decalogue iv – “honor thy father and thy mother.”
returning to darker subjects, decalogue iv is so far the most intricate entry, also the most mystifying. not only is the narrative most convoluted but it also touches on a taboo subject, a story of possible incest. the mise en scene and cinematography are also more elaborate.
anka (adrianna biedrynska) lives in the same apartment with her father michal (janusz gajos). though we expect a father/daughter relationship, the film hints at something unusual is going on during these opening scenes. the first time i watched it i thought the water splashing was too obvious but apparently it’s a polish easter tradition. ignoring this part, and on second viewing, this opening sequence seems subtler.
discovering a letter not to be opened until after her father’s death, anka is tempted numerous times to open the envelope while her father is away on business. finally giving in to temptation, anka opens the letter only to find another envelope from her deceased mother, who died when anka was five days old. when michal returns, we (and michal) are told, through anka, that michal is not her biological father.
once again, kieslowski utilized a premise common in soap operas. thankfully, we are spared of the usual scenes in stories of this type. a lesser film would have settle on the search of biological parents, some emotional melodramatic speeches, perhaps some courtroom scenes and a lesson or message at the end. kieslowski eschewed all that and instead, led us down a dark psychological second half.
indeed, the second half of decalogue iv involves simply two characters talking in an apartment. yet, it manages to create deeply felt dramatic tensions by frequently switching roles between the two characters. having lived together as father and daughter for twenty years, the discovery of not being biologically related causes them to reexamine and reevaluate their relationship, or perhaps the feelings were there all along. the majority of the second half is not so much about the newly discovered information but more of a confrontation between the two characters regarding the new dynamic in their relationship.
the mysterious young man/watcher appears twice in this episode, both times crucial moments. though he was only able to watch and not interfere in previous episodes, he seems to affect the action of anka in this one. he may not do it physically but by merely showing up at the right moment, he seems to represent the moral and the right thing to do. there’s also a sublime scene in the elevator where the doctor who played god shows up, watching the father and daughter the entire time, instead of facing the elevator door like one would in a crowded elevator.
the story alone is interesting enough in view of the corresponding commandment but decalogue iv has a final revelation that is unlike any of the previous episodes. it’s not merely a twist ending or an ironic climax. while it does make you rethink everything that has gone on before, it packs an emotional punch and releases its staying power. the ambiguity of the ending is even more debatable than any of the previous entries not only in the larger philosophical sense but also in a simpler narrative sense.
had anka honor her mother and father, she wouldn’t have opened any of the letters. but as in decalogue ii and iii, there is the recurring theme of various identities and the roles we play (anka is an acting student in college, needing glasses to improve her eye sight, the broken glass door). though not biologically related, should michal not be view as a parent? the second half cleverly plays with this idea during which anka and michal alternately play the roles of father/daughter and man/woman. anka may have been the catalyst of the story but ultimately the one faces with the moral decision is michal, who honor anka’s mother by never opening the letter and making the right choices.