The link between Dekalog, sześć (The Decalogue 6, 1989) and the 6th commandment (“Thou shall not commit adultery”) is tentative, as it is in many of the other episodes of Kieślowski’s ten-part television series (1). Krzysztof Kieślowski and scriptwriter Krzystof Piesiewicz read about the commandments, the Old and New Testament and their commentaries, and then dispensed with the information, using the commandments only as springboard for the stories they developed (2). Describing the atmosphere in Poland in the late 1980s, when the series was produced, Kieślowski said: “No one really knew what was right and wrong any more or why we even carried on living” (3). Parts 5 and 6 form the central axis of the television series, dealing with the seemingly opposing themes of murder (The Decalogue 5) and love (The Decalogue 6). Like The Decalogue 5, which doubles up its examination of murder by portraying first a brutal killing and then a state sanctioned execution of the murderer, The Decalogue 6 reverses the position of its main characters who swap their subject (loving)/object (loved) roles halfway through the film.
The story follows the relationship between Tomek, a 19-year-old post-office worker, and Magda, a woman in her 30s living across the courtyard opposite his flat on whom he has been spying, first with binoculars and then with a stolen telescope, for over a year. He observes her alone in the flat and as she receives her lovers, and eventually begins to interfere in her life by sending her letters and making prank phone calls. Tomek feels compelled to confess his spying to Magda after he sees her crying alone in her flat one night, and Magda, though initially angry, becomes curious as to his motivation. The film charts the fluctuations of closeness and distance, revenge and compassion, hope and despair unfolding between Tomek and Magda, with Tomek’s landlady (and surrogate mother) functioning as witness to their brief affair. With the subtlety and humanity that characterise the rest of the series, The Decalogue 6 explores different understandings and shades of love as it portrays its central characters exhibiting the confusion, ethical disorientation and occasional hopelessness pervasive in the series.
The plot is minimal and the dialogue sparse, which works to heighten the richness of the performances, the mise en scène and the music score. The sense of ethical disorientation which Kieślowski wanted to address in the series is often visualised in the play of darkness and light that envelopes the protagonists, whose faces move in and out of the shadows in their rooms. Most of the action in The Decalogue 6 happens at night and indoors, which gives the film a more intimate feel than other parts of the series. Intimacy, its lack thereof and the search for it, is one of the central themes. The camera scrutinises the feelings of the three main characters through frequent close-ups and their performances make these feelings sometimes clear and sometimes opaque. The characters’ oscillating, confused feelings result in a rich tapestry of emotion. Tomek often shifts from anxiety to happiness, as he looks through the telescope, or in the scene where he runs to the roof of the apartment block after confessing his unconditional love, one that demands nothing back. Magda swiftly moves from anger to pity, from disdain to curiosity, on several occasions. While the mise en scène is efficient and unfussy, and the editing precise, Kieślowski underscores the themes of intimacy and distance through visual motifs expressing different degrees of closeness. An example of this are the scenes set in the post office, where the reflection of Magda’s image on the window that separates them is imprinted on Tomek’s face. The telescope and the telephone, both technologies used to bring people and things closer together, are used to emphasise as well as undermine this. We witness several one-sided telephone conversations. Tomek sees two Magdas, as he peeps through the telescope, one through the window and the other through the convex round glass attached to the window, where Magda appears small and distorted. Physical gestures (touching hands, making love) are equally ambiguous. Magda and Tomek hold hands in a café, but only in imitation (and partial mockery) of another couple. The following intimate moment in Magda’s flat is an expertly executed exercise in humiliation
The grey setting of the housing estate is only enlivened by the frequent touches of red (the cloth covering the telescope, the staircase window in Magda’s apartment block, Magda’s bed and telephone, and Tomek’s blood). This use of red prefigures Kieślowski’s symbolic use of colour in his Three Colours trilogy. Zbigniew Preisner’s score, while less prominent than in the trilogy, works as a musical parallel to the film’s recurring visual motifs. Two musical phrases punctuate the film, one linked to Tomek, and one to Magda. The two eventually become one. These sparse musical phrases are played by a range of single instruments, and the music only develops to a full orchestral score on a very few occasions. The first instance follows Tomek’s conversation with his landlady about what makes people cry, driving him to hurt himself in order to experience pain. The second plays as we see him running in happiness after asking Magda out on a date. The third accompanies a concerned Magda as she peers through her binoculars hoping to see Tomek in his flat. Orchestral music connects three pivotal moments of pain, anticipation and concern, feelings experienced in most love affairs.
The Decalogue 6 was released theatrically in a longer version as Krótki film o milosci (A Short Film About Love). At the request of the actress who plays Magda, Kieślowski included a less negative ending to the feature film. Magda visits a convalescent Tomek, and takes his position behind his telescope, looking at her window, and imagining Tomek coming into her flat and consoling her while she cries. This final imagined picture expresses the possibility of love and tenderness in a moment of need, and erases the sense of a violating gaze, transforming a wrongdoing into a positive act. As in other parts of Dekalog, Kieślowski illustrates the unexpected and complex consequences of human actions.
Dekalog, sześć/The Decalogue 6 (1989 Poland 58 mins)
Prod Co: Telewizja Polska/Zespole Filmowym “Tor” Prod: Ryszard Chutkovski Dir: Krzsysztof Kieślowski Scr: Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Krzsysztof Kieślowski Phot: Witold Adamek Ed: Ewa Smal Prod Des: Magdalena Dipont, Halina Dobrowolska Mus: Zbigniew Preisner
Cast: Olaf Lubaszenko, Grazyna Szapokowska, Stefania Iwinska, Piotr Machalica, Artur Barcis, Stanislaw Gawlik