Decalogue: Seven (1988) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Decalogue: Seven (1988)

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My examination of The Decalogue is a full analysis of each film, its themes and visual strategy.  If you have not seen The Decalogue, I would highly advise stopping here and watching it before continuing.

"Thou shalt not steal."

Andrew COMMENTARYDavid Mamet, commenting on the role of most women in movies, said "Even the dramatic roles for women, when viewed not as entertainment but as, if I may, art are drivel...treating us to the noble spectacle of women either crying or bravely not crying." Depth, intelligence, wit these are all qualities eschewed in favor of giving the audience a good sentimental jolt.  Kieslowski films strive to provide female characters a powerful voice.  Decalogue: Seven is an excellent example of this.

Weve already see him doing this previously.  From the clever and manipulative former lover in Three or the righteously sadistic neighbor in Six Kieslowski has striven to provide us with unique female characters.  In a world where most directors and writers seem content shoving their women into a little box, Kieslowski pushes for the opposite.  The heroine of Seven, Majka, is cunning, intelligent, strong and maneuvers through the world without bowing to anyone.  But she is not spared from the same moral compass as everyone else, a fact that Kieslowski will remind us of again throughout the story.

Kieslowski studies a different facet of more secular morality with each film of The Decalogue.  Theft is examined in this installment of the great human story.  Majka (Maja Barelkowska) has everything taken from her at an early age.  She lives at home with her parents and, after a romantic tryst results in her pregnancy, is forced to pretend that her daughter is actually her sister.  This is to preserve the “honor” of her onetime lover Wojtek (Boguslaw Linda) and of her family.  Majka is forced to lie as a form of punishment for her existence, as when Majka was born Ewa lost her ability to conceive any more.

Already Kieslowski is toying with the idea of theft in multiple ways.  The most direct is that Majka is robbed of her teenage years, and of her daughter.  She cannot be a mother to Ania (Katarzyna Piwowarczyk), as Majkas mother, Ewa (Anna Polony), assumes that role.  This is an ironic twist as Ewa can no longer have children, and has stolen Majkas status as Anias mother to both preserve the aforementioned “honor” and to provide herself with the opportunity to be a mother again.

Eventually, Majka decides that this is not a lie that she wants to perpetuate any longer.  She decides to tell Ania that she is her mother and begins to formulate a plan to escape to Canada with her daughter.  Majka is trying to steal back when was taken from her.  By revealing to Ania that she is her mother, she will take back her status and by fleeing to Canada she will become custodian of her own fate instead of having to rely on her parents.

But, as this is a Kieslowski film, things arent going to be that simple neither in execution nor in morality.  We see earlier in the film that Ania is plagued by nightmares that can only be soothed by her false mother, Ewa.  We see that Ewa is a very good mother despite the horrible way that she has treated Majka.  Majka, on the other hand, we see would make a very bad mother.  She is short tempered, gets frustrated with Ania easily, and does carry a degree of selfishness about her that wouldnt make her a good provider for Ania no matter how pure her love is.

Still, the moral wheel turns around and around.  Majka may not be the most suitable mother in the world, but she would not be this way if it werent for the way she was tossed under the rug.  Of course she is frustrated, she had to lie and give up one of the only things she loves in order to preserve the honor of someone that she barely even loves.  Her family, the one source of comfort she should have had during this time, is of no use to her and turns out to be her greatest enemy.

There is no simple solution to this.  We could say that Majka was irresponsible for having sex without using any sort of protection to prevent the pregnancy.  But thats just buying into the misogynistic line of thinking that got her into this situation.  What of her lover, Wotjek?  Why isnt he being punished for a moment of passion much like Majka is?  Instead of being shoved under as a dirty secret and forced to live a lie, he gets to move away from everything and pretend like it all never happened.  All the while there her mother sits, allowing all of this to happen - while her father offers small condolences.

Wotjek's role in stealing her innocence is portrayed in a very cunning way.  In addition to him being partly responsible for turning her life into a lie, he also is responsible for setting the wheels in motion that return Ania to her grandparents.  Kieslowski shows that in the years since he and Majka met, he has gone on to earn his wages by making teddy bears.  In his hands, he sows together that potent symbol of innocence.  This is deeply perverted given the role that he played in stealing Majkas past and returning Ania to her family.  Seven is filled with such images like this, from the children's play that opens the film, to the abandoned merry-go-round in the middle of the forest.

As with any Kieslowski closing shot, we are left to question the morality and choices that this family has made.  Majkas plan fails, but Ania now knows the truth and seems to understand the hurt that her “parents” have done by forcing Majka to live a lie.  What of her parents?  What of the strange smiles they give when Ania returns to them, and the frowns when she runs after her mother in the train station?  Do they take some kind of delight in torturing their daughter like this?

This is one of the few moral puzzles where Kieslowskis distaste for some of the characters shines through the even handed approach he tries to use.  Because Majka did not deserve this treatment the characters surrounding her are treated with a very sinister air.  As much as I enjoy his attempts to be fair, sometimes the moral circumstances surrounding an “incorrect” decision force you to reevaluate the company that youve kept.  Poor Majka, she didnt deserve any of this.

What we have here a case where healthy sexuality has been perverted beyond what is acceptable and unjust punishment has been placed on Majka.  She didnt deserve to live her life as a lie, much like her daughter didnt deserve to be deprived of knowing where she came from.  All of this stemmed from the biological theft of Ewas fertility, and the men around them all that make sure that they stay in line.  But Majka has escaped, perhaps not for the better, but with more freedom and assurance that she will be the one to decide how she lives from now on.

Next is one of Kieslowskis more straightforward, if entertaining, moral puzzles in “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”

The Decalogue:

One “I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no other gods before me”
Two “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”
Three “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy”
Four “Honor thy father and thy mother”
Five “Thou shalt not kill.”
Six “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”
Eight "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."
Nine "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife."
Ten "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods."

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Decalogue: Seven (1988)

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz.
Starring Maja Barelkowska, Boguslaw Linda, Katarzyna Piwowarczyk and Anna Polony.

Posted by Andrew

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