rather bleak canvas on which these human dramas are painted.

Without giving away every detail, it is nothing of a surprise when the story doesn't drift towards a happy ending; but that covetousness causes damage to both the covet-er, and the coveted. Interestingly, the danger which Kieślowski sees covetousness as having is two-fold, in that it both creates a desire which is uncontrollable and reduces the freedom of the person so consumed; but also makes the distant coveted object appear to be so unrealistically perfect that 'having' it in any sense can only be disappointing, unfulfilling - and in this case embarrassing. The story then turns two sharp corners, the first as the coveter is exposed and disillusioned; and then when the coveted person seems to miss the flattery that was contained within covet-er's obsession.

As with so many of these Dekalog films, the directing and acting is very strong; the whole effect being to produce a series of the most atmospheric and absorbing dramas.  The teenager Tomek is well played by Olaf Lubaszenko, as is the woman, Magda by Grażyna Szapołowska. Of course, the Soviet-era is long gone; and it is rather interesting to see that while so much has changed, from cars to architecture - the human condition has not. The same relational complexities, human drives and appetites, lusts and needs alike, remain intact. Of course, the sins in view here are those from a list which itself is thousands of years old, given to the nomadic Israelites, between their flight from Egypt and their conquest of Canaan. Such a different cultural context is perhaps hard to imagine; yet the sins there prohibited are depicted here as being the driving forces of a group of Poles in the Soviet-bloc; which causes us to reflect on how they might be worked out in our own time and place; and indeed within ourselves.

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