Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Decalogue and Mahabharata-13

"While Kieslowski often delved into the discouraging sides of human nature, he was not out to judge his characters. He may have been inspired by the Ten Commandments to create The Decalogue, but his journeys into the basic paradoxes of religious faith vs. science, love vs. lust, life vs. death are not bound by the dictates. Each of the stories is numbered without any direct reference to a commandment. Any clearly defined ethical or moral edicts are up to the beholder."

-Nancy Kapitanoff, Pulse!  

When I was watching the ninth part of Decalogue series, there evoked so many references spread around in his later works and other film classics that I could fathom a bit, the depth of the Kieslowski's philosophy. One can see the seeds of his future films, a recurrence of his earlier films and a deeper capacity to relate to his fellow filmmakers who discovered his themes through their own films. Watching the ninth part was an experience that one can equate with the last portion of Stanley Kubrick's ‘Eyes Wide Shut’. The trauma faced by the couple after their failed sexual ventures is quite similar to the same pain faced by the couple in this part nine. Kubrick always regarded Decalogue as the “masterpiece of film history”. His films getting influenced with Decalogue is not a secret but this symbolises the absolute philosophical reach Kieslowski commanded among his fellow filmmakers. There is a young woman patient in this film. She is a gifted singer but she has a rare heart condition. Her medical problem doesn't allow her to sing but she wants to only sing. She wants a small bit of fulfilled life rather than a whole of unfulfilled life. She is a precursor to Veronica of Kieslowski's later film ‘The Double Life of Veronique’. We also come across the beginning of one more important film, ‘Three colours: the White’ through the character of Roman in this film who has the same problem as Karol has in ‘The White’. We also come across playing and singing Ania, a young girl from Decalogue seven. She is reminiscent of the importance of family, children and love in one's life. We also come across the similar themes of covetousness and promiscuity as we did in Decalogue six and seven. Watching Kieslowski is like missing him at every next step. This film is remarkable from this perspective.

This film is situated around a couple, Roman and Hanka. Roman is a successful surgeon and Hanka works in an airline's office. They have not chosen to have kids in the last ten years of their marriage. At a superficial level, they are a hot couple but at a deeper level, they are living under the curse of selfishness imposed upon them by the modern civilisation which looks upon human beings like atomised individuals. They are here in this world to eat, to work, to consume and to maintain the routine of the same. Their sense of enjoyment is confined to the pleasures of senses. There don't seem to design a future; they only seem to conform; they don't seem to transcend the routine; they only happen to live like what Herbert Marcuse would call the life of one-dimensional man. This curse of modern civilisation generates an acutely painful realisation of ‘something missing’. This film begins with exactly that. Hanka suddenly wakes from her sleep as if he has gone through a nightmare. The camera watches her in the mirror which shows her along with emptiness by her side. This is a space expected to be filled up with her husband but he seems to be nowhere. Is he nowhere in the room or inside Hanka? Kieslowski is exploring that.

Exactly on the parallel side, her husband Roman is being shown being investigated by a doctor friend. It comes out that he has become sexually impotent. There is no hope or any chance of recovery. There is no direct and immediate reason mentioned by the doctor but it seems that this has something to do with Roman’s philandering past when he had relationships with number of women. He has a history of being unfaithful with his wife. Now, something that enabled him to be unfaithful has become incapacitated. The sudden loss of masculinity creates a kind of hollowness in his life. His wife is also suffering from hollowness possibly through the absence of a child in her womb or the absence of a loving and faithful husband in her life. Kieslowski is seriously avoiding any kind of direct treatment of their personalities. He leaves so many areas for open interpretation that his characters become vague but attractive. When Roman is coming back from the doctor, he is both angry and frustrated resulting in a near accident. Immediately after that, he is intercepted by Theophanes on a bicycle as if he's checking whether he's safe or not. This is something he is going to do again in the end. Roman knows that he has lost his potency but he still wants to live life. The problem is that he has not developed a strong base of love with her wife. He's not sure of what is in store for him particularly from his wife. He comes back to his home but doesn't come out of car because of this lack of surety. He is standing in the rain getting drenched but is unable to decide the course of next action. The rain is a powerful symbol of both purity and virility but despite its abundance, he's feeling empty inside. At last, his wife Hanka comes down and takes him along. He discloses what the doctor has told him. He says to her wife, “You will have to start seeing somebody if you haven’t already” but she answers, “I haven’t”. Both of them need each other but they have never bothered to develop the element of trust and faith between them. Hanka tries to assure him of her faithfulness. She proclaims that love is more than sex, more than biology. It seems true yet it doesn't. Both of them are trying to find an anchor of hope in an element which they never cared for. Now, it's this test which they need to clear despite all possible failures.

The rest of film is a sad narrative of their continuous failings and continuous attempts to resurrect the hope. Kieslowski comes with a set of sustained abstractions around their efforts. The shifting pattern of light and darkness with the spots of light illuminating both, one after the other, tries to capture the mood and mind of the characters. The continuous pan of camera through a glass jar is also indicative of their struggle with transparency of relationship. The irony of whole situation is that Hanka is still sexually involved with a young student, Mariusz who keeps coming to her house. Roman becomes aware of their relationship and gets jealous about that. He starts pursuing their relationship through all possible modes. He transplants an alternative device to hear over the telephonic dialogue. He gets duplicate keys of their house. He steals his wife's letters. He is sinking into an abyss of despair but there is an element of grace in his life. There is a young woman patient, Ola in his hospital. She is a gifted singer and an extremely beautiful person. Had Roman been in his sexual prime, he would never have lost the opportunity but here, she is a perfect case for hope at least for him. She wants to sing and wants to die singing. She doesn't want to live a long life without music in that. But her heart is weak for her singing talent. She is at such a situation in medical terms that her heart needs to be saved at all costs. Through small moments of the beauty of music, she reinterprets the notion of purpose of life. She is like a teacher to him. Kieslowski is a director who never misses the possibility of hope within the interstices of disappointment. Ola and Roman share a totally nonsexual realm of beauty. She can sing a variety of musicians but her favourite is Van Budenmayer, Zbigniew Preisner’s fictional name. Roman is swayed by her extremely talented and beautiful voice. He finds his own interpretation of life and pleasure too small for her but the realisation is not as direct and immediate as it should be. Exactly on the parallel side, he is pursuing Hanka and her lover. While he is doing that, he is continuously being intercepted by the glove box of his car. It is exactly like the crooked picture of Decalogue part eight or like the computer of Decalogue part one. These are the instruments that seem to acquire a trans-mechanical existence and start defying what human beings expect of them. He tries to close the glove box but it doesn't get closed and keeps opening repeatedly breaking his attention. This is a typical style of Kieslowski. In his films, the plot is not that much important rather the breaks inside the plot are more important. He is a master of abstraction but he's not like Bergman. He is exploring the material reality and finds a number of holes in it which may be the sites of transcendence.

During the course of pursuing, one day, both Hanka and Roman come face to face and the bitter truth gets exposed. The irony of the situation is that she had decided it to be the last meeting with her boyfriend but her chance of staying as a hidden but faithful wife could not be sustained. Both of them are unable to handle this face-off. They plan a short period of separation and also an adoption. Hanka goes for skiing at nearby hill station but to make matters worse, her boyfriend also comes to know of her plans and also reaches there. Roman happens to watch him leaving with skis and confirms about his plans from his mother through a phone call. The moment he comes to know of the reality, he loses trust in Hanka but he has overreacted to the situation. Hanka is not even aware of her boyfriend's plan. The moment he lands before her, she runs back to public phone, informs at his hospital about her immediate return, boards a bus and prays that everything is okay. Here, Roman has decided to end his life. He writes a suicide note for her, takes his bicycle and jumps down from an incomplete road. He is again intercepted by Theophanes and perhaps, saved by him. In the final scene, he is in a hospital lying on a bed. Hanka after returning to home, has read the note and is deeply disappointed but a phone call from Roman reinserts hope in her. She says, “God, you’re there,” and “I am”, he replies. At last, they have survived all accidents, private and public, to find a common anchor in love.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Enthusiasts of the films of Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski (Blind Chance, Dekalog, The Double Life of Véronique, Three Colours Trilogy, etc) are invited to drop by my chatroom at the Brasserie Alizé on the anniversary of the director’s death, this coming Friday evening, 13 March 2009, from around 1800 UTC and throughout the weekend for those who don’t sleep much. Please pass on the invitation to others and hopefully see you there!