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Dekalog 8 (1988)

A review by Damian Cannon.
Copyright © Movie Reviews UK 2000

Derived from the idea that "Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness", Dekalog 8 remains close to this theme while indirectly shedding light on Polish history. In the woods close to a familiar apartment complex an old lady, Zofia (Maria Koscialkowska), jogs carefully. Refreshed by her morning constitutional, she exchanges a few words with her stamp-collecting neighbour and prepares for work. Somewhat surprisingly, considering her apparent age, she is a professor of ethics within Warsaw University. Given her intangible subject area, classes tend to involve Zofia setting or fielding quandaries for her students, making them think rather than write. However, today is different because Elzbieta (Teresa Marczewska), an American translator of Zofia's work, is sitting in.

As one particularly thorny conundrum (bearing a striking resemblance to Dekalog 2) is discussed, Elzbieta sits quietly. But, when Zofia comments on the true-life tale, impressing upon her students the point that a child's life is of paramount importance, Elzbieta feels compelled to relate another tale. In this one, set in 1943, a 6 year-old Jewish girl is about to be lodged with some willing Catholic protectors, since her parents are in the ghetto. Unfortunately, at the last minute, the man and woman renege on their promise, leaving the child to an uncertain fate. A tragic story without a doubt but Zofia seems shaken far more deeply than the situation warrants, suggesting a hidden connection (since she is of roughly the correct age for wartime exploits). The question is, how does Elzbieta know the story and why is she choosing now to have her say?

For most of Dekalog 8 there is uncertainty, both on the part of the characters and for the audience. As the central pair are introduced, what little information there is needs to be gleaned unstintingly. Zofia looks just like someone's ageing grandmother, all set to potter around on errands. However, the tables are turned when it becomes obvious that she's a well-respected academic, a decisive figure. Still, she looks a trifle uneasy when Elzbieta appears, even though the two have met before on professional terms. The crux of the matter is that a slight but important link connects them, ignored but not forgotten. For some reason, Elzbieta picks this moment to psychologically zap Zofia, with nebulous motives; a process of self-examination commences.

While this is the most direct of Kieslowski's adaptations, it is also the weakest. For once, he seems uncertain about exactly what point he wants to impress upon the viewers, dulling his usually incisive ability to dissect human morality. In an obvious way, Dekalog 8 examines just when a lie is necessary and what an individual will do to justify their actions. That it doesn't move beyond these boundaries is partially the fault of the roles and the acting, since they stand somewhat distant and fail to emotionally involve the audience. The technical aspects of this chapter are as high as ever though, with some fine camera shots indicating the closeness or separation of Elzbieta and Zofia (depending upon whereabouts in the film you are). In the end, while Dekalog 8 may be the blandest member of the series, it is still far superior to the bulk of feature-film fare.

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