A tale centering on fate and morality involving a doctor, a woman and her severely ill husband, in this ambiguously-layered second episode of ‘Dekalog’.
Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
1988 | Poland/West Germany | Drama | 59 mins | 1.33:1 | Polish
Not rated (likely to be PG13 for some mature themes)
Cast: Krystyna Janda, Aleksander Bardini, Olgierd Lukaszewicz
Plot: Dorota is in love with two men: her gravely ill husband, Andrzej, and a fellow musician who is the father of her unborn child. Andrzej’s doctor, himself no stranger to loss, is Dorota’s downstairs neighbour; she implores him to swear to a prognosis for her husband, and in doing so puts a very serious decision into his hands. (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 22 Feb 2017)
Dekalog: Two continues Kieslowski’s fascination with the people who inhabit and orbit an apartment complex that is one of the series’ recurring visual motifs. In this second episode, we follow a stressed-out Dorota (Krystyna Janda), who is facing a personal dilemma: pregnant from an extra-marital affair with her colleague, an orchestra musician, she has to decide on whether to abort the baby, though this is dependent on whether Andrzej (Olgierd Lukaszewicz), her severely-ill husband, will recover or die.
In the center of this is Andrzej’s elderly doctor (played by the mournful-looking Aleksander Bardini), also Dorota’s downstairs neighbour. Through the film, Dorota pesters the doctor to give a prognosis of her husband’s condition, unwittingly placing the burden on him to decide on who should live or die.
Kieslowski’s work here, as you may have already guessed, is a powerful if also ambiguously-layered treatise on dilemmas and decisions. The mysteries of life and death, and its associated pain and loss, as faced by these characters, are portrayed with such nuance that you can’t help but imagine a possible metaphysical force dictating ever so subtly the mystical ways of their world.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.
The doctor, in particular, whose professional demeanour hides a sorrowful past, had been a victim of unknowable metaphysics. In a few brief scenes centering on him and an old woman who drops by his apartment occasionally as a caretaker of sorts, we listen to him recounting small, revealing snippets of his life. This is a man who has felt the most profound of losses. Dekalog: Two thus can be seen as a tale on fate. Life is a pack of cards, Kieslowski seems to say. One day, you could be dealt with a good hand; on another, a bad hand. And when you least expected it, a miraculous hand, or a devastating one.
Morality, another main theme of the film, also lends an ethical slant to the conundrum faced by these characters. Should we ever place any kind of burden on someone? Do we always make the right choice? What is right anyway? Is it when there is no absolute wrong? These are psychological, even philosophical questions, to which there are no answers. The genius of Kieslowski is that he tries to make us feel them, however naked they are in their nebulousness and perplexity.