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January 28, 2009

A Contortion of Truth: Searching for Answers in Kieślowski's 'Dekalog 8'

Image Source: http://papads.shap.homedns.org/Kartinki/Dekalog-8.jpg

Dekalog, Osiem [The Decalogue 8: Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness]. Screenplay by Krzysztof Kieślowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Dir. Krzysztof Kieślowski. Perf. Maria Koscialkowska, Teresa Marczewska, Artur Barcis, Tadeusz Lomnicki. 1988. DVD. Chicago: Facets Multi-Media, 2003.

28 January 2009

"Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." (Exodus 20:16, Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition)

This short, but poignant film is a complicated story about . . .

. . . a mature, Jewish woman who had left Nazi-occupied Central Europe—in this case, Poland—during World War II as a child. Dekalog, Osiem [The Eighth Commandment], from 1988, depicts "Elżbieta" as a U.S. citizen who is visiting Poland to find and confront the lady who had once saved, then betrayed her. The manner of her escape had been quite traumatic as she was moved along from house to house by Catholic Poles aiding the resistance who didn’t want to chance getting caught aiding a Jew. During Elżbieta’s return, she jumps out of a car and ‘loses’ her companion host as she tries to locate the very block of flats she remembered hiding in, if only briefly.

Krzysztof Kieslowski seems to be inviting his audience to make a judgment on the difficult, and ironic, ethics of lying to save oneself or one's family. When is it wrong to lie and when is it acceptable? Are ethical issues always so clearly black and white or can there be infinite shades of gray? Moral relativity, regret and resentment overshadow the conflicting moods of this important film, the eighth in Kieslowski's series of ten films based [loosely] on the ten commandments, i.e. each film represents a different commandment.

This installment reminds me, in some way, of the poem by Czeslaw Milosz, "The Poor Christian Looks at the Ghetto" (read it online HERE).

For readers looking for a challenge, how many moral dilemmas and conflicts can you identify in this intriguing film? Did Kieślowski ever "answer" the question of whether or not the "right" thing was done in the story?

A few things to think about:

Symbolism: What, if any, was the significance of the crooked frame on the wall?

What do you think was significant about Elżbieta staying over at Zofia's house in 1989? What happened the first time she thought she'd be staying over (1943)?

What is the significance of the contortionist in the film? Is this symbolic of something else? What's been contorted?

Elżbieta could have easily written a letter to Zofia or given her a phone call all these years she knew who she was. She didn't, however. Why, do you think, did Elżbieta finally confront Zofia with her true identity in the way in which she did?

What was important about the scene where Elżbieta left the car and disappeared into the alley way? Why did she do that?

*Comments on Dekalog, Osiem? Please leave them below:


Dr. Hobbs

*To read more about the Kieślowski film discussed in this entry, please look at the links HERE and HERE.

**Read more English-Blog Film Reviews HERE!


To see other English-Blog entries on the subject of Holocaust Studies, please click HERE

Posted by lhobbs at January 28, 2009 09:05 PM

Readers' Comments:

Professor Hobbs,

The significance that I see about Elzbieta staying over at Zofia’s house in 1989 was prior to this date Elzbieta was on Zofia’s doorstep and Zofia turned her away she would not let here spend the night with her. But in 1989 Elzbieta ran into Zofia and this time Zofia ended up asking her to come over to dinner and then when she was about to leave Zofia ended up asking her to spend the night.

The significance is that earlier she ended up pushing her away but in the end she ended up bringing her in for the night. It was a cycle but the cycle ended up changing when it came back around because she knew what she did wrong and her son didn’t want to stay with her so she was all alone and she was lonely and she wanted to try to make things up to Elzbieta. The significance is the circling of events.

Jennifer G.

Posted by: Jennifer G. at April 11, 2006 03:22 PM

Professor Hobbs,

“Dekalog 8” was one of the most interesting films that Professor Hobbs has showed us. I found myself actually being interested and paying attention to the story. In the beginning, I was partially confused as to what was going on because it seemed as though every character looked like they were up to something or scared of something but there wasn’t any evidence to prove it. I found my self asking the question, “What is going on? Did I miss something?” But after a brief explanation by professor Hobbs, I began to understand.

The scene that took place inside the classroom was rather interesting to me. The older lady kept me on my toes with her troubling facial expressions and probing questions. This is when I began to realize that something was going on between her and the guest speaker. They had met years before during the Holocaust, where the older lady was forced to turn the younger one away in fear of betraying her religious beliefs; bearing false witness. This incident brought back to my mind the film that we watched, “Process B-7815” which also dealt with the Holocaust. But in contrast, “Dekalog 8” showed us the other side of that time period. It showed us the fear that good hearted, non-Jewish people were living in. They weren’t able to help those in need in fear of being deported themselves, and in this case, disobeying the eighth commandment.

I was happy to see that by the end of the film, the young lady didn’t hold any grudges toward the older lady. That showed that she wasn’t living in the past and was able to get her questions answered and move forward.

Adrianne E

Posted by: Adrianne E at April 13, 2006 12:41 PM

Dear Professor Hobbs,

I think the crooked picture frame was symbolic for Elzbieta's life. She is trying to figure out and straighten out her past, but cant quite do it yet, so it remains crooked even though she thinks she fixed it.

I think Zofia let Elzbieta stay the night because she felt bad that she turned her away a long time ago. It was like she was reliving that day, but only making the right choice. Im sure Elzbieta didn't approach Zofia until many years later because she had to gain enough courage inside to confront Zofia. She had to take baby steps and meet her in the US then make an appointment to sit in her class.

I think the scene were Elzbieta left the car into the alley way was kind of reliving what happened. She went to the gate where Zofia turned her away, then disappeared like when she was a little girl.

Brendan L

Posted by: Brendan L. at April 13, 2006 06:17 PM

Dear Prof. Hobbs,

I found the concepts in the film
Dekalog 8 to be quite intriguing. There were a
number of oddities of this film such as the
crooked frame on the wall of Zofia's house, the
man who collected old stamps and the story about
the cups of tea. This film depicts a woman who comes to terms with her past when a young woman she turned away comes back as her intern. At first the young woman named Elzbieta is apprehensive towards Zofia and takes a very cautious approach to talking to her. Elzbieta soon eases and the two show signs of reconciliation.

It is ironic that Zofia taught a class on
ethical/religious politics given her past
circumstance. The way that Elzbieta was
introduced as a thinking character, giving depth
to her role, in that scene was pivotal. I was really drawn into the film then during that scene because I was trying to figure out what the strange tension was in the atmosphere of that classroom. The class discussion that Elzbieta took part in seemed more than just a discussion on ethics between Zofia and Elzbieta.

I also took note of the sylmbolism that was dispersed throughout the film. For instance, there is a scene where Zofia takes Elzbieta back the church (that had significance to the story of her past) and loses her. She searches for he in darkness calling out to her, but when Elzbieta was ready to be found Zofia found her. Or even how in their dialogue, Zofia and Elzbieta discuss their past situation and the tea that they drank from different cups. Later on in the movie when Elzbieta visits Zofia's home, they drink tea from different pattern cups.

I thought this was a very interesting film that definetly inspires one to become involved within the happenings of the film. I was left a little uncertain about the resolve of the film but it was otherwise a great film.

Holden J.

Posted by: Holden B. Jones at April 17, 2006 02:39 AM

FYI: Maria Zmarz-Koczanowicz, (Kieślowski scholar), free-lance documentary, feature film-maker and director from Poland, will visit the campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania from April 8 – April 13, 2006. She will present her documentary movies that range from political commentaries, biographies of people, political and artistic groups as well as expositions concerning the generations of Central and East Europeans who contributed to the collapse of the Iron curtain.

For more information about other Zmarz-Koczanowicz events scheduled at IUP April 10 – 13, please access the link HERE.

Posted by: Lee at April 5, 2007 09:18 PM

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