Whenever the cinema or Kieslowski is discussed, we have to face one major problem. We have a natural tendency to develop a structure of thought but his films are actually an experiential phenomena. They have a flow like character that defies any kind of structure around it. In total contrast to that, the realm of morality is actually a realm of structure where certain things are included and the certain are excluded. An experienced can expand but a structure cannot without collapsing or restructuring. This kind of mixed nature of experience and knowledge gives a certain kind of definition and content to the history. That is why Jacques Derrida in “The Gift of Death” says, “History can neither be a decidable object not a totality capable of being mastered, precisely because it is tied to responsibility, to faith, and to the gift.”
The fourth film of the Decalouge series is thematically most dangerous risk Kieslowski ever took in the entire project. He is problematizing the relationship of a father and a daughter in such a manner that they find themselves on the verge of an incestuous beginning. Kieslowski begins with his usual style of keeping characters almost hidden from the audience. He does not introduce a character with an identity. He inserts an element of uncertainty around that person and keeps the audience guessing who the person can be and what the relationship of that person with the other is. Kieslowski is not a director who wants to make things easy for the audience. He is putting a lot of questions in the beginning and the spectator is trying to adapt himself according to the situation. What Kieslowski is doing to us is developing a science of uncertainty in total juxtaposition to the science of certainty that we are used to.
The film opens with a playful girl soaking a middle-aged man with water. The scene carries a sign of indulging relationship and the audience feel a bit confused about who they can be. The moment we come to know that they are a father, Michal and a daughter, Anna, we feel bemused. Though it settles the question of identity yet it keeps the moral self in an uncomfortable situation. It's not without an irony that it is also Easter Monday, the day after Easter. The Christians have always celebrated this day as the day of resurrection. On this day, people celebrate, enjoy, play pranks and eat lamb. The Easter water from the previous day is mixed with perfume and is generally gifted by the men to their women. The scene of Anna putting water over her sleeping father and her father doing the same to her creates a symbolic confusion which is the exactly the theme of the film. It's a confusion concerned with the reversal of moral limits of human beings. In somewhat different manner, Joseph Kickasola terms the role of intentionality in definition of human relationships as the core issue of the film but Kieslowski is such a semblance of plurality that a dozen people can put across different views without disagreeing. It can easily be said also that incest is the central theme of this work or the search for perfect lover by a woman is the main theme of the film. To put matters across, it would be better to understand that in eyes of Kieslowski, a film creates a theory of truth and not vice versa. Truth is more in performance than in representation. On a visible level, this film is based upon the fourth Commandment which says, “Honour thy father and your mother” but on performative level, the message seems to be an ethically complex issue. The human beings do have a sense of freedom in defining their relationships but this freedom is not unlimited. It is confined to certain subjective limits, subjective not just in a personal sense but also in the universal sense.
“My father left on a plane which I could not see properly” is the symptomatic set of words Anna tells Doctor about the problem she is facing. Her problem is essentially a problem of vision. She is not able to situate her father on the plane of fatherliness. There is a certain blur in it which she wants to get corrected but she does not know how. I have said it earlier also that the Kieslowski seems to believe in a theory that there is everything in everything. There is a complete film in one dialogue of the film. There is complete visuality of the film in one image of the film. There is a complete sound of the film in one note of the film. His choice of dialogues as supported by Pieseiwicz is brilliant if we keep this particular theoretical frame in our mind. Anna comes across a letter written by her mother in the drawer of her father. There is written “to be opened after my death”. She feels the urgent need to know the truth in it but if she does it, she goes against her father's right to privacy. After dithering a lot, she finally breaks this threshold (the way her father broke her right to privacy by listening over her phone talk with her boyfriend) and cuts the letter but the paradox is that there is another sealed envelope in it upon which is written, “For my daughter, Anna.” She wants to open this envelop also but she is intercepted on the river bank by the Theophanes who comes carrying a kayak on his head. He gives her a questioning glance which stops from moving ahead but the problem is not solved. There is a mystery in the letter. What kind of truth the mother would have tried to conceal? Is she really the daughter of the person she is living with? Is it really the secret which her mother would have wanted to hide? Anna is a brilliant theatre artist who is acutely aware of the problem she faces but she does not know the solution. In her classroom, she is enacting a love scene with the class fellow before her class teacher but she is not compatible with the young guy but the moment her older teacher enacts that role with her, the magic comes instantly to the scene. She's disturbed over why this happens. She tries to search her mother's belongings so that she can find a clue to the mystery. She comes across a photograph showing the mother with some male friends but none of them resembles her father. Even when she asks her father's long-time friend about her mother how she looked, he answers back “exactly like you.” If she is just like her mother what fact of her mother is still an unknown fact? The quest to find an answer drives her down into an apparently unethical course of action. She has already started with the betrayal of faith in her father. She forges the handwriting of her mother by assuming that she knows that her mother knows and as a result, she is what her mother was. She assumes that she knows the content of the letter and starts acting accordingly. The message of the letter is that her father is not really her father; she is the daughter of somebody else. Here, begins the turmoil of both the characters.
When the father comes back from his foreign visit, she recites before him the exact wording of the letter. He's shocked and angry. He slaps her and goes to home without her. His shock is over the loss of identity of fatherhood. We can understand that identities are not absolute but it does not mean that they are not necessary. They are as much important to a human being as intrinsic a relationship is. At home, his anger is not subsiding. He slams the disturbing door as if it is mocking him down. The daughter is in the same mood over the loss of identity of being a daughter. Now, it's a beginning of the clash of two losses. Are they really losses or imagined losses? The Kieslowski is testing the limits of the characters. Before they reach home, they happen to meet in the lift of their housing complex. He feels sorry for slapping her and here, enters the Doctor of Decalogue II. He has a history of healing without actually knowing that he can really heal. It's again an intersection of one form of history with the other form of history. Kieslowski is reminding us continuously that the element of responsibility of one's action can never be avoided or evaded. It has to be there like a shadow rather more like an active interface.
Anna and Michal return home. She asks from him whether he knew the contents of the letter. He answers in negative but expresses a possibility of doubt in her mother’s relationships. His doubt can be actually a doubt of a man against a woman because he can never be sure of biological parentage of their baby. Only a woman can know the fact because of her intrinsic organic structure. But this doubt of her father is taken by Anna as a doubt of a hesitant lover. She forsakes the hierarchical relationship of parent and child and starts treating her father like an equal. She smokes with him, drinks with him and even goes to the extent of sexually inviting him. Michal feels extremely painful about that but does not lose the patience and the discipline of a father though he accepts that he is not a pure father in terms of purity of love. Anna tries to go into this as a possibility of shift of identities because she's trying to solve the question of a perfect lover. To her, Michal is the closest to that ideal but fatherly love cannot be equated with orgiastic activity. She tries to transfer her moral confusion over to her father but in the end, fatherliness prevails and they resurrect their father-daughter bond. Next day, she wakes with her father absent. She feels the loss again and looks for him and finds him leaving. She runs after him and tells him that everything she told about that letter was a total concoction and feels sorry. She asks him the reason for leaving and jokingly, it turns out that he is only going to buy the milk. Finally, they burn the letter and along with it, also burn the moral confusion that arose with it.