P D Dawson
Kieślowski's Dekalog, Part Eight of Ten (Film Review)
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Part Eight follows a Polish-American-Jewish researcher who is reunited with Zofia, a professor who decades earlier in WW2, refused the young Elżbieta shelter. It was long seen as cowardice, but Elżbieta comes to realise that Zofia had a complicated decision to make, and things back then were far from black and white. A chapter unfinished in both of their lives, Zofia unsure if that young girl in the war ever lived, and Elżbieta, for years wondering of the real reasons she was refused shelter. Was she not worthy? Was her life not precious enough, or was there a deeper reason, and one much harder to define or justify? Both ladies are intelligent and have made their living out of asking questions and searching for the truth, from the philosophical study of moral conduct, to researching past wars. Each vocation has sent these ladies towards the discovery of truth, only the truth always has two sides before it can be made whole.
It is clear Zofia has great guilt for what she did, yet Elżbieta tells her her actions also saved lives too within the resistance movement. The themes dealt with in this episode are so complicated they margin out to the cold extremes of humanity. Which is greater, the life and anonymity of the resistance, or the life of a young girl? Such questions cannot be answered sufficiently, at least not without offending one side of the argument. Zofia takes Elżbieta to the gate where she was refused entry, and also to a man who might be able to answer some of her questions, or at the very least paint a clearer picture for her, but he refuses outright to say anything of the war and instead is sombre, yet content to stay silent on such matters.
The answers seem hidden in faith and religion, rather than the academic study of who is right and wrong. In forgiveness there is no blame held, for both sides are given equal testimony in the eyes of God. Some truths stay hidden, others merely incomprehensible. If Elżbieta doesn't get all the answers she came for, she at the very least is guided towards a higher faith.
The transfer for this film is crisp and sharp, with rich contrast, though once again the colours are a little washed out, but this is probably down to the original negative. TV shows were rarely shot on 35mm in the late eighties, early nineties, so it is a pleasure seeing all of the Dekalog series looking as if they were shot for cinema. And to that end this is a marvellous presentation by Arrow Academy.
Available from http://www.arrowfilms.co.uk/dekalog/