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Dekalog 7 (1988)

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 1999

An extremely believable and thoroughly tragic tug-of-war, Dekalog 7 leaves the viewer emotionally stranded, dying to know more. A young woman, Majka (Maja Barelkowska) has just been expelled from university for an unspecified offence. She could appeal, it's her final term, but Majka brushes away such suggestions. Apparently she's obtained some form of position in Canada, which explains her dropping by the passport office. Unfortunately Majka also wants to obtain a child's passport and that requires the mother's signed permission. Later that evening a girl of six, Ania (Katarzyna Piwowarczyk), is crying in a nightmare and Majka attempts to comfort her. The effort ends in failure though when their mother Ewa (Anna Polony) takes charge.

The father, Stefan (Wladyslaw Kowalski), holds and soothes Majka, even as Ewa is doing the same with Ania. To an external observer they sure seem to form a close family unit, even if the underlying dynamics appear rather odd. On the following day Ewa takes Ania to a pantomime with all of the other mothers and kids. However, Majka manages to infiltrate her way backstage and beckons Ania away during the performance. Hurrying her young charge out of the building, it becomes clear that this is no idle prank. Ewa is left worried, shocked and concerned as she discovers that Ania has disappeared; the fugitives head for the station. All is not quite as it seems.

In Dekalog 7 Kieslowski takes an upsetting and oblique approach to the commandment that "Thou Shalt Not Steal". Rather than confronting the issue head-on with material possessions, he poses the question of whether you can steal something that is already yours, in the process unearthing highly subtle forms of theft. The crux of his argument is that Majka is Ania's birth mother yet Ewa has always represented herself as such because Majka was underage when she fell pregnant. This wouldn't be so bad if Ewa was prepared to reveal the truth one day but she isn't, preferring to keep Ania for herself. She regards Majka to be Stefan's progeny and considers Ania as the daughter she was physically unable to carry (after delivering Majka). The cruel twist is that a young teacher, Wojtek (Boguslaw Linda) impregnated Majka, from the school where Ewa is headmistress.

Hence Ewa holds a strong hand, assured of the positions and dismissive of her real daughter's rights. It's clear that Majka is seriously disturbed by her childhood trauma, yet even with this she wouldn't choose to take such radical action were it not for Ewa's domination. The power of Dekalog 7 is that all of these forces can be glimpsed, and felt, through the searing hurt of the script and Barelkowska's emotive acting. Her desperate attempts to foster maternal contact with Ania are heart breaking, while her fragile dreams portend inevitable confrontation. It's a shame that the parents couldn't have been drawn with greater depth but that's one of the limitations of the Dekalog format.

Where Dekalog 7 really shines is in the way it deals with Ania, the pawn stuck dead in the middle of this gene-based struggle. Kieslowski proves once again his uncanny ability to write for and direct children (see Dekalog 1). He seems able to tap into and capture their essential qualities, innocence and honesty, to the extent that they project like real children. While Piwowarczyk puts in a spirited performance, it's the way in which she is utilised and shot that gives heart to the story. Everyone gets burnt in Dekalog 7 but Ania is the ultimate, lifetime loser.

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