Jump to content


[Decalogue] Episode IV


  • Please log in to reply
12 replies to this topic

#1 (unregistered)

(unregistered)
  • Guests

Posted 19 October 2003 - 06:26 PM

--content deleted--

#2 Ron Reed

Ron Reed

    Listmaster Extraordinaire

  • Member
  • 3,274 posts

Posted 30 October 2003 - 02:05 AM

I finally join this discussion feeling like the younger brother of the parable, who said "I will," but doesn't. Guess I'm the unmentioned middle brother - I said I would, and I am, but it took a while.

Anyhow. I viewed the first three Dekalogs (and about 20 minutes of the fourth) back in January, then set them aside: they weren't working for me. Felt like I was doing homework. They seemed drab, I was detached from them.

But now that I've viewed number IV, I'm having quite a different experience. I'm not going to draw a lot of conclusions here, but rather, jot some notes about what I noticed.

*

DEKALOG IV

The opening sequence is disorienting. I don't know these people, who they are to each other. Lovers, I guess, by the way she smiles when she wakes him. By the way he tells her he has to use the bathroom – a matter-of-fact intimacy. Though he's not easy with things, and she seems, what, manic perhaps? And when he soaks her with water, he briefly eyes her body, she notices that.

(And what's that about Easter Monday? Seems to lend a baptismal shading to the water fight, but is that ever paid off?)

So it's a mild shock, still disorienting, when the phone rings and she calls out "Dad, I'll take it in my room." Not lovers, but father and daughter. So already the film has established that central uncertainty, first in our perception, and soon in the characters' own perceptions. Nice.

The eye doctor business, plane becoming a blurred spot, chart spelling "father," seemed a bit "on the nose" to me – overtly symbolic, something like that. But it does lead to a nice transition into our (I think) third look at the "To be opened after my death" envelope, starting out of focus.

What's that with the canoe man? Does he show up in other episodes? (Rhetorical question: those of you you know, I'd rather not be told). I liked it very much – this appearance, when it seemingly stops her from opening her mother's letter, and then again later when she's outside in her night clothes, admitting she didn't ever open the letter – CanoeMan's passing is followed with her question, "What is in Mother's letter?" He reminds me somehow of David Lynch, TWIN PEAKS territory.

Acting class. It seems so apt that she is a young acting student: there's a melodramatic, histrionic quality to her personality that seems just suited to being an acting student. And when the teacher takes her face in his hand and speaks the line to her, it certainly resonates with the romantically tinged love she has for her father. (Anybody know what that text is she's acting?)

The fact that Michal's long-time friend says Anna's mother was "like you in every way" certainly adds to the building understanding of what it might feel like to see your dead wife (?) emerging in your growing daughter – how confusing, disorienting, conflicting that would be.

Michal's slamming of the door, breaking the glass, is a very effective moment. And his subsequent lies about it certainly stand out because of the power of the act of breaking it. (You know, if I didn't know in advance that IV was about honouring father and mother, I might have assumed it was the one about lying – certainly that's a central preoccupation of this film. Clearly there's not a precise, exclusive, one-to-one correlation between the films and the commandments.)

When they miss their floor, on the elevator, and the guy gets on at the fourth floor, am I right that he was in an earlier film? The doctor, maybe? And how about the guy who's been in the cellar. I wonder if we'll meet him again? (Don't tell me.)

(It occurs to me that it would be intriguing to see how precisely time lines / chronologies could be charted for this series. She references Easter Monday, then speaks later with some precision about how long Michal was away, how long she carried the letter with her, etc. Wonder how those would tie in with the other characters' stories we glimpse in passing?)

When they're in the cellar, Anna asks Michal "When did you realize (that you weren't my father)?" and he replies that he "never knew for sure." This causes a new understanding of the scene where she met him in the street and recited the "mother's letter," and he slapped her: previously we'd seen that entirely through her eyes, and he seemed cruel. Now we step outside her very self-centred view of things and realize what it was like for him to be attacked with this information. The film has much to do with Anna's maturation out of a certain emotionalized narcissism, and it's remarkable how the film makers lead us through similar revelations – made possible by taking us so closely into her point of view, so often.

I like the dialogue detail: he didn't show her the letter at ten because she was to small, nor at fifteen because she was too big.

Her truth games again point us to the theme of lying, hidden meanings (like in her acting classes). "A lie is a lie." (She no sooner says the two candles represent the two of them, and whichever goies out first gets to ask a question that must be answered truthfully, than he lies about the broken window.) (I loved coming back to the imagery of the flames later, when they are working together to burn the unopened letter – especially since the flames have become linked to asking questions and learning the truth.)

Then we get to the protracted sequence where the two of them talk about their mutual attraction. So uncomfortable, we're so much in the skin of these two people: all that Electra/Oedipus stuff makes more sense to me in this movie than any other time I've encountered it, whether in psych or literature, when it's always seemed nothing but a weird abstraction I couldn't actually get hold of. Here it rings true – and it's very troubling, largely because it's also very beguiling.

She massages his hands while admitting "When I'm touched, I think of your hands." And he later massages her hands while talking to her about feeling jealousy, "Not the protective jealousy a father feels for his daughter, but simple jealousy for a woman." I love all these little echoes, parallels, themes and variations.)

(What's with the hair growth guy? Will he and his follicles be in another episode? Otherwise, what an odd non-sequitur!)

What remarkable, understated, powerful story telling, building tension then reversing it - when she takes her shirt off, there is a pause, then he walks toward her. But doesn't embrace her: he walks toward her then turns right, out of frame (but briefly reflected), then returns with a sweater to cover her with.

I love the way her whole question about "What do I call you?" gets suddenly, instantly resolved when she sees Michal outside, walking away, and she thinks he's leaving: she calls him "Dad," and the real heart of their relationship is revealed – they are father and daughter, not lovers. And immediately more truth tumbles out of her – she lied, didn't open the letter, forged it – which is again such a wonderful reversal for the audience, because we've been artfully led to believe she forged the envelope in order to open the other envelope without detection. The misdirection of a true magician. I marvel at the film makers' masterful control of our perceptions and assumptions, often by limiting point of view. Which is more than just a narrative trick: it's very close to the heart of what the film is about, with Anna in her youthfulness not able to rise above her own perspective and see another's. Which traps her in a sort of self-contained, self-perpetuating vicious circle of desire toward Michal: the film is all about that "spell" being broken.

(And how wonderful that he isn't leaving at all, but going to buy milk! I love his tiny smile that follows that interchange. He's so aware of her youth, her melodrama. Sweet.) And then they go right to the heart of things:

And what great "gapping" – "What shall we do with the letter?" She gives the real one to Michal, "Will you help me?" They understand what they're going to do next, but we are unsure: they have a bond of familial understanding that we're not part of. And then we learn that they're burning the letter, an echo of the earlier revelations by candle light.

So they burn the letter, knowing that whatever secret truth it might hold, it's better not to know it, for fear of undermining the experienced truth of their relationship revealed when Anna thought Michal was leaving her – that, at heart, she thinks of him as her father, and so they simply cannot be lovers.

But how wonderful that Anna still clings to the little scrap of letter that does not burn, still contemplates the photo of the two men, one of whom might be her father. She's not completely grown, she's still herself.

And what a mature, fatherly man Michal is revealed to be – during that whole, extended sequence where they were alone together, he was convinced that he was NOT her father, she was expressing her desire for him, and he DIDN'T give in to desire. I'm sure he wanted to: a part of me wanted him to, while the greater part dreaded it. And in that, I was living in HIS skin just as completely as I had lived in hers for so much of the film.

Quite the accomplishment. I can't wait for another!

#3 Tim Willson

Tim Willson

    Member

  • Member
  • 1,093 posts

Posted 31 October 2003 - 03:21 PM

Ron, you're on fire with this one! Terrific insights, and you've clarified this episode for me. (I have a daughter Anna's age, and I found the incestuous desire issue kinda creepy and distracting -- couldn't get into this one.)

QUOTE
...the film is all about that \"spell\" being broken.


Thank you!

I'm still trying to get a few minutes to comment on Episode III, but wanted to jump in here to respond to your comments about whether the theme is "Honor thy father and thy mother" or lying. This Facets release ascribes a correlation between these episodes and the Ten Commandments -- in order. I don't believe that was Kieslowski's intention, and each episode seems to intentionally intertwine several commandments. As you say, this episode looks at 'honoring thy father,' lying, and maybe adultery/fornication (if indeed Michal is not her father) and coveting.

It's actually impossible to break only one commandment. That seems to be reflected in The Decalogue.

Tim

#4 Ron Reed

Ron Reed

    Listmaster Extraordinaire

  • Member
  • 3,274 posts

Posted 31 October 2003 - 09:00 PM

QUOTE
...(I have a daughter Anna's age, and I found the incestuous desire issue kinda creepy and distracting -- couldn't get into this one.)


I know what you mean. I have daughters a bit younger - seventeen and fifteen - but as a father, I felt incredibly uncomfortable with all that. The protracted "seduction scene" was particularly gruelling. But it did cause a somewhat different response in me - I found it creepy and riveting.

Last night I attended a dynamite lecture on AMERICAN BEAUTY (I'll probably post something about it over on the main board), so yesterday and today I watched that film quite closely and wrote a review. Similar creepy theme. Kind of puts you off sex for a while.


(Not.)

QUOTE
I'm still trying to get a few minutes to comment on Episode III, but wanted to jump in here to respond to your comments about whether the theme is \"Honor thy father and thy mother\" or lying. ...It's actually impossible to break only one commandment. That seems to be reflected in The Decalogue.


Excellent insight. Same deal in AMERICAN BEAUTY - a whole constellation of commandment-breaking, though AB adds murder to adultery, coveting and bearing false witness.

#5 Ron Reed

Ron Reed

    Listmaster Extraordinaire

  • Member
  • 3,274 posts

Posted 31 October 2003 - 09:16 PM

Found myself a few minutes to (gingerly, so as not to have anything spoiled for me) look through some of the links Alan provided, to see if I could find anything further on the correlation of episodes to specific commandments. Not so far, not directly, but the perceptive Mr Prins does pick up on the lying thing as well;

Midway through both episodes, I expected the sins focused on to be a sexual sin. I was wrong. Both episodes use sex as a backdrop to the underlying sin in most unGodly sexual relationships: lying. Characters in both episodes are constantly telling untruths. Early on in episode four, in fact, the daughter goes even one step further: she lies that she told her father a lie when she actually didn't.

Yes, the lies about lies, lies on top of lies, are part of what's particularly fascinating about this installment. Especially in the context of her insistence upon truth-telling - and her involvement in an acting class: in the theatre, we aspire to "truthful" performance, "true" emotions, "honest" work, in the context of imagined circumstances that clearly aren't "true" (in the sense of actual) at all. "Lies like truth...."

The audience is given information it has no reason to disbelieve because it has given its trust to the film the same way one character gives its trust to another [2]. When the trust is broken between the two characters through a confession of a lie, the confidence the audience has on where the film is going breaks, too.

Ah yes! A variation on the thing I noticed, where our perceptions of characters and circumstances are significantly shaped by identification with specific character P.O.V.

The Flickerings write-up is a very good one, and touches on the question of direct correspondence between the episodes and the "Thou Shalt Nots";

It would be a mistake, however, to sit down to one of these films with the goal of making simple one-to-one connections between the story and the commandment it takes as its theme. Kieslowski doesn't allow that. ...Even at the end of a screeing of one of the films, the breathless viewer may still be a little unclear as to how it connects to the commandment by which it was titled. With a little luck, however, Kieslowski will have thrown off the viewer's balance to the point that in his grappling to understand, he will at last confront not just connections between a work of art and the Moral Law, but also between the Moral Law and himself.
http://www.flickerin...tm</blockquote>

#6 Russell Lucas (unregistered)

Russell Lucas (unregistered)
  • Guests

Posted 14 November 2003 - 08:54 AM

And two weeks later, I finally get around to rewatching this one.

Ron, excellent comments. I'll add more at length later, but I think the squirm factor you and Tim both describe is an essential part of untangling the complex emotional relationship and interdependence illustrated here.

I just wish you hadn't brought up American Beauty! They couldn't be further apart in my mind. Lester's in lust with an idealized idea of what he thinks a teenage sex kitten is, while the father in this story is acutely aware of who his daughter is as a person, and though his feelings for her are complex and stilted by their circumstances, he steadfastly resists imposing his own insecurities on her.

I don't want to spoil anything with Canoe Man, but it is remarkable to see him...


pedaling swiftly against the river's current, looking well-dressed and vigorous instead of like a drifter without purpose.


And the doctor's appearance in the elevator is also keenly relevant. In another age it might have been the mother in this story facing the doctor with a conundrum like Dorota's.

#7 Thom

Thom

    nothing, nobody, nowhere

  • Member
  • 1,867 posts

Posted 17 November 2003 - 10:23 AM

And the doctor's appearance in the elevator is also keenly relevant. In another age it might have been the mother in this story facing the doctor with a conundrum like Dorota's.



I too will jump in here in a bit. I still have yet to go through the III thread. But I wanted to say how perceptive the above comment is. I noticed the Doctor get in the elevator but didn't think more of it than the intertwining of lives that most of us only see the surface of. We rarely know what someone is really going through and when we learn of such experiences we often hear, "I never would have guessed."

If the above insight was purposefully done by Keislowski...well that is not only brilliant but incredibly beautiful. Who knows, maybe there was a similar conversation between the doctor and Anka's mother. It shows that all of us can succumb to the same temptations given the circumstances.

#8 Russell Lucas (unregistered)

Russell Lucas (unregistered)
  • Guests

Posted 17 November 2003 - 04:25 PM

You're right. I'm inclined to think the parallels are intentional, but I also think that Kieslowski has created such a complex and well-developed emotional framework here that nearly any two characters from any of the episodes could pass in the halls or on the street and one could think of at least one or two ways in which they've shared the same pain at a point in their lives. They're all knit together.

#9 Thom

Thom

    nothing, nobody, nowhere

  • Member
  • 1,867 posts

Posted 04 February 2004 - 10:24 AM

Did Anka really read the letter?

I think Anka read the letter and what ensued was real, especially if we look back at the playful aspect of their relationship. It was a bit intimate and friendly for a father and daughter relationship.

Anka forged a new envelope so that when she finished reading the letter she could place it back in the envelope and seal it as if it had never been opened. If you look at the writing on the envelope the first time we see it, it is faded and worn, as one would expect from an aged letter. The writing on the envelope they hold over the flame looks noticeably fresh and sharp as if written recently. Of course this does not necessarily offer evidence that the letter was read. She could have felt guilty with what she was about to do and simply sealed it in the fresh envelope without reading it since the other envelope was destroyed.

It is a bit difficult to say whether or not she read the letter. The letter reading and forgery are done so elusively creating the quandary of whether or not the letter was indeed read, the envelope forged and then sealed as if never opened. This creates a wonderful effect for the audience. It almost shows both sides of the commandment coin. What would happen if it were obeyed and what would happen if it were not. This installment of the Decalogue is the only one that seems to offer a “what if” type of scenario. The audience will now have to decide what “truly” happened and then make the judgment on, or decision of, what they think of those actions. This is a bit of a trademark for Kieslowski allowing the viewer to decide for oneself without giving them a push in any direction. He does not explain, create or determine right and wrong, he allows the user to decide. He does not try to propagate his opinion, he reserves it for the audience.

#10 Visigoth

Visigoth

    Member

  • New User
  • 42 posts

Posted 13 December 2004 - 10:19 AM

I saw this one last night. Here are a few quick observations.

I think Ron is right about the baptism allusion and Easter monday. The water ritual is part of Polish tradition Called Smigus Dyngus.

QUOTE
Smigus Dyngus (shming-oos-ding-oos) is an unusual tradition of Easter Monday. This day (Monday after Easter Sunday) is called also in Polish "Wet Monday", in Polish: "Mokry Poniedzialek" or "Lany Poniedzialek". Easter Monday is also a holiday in Poland. It was traditionally the day when boys tried to drench girls with squirt guns or buckets of water. "Smigus" comes from the word smigac meaning swish with a cane since men tap the ankles and legs of the girls. Dyngus comes probably from German word dingen which means to come to an agreement since the girls needed to give men money to stop being swish and splash. The more a girl is sprayed with water, the higher are her chances to get married. Usually groups of young boys are waiting for accidental passerby near the farmer markets or in the corners of the streets. Older men behave like gentlemen spraying their wives with cologne water rather than with the regular one. The girls got their chances for revenge the following day. They can spray boys with water as much as they wanted on Tuesday.


More Here http://www.warsawvoice.pl/view/5245

Baptism gives us a new "name" in a sense. Marking our paternal identity with "Our Father in Heaven". Jesus said to the Pharisees, you are of your father the devil.

Also, Theophany crossing the river is a clear allusion to Charon and the ferry to Hades. Anna is sitting on the shore, a place of arrival and departure, with the letter to be opened upon death. The scene harkens back to the garden of Eden. "On the day you eat of the fruit, you shall surely die." Because of this letter, paternal identity is in question, much like the doctor parallell from Decalogue II in the elevator, her identity may never be the same. It is a type of death and a type of baptism.





#11 Tim Willson

Tim Willson

    Member

  • Member
  • 1,093 posts

Posted 13 December 2004 - 01:12 PM

Nice work, Visigoth. That makes several things clearer.

It also raises an interesting question, if baptism does indeed give us a new identity. In the cultural context you have identified, the 'baptism' foreshadows marriage, which traditionally has meant a 'new' identity (or at least, surname) for women. So maybe the death is related to the question of paternity (in that she lays the question of her relationship to her father to rest), and moves into that new identity as her father's daughter, and as a future wife (although her husband is yet unknown).

#12 Visigoth

Visigoth

    Member

  • New User
  • 42 posts

Posted 13 December 2004 - 01:16 PM

QUOTE(Tim Willson @ Dec 13 2004, 01:12 PM)
So maybe the death is related to the question of paternity (in that she lays the question of her relationship to her father to rest), and moves into that new identity as her father's daughter, and as a future wife (although her husband is yet unknown).

View Post



Good observation. I agree.

#13 J.A.A. Purves

J.A.A. Purves

    Chestertonian, Rabelaisian, Thomist, Christian

  • Member
  • 3,164 posts

Posted 12 May 2011 - 09:38 AM

And the doctor's appearance in the elevator is also keenly relevant. In another age it might have been the mother in this story facing the doctor with a conundrum like Dorota's.


I too will jump in here in a bit. I still have yet to go through the III thread. But I wanted to say how perceptive the above comment is. I noticed the Doctor get in the elevator but didn't think more of it than the intertwining of lives that most of us only see the surface of. We rarely know what someone is really going through and when we learn of such experiences we often hear, "I never would have guessed."

If the above insight was purposefully done by Keislowski...well that is not only brilliant but incredibly beautiful. Who knows, maybe there was a similar conversation between the doctor and Anka's mother. It shows that all of us can succumb to the same temptations given the circumstances.

I was able to see this last night. There is also another thing special about having each one of these stories take place in the same apartment complex. I don't know how to describe it other than that everyone else you don't get to know is a stranger, but watching this show teaches that anyone and everyone can have an interesting story, can be lovable, can be sympathetic, can be worth taking the time to get to know. In the first episode you get to know three characters and don't notice everyone else. In this episode, you see the doctor again, and he's an old friend. But when I saw the couple in the second episode, I didn't care about them. They were worth caring about. It's almost the same impression to took away from the Narnia books when I was younger. Aslan always called every man, woman, or child "sons of Adam" or "daughters of Eve" indiscriminately - and every singe person in The Decalogue has their own nobility and potential. In fact, so does everyone we meet.

Also, I still refuse to believe the tramp/hospital nurse/bus driver who is now the man paddling the boat is meaningless. The first half of the episode, you have the impression that is is wrong for her to open the letter. She's sitting there, hesitantly and slowly deciding to open it, during which the entire time he is almost furiously rowing towards her. He just so happens to make it on the shore and make eye contact with her at the precise second she's about to finally make it through the second envelope? Yeah, that's not a coincidence. And then she doesn't open it after he makes eye contact with her.

The one thing I didn't quite get was whether the last lines at the end of the episode were supposed to be from the unburned fragments of the letter. I pretty sure it went something like - "My darling daughter. I have something very important to tell you. Michal isn't ..." and then Anka says it's burnt. But those seemed like the wording exactly of what Anka recites/makes up to Michael halfway through the episode.

She criticizes her father for not wanting to be involved in anything - and that's why he wrote "to be opened upon my death." But while it would hurt him to find out she wasn't really his daughter, biologically, there's a sense in which he doesn't care if she is or not. At the beginning, it seems like part of the "honoring your parents" commandment would include not opening envelopes they've instructed are only to be opened after they've died. Anka argues it was wrong for Michal to write that and keep the letter from her. But given that she was always going to be his daughter no matter what, deciding to leave the question unanswered in his lifetime doesn't really seem wrong. She voices and explains his motives and his desires throughout the story, and while she gets some of them right, she also gets some of them wrong.

I also found it humorous that, when she before provoked a response from him, at the very end when she reveals the truth, he has almost no reaction of any kind.