Rightful motherhood and theft of child are themes in this kidnapping family drama that illuminates the desire for emotional connection and closure.
Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
1988 | Poland/West Germany | Drama | 57 mins | 1.33:1 | Polish
Not rated (likely to be PG13 for some mature themes)
Cast: Anna Polony, Maja Barelkowska, Boguslaw Linda
Plot: As a high school student, Majka bore a child, Ania, whom Majka’s mother, Ewa, has been raising as her own. Now that Majka is ready for motherhood, Ewa refuses to let go, leading Majka to kidnap her own daughter, with unexpected emotional consequences. (from The Criterion Collection)
Awards: Won FIPRESCI Prize & Children and Cinema Award (Venice). Official Selection (Cannes).
Source: Telewizja Polska S.A.
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray – first published 10 May 2017)
Dekalog: Seven is based loosely on the sin of theft, but what if you are ‘stealing’ your rightful child away from your mother? This is the subject of scrutiny in Kieslowski’s well-made seventh episode of the series.
Majka (Maja Barelkowska) has finished school and is in her early twenties. Years ago, she had an affair with her teacher, Wojtek (Boguslaw Linda). They had a baby, Ania, who is now a toddler, and had been in the sole care of Ewa (Anna Polony), Majka’s mother. Ewa treats Ania like her own daughter, to the despair of Majka, who longs to break free of her mother’s controlling presence in the family, and raise Ania as her own.
Kieslowski understands the human desire for emotional connection and closure, and through Majka, he has someone whom he could subject to a moral dilemma. This dilemma is escalated when Majka ‘kidnaps’ Ania and leaves for a nearby town, seeking refuge at Wojtek’s home. The theme of rightful motherhood runs through the film. Majka feels the burden of responsibility for her child, and must protect her and become a mother. On the other hand, Ewa feels the pain of loss for her ‘child’, and may be forced to come to terms with the prospect of losing both ‘children’.
Thou shalt not steal.
Credit to Kieslowski for crafting a kidnapping drama that doesn’t paint any side as guiltier than the other—after all, both Ewa and Majka stole from each other. Maternal affection is perhaps the most possessive of all human feelings, sometimes to a fault, but the person who will lose out most is Ania, who is too young to understand everything.
The performances are spot-on, with the actresses playing Majka and Ewa giving displays fraught with emotional anxiety and psychological uncertainty. Dekalog: Seven is also one of the series’ more action-oriented episodes, in the sense that it is driven more by plot rather than ideas, thus it has a forward momentum unlike some other episodes where they unfold as they are. Indirectly, I suspect Kieslowski wants us to consider forgiveness as the solution for these tortured characters, but if sorry is indeed the hardest word, it is certainly impossible to forgive.