Dekalog IV – Krzysztof Kieslowski

I am pretty much astonished at how uneven these episodes are. Kieslowski was either rushing at times, experimenting and failing, or, entirely engaged, inspired, and experimenting with positive results.

This is one of the positive results. For reference, it is the “Honor thy Father and thy Mother” commandment. But you should take for granted that these little treasures have little to do with commandments and instead are exercises in sharpening weapons.

From my readings (Kieslowski on Kieslowski, F&F), his collaboration with his writing partner works in the following way: he lets him come up with plot/character/suspense, and then around that story he deposits in visible and less visible corners all kinds of gems that are meant to clue us in a deeper understated mystery. That’s his ‘touch’.

So when you have broken glass (as you do here), anonymous watchers, spilt milk, or a dripping ceiling, it’s our friend folding a crease in the texture. This is not to be confused with ‘winking’ where the director clearly talks to us, commenting on the story. The stuff K. pulls here exists in the immediate reality of the story to pull us deeper in it.

So check out our leading lady here visit the optometrist. Problems with seeing (watching)? And just so you don’t miss out on what he’s trying to tell us, she spells out ‘F A T H E R’ off the eye test sheet.

The story is like this. Our girl finds a letter, supposedly for her from her deceased mother, that her father had kept in his possession since the day she was born. She opens it and discovers that he is not her real biological father. She confronts him, and he admits to never having read the letter himself, but suspecting that it revealed such a secret, as he has always been unsure of his paternity.

(He further admits to purposely planting the enveloppe in clear view so that she would come across it and read it. Now about that, take note, because that’s Kieslowski himself, laying stuff bare in clear view expecting we’ ll pick up on it.)

Then, for the last half of the movie we have the ‘encounter’ between the girl and her dad sorting out unresoved feelings.

Now, in another film, this encouter would be ‘actorly’, specially with the material at hand (oedipal guilt, possibly incest), but I’m happy to say everything is quite sober here. Good measure.

But there’s something more to this, something that actually permits all of the ambiguity.

Our leading lady studies acting. This is a common device in films to signify life as a performance, that is, life lived with a real self always cloaked but master of the mechanics of being. Everything she does, everything she feels, is in some middleground between acting and life.

So naturally, we find out in the end that she forged the letter. The ‘real’ one, she decides to never open and burn. But what proves to us the burnt letter isnt the fake one? Weren’t we fooled into a 45-minute encounter with false reason? How do we trust again?

Check out the acting ‘lesson’ with our girl in class and her professor castigating her because she can’t tap into the ‘hidden meaning’ of a scene. Watch her redeem herself for the rest of the film.

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Categories: Notes

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