Decalogue: Nine (1988) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
5Jul/100

Decalogue: Nine (1988)

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 covet thy neighbors wife."

Andrew COMMENTARYWatching Decalogue: Nine and trying to detach it from the rest of Kieslowski’s work is very difficult.  It lays a lot of framework for his later Double Life of Veronique and distracts me away from it’s own quality.  Still, judged as a work within the series of Decalogue films it covers a lot of ground that has been previously treaded, just in a way that almost seems designed to trick you into thinking it’s fresh.

We have another example of love on the rocks, tough decisions that need to be made, the threat of infidelity, and the utilization of voyeurism as a means of commenting on the audience.  Basically it’s like the plots of the Six and Two were blended together and reframed to form a new story.  The elements are familiar, but by placing them in the context of a happily married couple Kieslowski attempts to use those components to analyze the relationship between marriage, fidelity and love as another facet of morality.

Love is a trait that’s curiously absent in the Commandments themselves.  Granted, they are leftover relics from a time when God was portrayed as the crankiest landlord a human could have, but there’s no sense of tenderness in any of the rules.  Usually, when these stories have started, Kieslowski shows individuals that are bereft of the love that the Almighty is supposed to fill our bodies and souls with.  The slight twist here is that we have a happily married couple right off the bat, they’re just about to get some bad news.

Roman (Piotr Machalica) and Hanka (Ewa Blaszcyk) have been married for some time and Roman discovers that he has been rendered impotent.  Sex was a regular part of Roman’s life for a very long time, and there are many hints thrown about that he hasn’t been the most faithful husband in the world.  He used to be a bit careless about who he was sleeping with, and when, so now he’s paying the price by being unable to satisfy his wife.

She takes the news astonishingly well, and pledges to find some way to work through the issues.  But this is one facet of married life that cannot be replaced and Roman, ashamed of his impotency, encourages Hanka to take a lover.  She resists, but the seed has been planted, and given that the film has another forty minutes to go, we know this truce can’t last for long.

This is where those familiar elements begin to coalesce into something new.  Roman is actively encouraging behavior that would break the Commandment in question, inviting others to come covet his wife.  In a sense, he’s doing this himself.  Deprived of being able to pleasure her in a way only the husband is supposed to do, he wants to turn her into an object of pleasure that he can observe and take pride in from afar.  His own phallic power destroyed, he needs to know that he can still control some aspect of her behavior another way.

So now we have secrets slowly building upon secrets.  Roman encourages the acquisition of a lover, but slowly begins to grow suspicious when it seems as though Hanka has taken one.  His behavior alters drastically, becoming a sneak and picking around garbage, trying to tap her phone, and lurking about when she does not suspect that he will be around.  In the process of trying to “free” her to be loved again, he merely places her onto a pedestal where he will now covet her from a distance.

What complicates this behavior further is the fact that she really is cheating on him.  But he encouraged this, and wanted it to be public instead of private.  Despite our closeness, our partners in life are always going to have secrets and feelings that we can never be totally privy to.  With Roman’s permission, shouldn’t Hanka have been free to have this for herself?  She is trying to spare Roman and avoid reminding him of his impotency, and she had his blessing.  His sneaking around won’t last for very long.

One night, he takes a direct approach to spying on her and watches as she breaks up with her lover.  The moral contradictions that Kieslowski sets up in those moment are wonderfully rich.  We have the husband who might have been unfaithful, encouraging his wife to break their marriage vows and growing alarmingly suspicious when she does.  She, in turn, becomes the object that is coveted and while being spied on in a deceitful manner, breaks up with the lover that he encourages her to take.  It’s moral situations like this that make The Decalogue so very potent.

She discovers him in the closet and after a brief spat of rage she leaves to go on a skiing trip.  Her husband remains at home, grief stricken and contemplating suicide.  The rest of the story follows along a more straightforward path that wouldn’t be out of place in a more traditional romantic drama.  She realizes she still loves her husband despite the spying, he attempts to kill himself but survives, and the two reconcile over the phone in the closing shots.

This is a far more reaffirming story than Kieslowski has usually told over the last few films.  Love does win out, but not before a few potent questions are asked about the way we look at relationships.  Do you love and value your significant other or is she merely a place for you to focus your power?  How is marriage a realistic venture for us to take?  His rearrangement of familiar materials allows us to focus on these questions fully.  By showing a man who realizes that he has merely been using his wife for vanity, and placing him in a situation where he is forced to covet his own wife, we see that (at least in Kieslowski’s world) a healthy marriage is possible even if it is difficult and at times impractical.

All of this is underscored by some of the best photography that Kieslowski utilizes over the entire series.  Aside from the experimentation of Five, it’s not often that I notice how good the films look.  But working with cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski, Kieslowski bathes his actors in darkness and light.  One is perpetually hidden from the other, as the focus dances between the two, preventing them from fully understanding what it is the other is feeling.  The visual misdirection continues in simple staging, mirrors are used to force a reflective state of mind as they question each other, and try to find out what is worth salvaging in their marriage.

The music is a wonder to listen to as well.  Roman meets a young singer with a heart problem, her character becomes the basis of Double Life, and the soundtrack swells with her voice at every opportunity.  It adds another ironic twist to the film.  Despite the intense suspicion that he has about his wife, he cannot help but hear the singing of this beautiful young woman, even when he is consumed with rage and grief.

A fine film, tricking you with it’s familiarity and then going to places you might not expect.  Sadly, I have only one more Decalogue to go.  So next time will be the final film “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods.”

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.”
Seven “Thou shalt not steal.”
Eight “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
Ten "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbors goods."

Decalogue: Nine (1988)

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz.
Starring Piotr Machalica and Ewa Blaszcyk

Posted by Andrew

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