Thou shalt not steal.

Exodus 20:15, King James Version

Can you steal something that belongs to you?


Coming off of an impressive one-two punch with Dekalog Five and Dekalog SixDekalog Seven is a surprising—but somewhat understandable—misstep. The story revolves around Majka (Maja Barelkowska), a 20-year-old who has grown to resent her mother, Ewa (Anna Polony), for convincing her to give up her daughter, Ania (Katarzyna Piwowarczyk). When Majka was 16, she engaged in a sexual relationship with Wojtek (Boguslaw Linda), her secondary school teacher, and got pregnant. To avoid a scandal, Wojtek agreed to resign from teaching, and Ewa raised Ania as her own daughter. Now slightly older but not any more mature, Majka wants to take her daughter back and run away to Canada, but things are never that easy.

The major issue with Seven is that Kieślowski and Piesiewicz withhold this information until it’s too late. Previous Dekalogs are masterworks in their ability to dispense with framing devices and expository information. Characters are introduced without a mention as to how they relate to one another. Only through actions does the audience understand the players and the game at hand. In Dekalog Seven, Kieślowski and Piesiewicz push this tactic to the absolute extreme, causing Majka and Wojtek to stop midway through and explain the set-up and backstory in large uncompelling chunks.

Though Seven doesn’t work well as a stand-alone piece, it relates the theme of family from previous DeaklogsOne: father and son, Four: father and daughter, here mothers and daughters—and continues to explore the complexity of moral decisions. In The Films of Krzysztof Kieślowski, Kickasola writes:

If there has been a single theme throughout the series, it has been the complexity and difficulty of moral decisions. Majka’s black-and-white attitude is not a clarity of moral vision, but its obfuscation.

Kickasola, Joseph G. The Films of Krzysztof Kieślowski: The Liminal Image. Continuum International Publishing, 2004. pp. 222

Dekalog is never about right and wrong but about the complications of relations and emotions. That might explain while the ones found here are less than satisfying, they lack complexity. Annette Insdorf identifies Dekalog Seven as “a film of frustration,” both thematically—Majka’s frustration with her inability to parent her child—and as inspiration. In an interview that Insdorf references, the real-life legal case that Piesiewicz drew from provides a great deal of complexity and moral murkiness:

In reality, the father of the little girl was also the grandfather. It was an incest story … the grandmother had agreed to pass as the mother in the eyes of the neighbors. When I knew the young woman, she was 17. In my opinion, three years later she would logically be led to kidnap her own child.

Insdorf, Annette. Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieślowski. Northwestern University Press, 2013. pp. 107

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Dekalog 7 (1988)
Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski
Written by Krzysztof Kieślowski & Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Produced by Ryszard Chutkowski
Cinematography: Dariusz Kuc
Editor: Ewa Smal
Music: Zbigniew Preisner
Starring: Anna Polony, Maja Barelkowska, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Boguslaw Linda, Bozena Dykiel, Katarzyna Piwowarczyk, Artur Barcis
Not Rated, Running time 57 minutes, Premiered on Polish TV June 15, 1990