Friday, February 6, 2009

Decalogue and Mahabharata-9

For the last couple of films, my commentary doesn't seem to invoke many examples from Mahabharata. That is the precise question I'm trying to answer that we don't need to remember a story of Mahabharata in order to invoke the spirit of Mahabharata. The entire enterprise of writing this monograph is focused on that Mahabharata is more than a text as Decalogue is more than a film project. Whenever we create something, the moment it is created, it becomes the other. It turns itself into an alien subject. In order to own it, we have to resurrect it but this resurrection is a continuous process. I read Mahabharata ten years back and after that, I could not find the energy to revisit the entire Mahabharata once again though there was always a haunting memory of widest possible experience that this text gave me. This cannot be counted in terms of number of stories that are contained in this text. It cannot be understood in terms of number of theological extracts that this text has. Despite that, the experience of Mahabharata is a rare entity which always needs to be re-explored and reinvented. That is what was provided by Kieslowski's Decalogue. The way it is possible to forget a story out of the hundred stories of Mahabharata, it is also possible to forget to link the films and stories of both the works of excellence. I'm more interested in the philosophical experience that these works generate in us.

Before I begin to discuss the fifth film of the Decalogue series, I would also like to point out that a story is a microcosm of people and emotions but the form of a story can also lock the audience into certain meanings and non-meanings. The empty space between two stories, the common space between two stories and the live link between two stories are the meta-narrative tools that a human being can use to create a possible experience. That is why Kieslowski and Vyasa are less of persons to us rather they are more of performers to us. They have created works which have the capacity to transform a reader into a performer who performs through his vision and conception.

The fifth film is based upon the fifth Commandment, “thou shall not kill”. In the first four films, we rarely entered into the political domain of the human beings. All four of them belonged to an emotional domain. The fifth film is the political film of the Decalogue series. It is political not in the sense of a plot woven around power struggle but it is political from Kieslowski's point of view. He has come to us as a director who avoids making political statements through his films. When he left the realm of documentaries, he wanted to go beyond the social realism picturized in political films. We don't want to say that Kieslowski is coming back to that realism. He is as solid in his abstraction as he was earlier. The film is political because it is a direct attack on capital punishment and the law which supports the sentence of death. He is a deeply humanist person who challenges the legal determinism that tries to protect the majority by refusing a minority the right to live. His film is actually a text on theory of resistance. Joseph Kickasola also supports that “the central concern of the film is the deep ground from which evil emerges. Kieslowski and Piesiewicz do not attempt to find an answer to this age-old problem but they ask as blatantly and unflinchingly as any filmmaker in history.”

As it is usual with Decalogue, all of his films are micro-films in the sense that they deal only with a couple or more characters; this film is also concerned with just three characters of Polish life. One is a taxi driver, Waldemar, another is a murderer, Jacek and third one is a young lawyer, Piotr. In this film, the taxi driver is brutally murdered by Jacek during a robbery. He is caught by the police and all evidence goes against him. The local court sentences him to death and High Court rejects the appeal. His case is fought by the young lawyer who is deadly against the capital punishment. He is motivated, brilliant and professional but despite that, he loses the case. He is the moral anchor of the film. The film begins with his monologue on legal theory. It says, “the law should not imitate nature ......... it should improve nature.” even the film ends with his crying, “I abhor it.” he undergoes two kinds of examinations in this film, he succeeds in the first and fails in the second. The first gives the identity of a lawyer and the second one hurts his identity as a human being. He is the soul of the film. During a scene in the film, after the judgement was delivered, he goes privately to the judge and asks him whether he did anything wrong while defending his case. The judge answers back that his defence was the best he had heard in his years. Perhaps, he feels himself to be responsible for the sentence. This is a situation when the lawyer and the judge are both facing serious dilemma over their personal capacities that transformed them into a pygmy before the giant of Law.

Kieslowski paints the entire film through the taxi driver and the murderer in such a way that we rarely come across a feeling where one seems better than the other except the point of murder. Both of them share a common dislike by their fellow beings. Both are sadistic. The taxidriver, Waldemar is a person who seems to be of low character. Somebody from the top of the housing complex throws a rag over him indicating the prevalence of scorn for him. The way he looks at the salesgirl, it sounds lecherous and repulsive. He refuses a couple (the surviving husband and Dorota from Decalogue Two) the chance to hire his taxi for no reason despite the urgency. He plays pranks with innocent animals and people. Though he shares a piece of bread with a stray dog but he doesn't seem to arouse any kind of sympathy for him. On a similar vein, Jacek presents a picture of a very blunt, selfish and a heartless human being. He ignores the request of an old lady who is feeding the pigeons rather he deliberately drives them away from the scene. He doesn't try to save an innocent person from thugs, he doesn't law a father and a son an opportunity to board the taxi. He seems to like young girls but the reason is not very clear though it gets out in the last.

Not just these two characters but the entire atmosphere of the film is a bit repulsive. The cinematographer of the film, Slawomir Idziak chooses green filters in such a manner that the entire look of the film is bleak. In an interview, he mentioned that the filters were used to evoke the thought of urine. All the colours of the film are dull. The faces are grey and the light is without any lustre. Even the morning and afternoon present a hopeless scenario. Piesiewicz had one said about Decalogue that the period of the communism had destroyed the holistic nature of Polish heritage. Everything was so broken up that the only way remaining was to return to the elementary values. Were there really operational in a hopeless Poland? The look of the film is the look of the Poland. Perhaps, even the hundred countries of this world are as good as Poland. That makes Kieslowski at once global and Polish too.

The film is divided into two parts. In the first one, it is focused upon how the act of murder is carried out. The second one is focused upon how the act of judgement and hanging of convict are carried out. In the first part, we rarely find any platform upon which we can measure the human worth of taxi driver and the murderer. If the taxi driver is selfish, the murderer generates a sense of callousness. There is not any serious reason behind murder except robbery but the way it is carried out, shows the hidden evil of the person. The audience fails to understand how this evil is so sharp and poisonous because Kieslowski does not point out any serious historical detail of the process. He gives certain hints in the end that Jacek, the murderer was in a state of self-hatred because of an accident earlier in his life. He loved his young sister a lot but she was killed by a tractor driven by his friend just after they had a session of drinking. He found himself responsible for the death of his sister. He developed such repulsion for himself that he ran away from his house and fell into evil hands. Those years of dirty life made him so heartless that he kept on killing the taxi driver first by rope, then by a rod and finally by a stone till he died. On a visible level, it was a cold blooded murder but on an invisible level, it was a result of a deep-rooted social sickness prevalent in Polish society.

The second part of the film is roughly an equivalent of the first one because there is also a cold-blooded legally justified murder. This is as repulsive an act of killing as the first one was. Kieslowski is painting both the acts through very stark reality. There is only one soft element that is operational through the lawyer. He goes to meet Jacek just before his death. This Jacek is a totally different personality to what we had seen in the first part. He's a normal guy who is fearful of death. He thinks of his mother, his sister and his past. He expresses his last desire to be buried next to his father's grave because his sister, the only spiritual anchor of his life, is also buried there. He had got developed a bigger picture of his sister in a photo lab. He gives the receipt of that lab to the lawyer and requests him to hand over that photo to her mother. In other words, he is seeking forgiveness from his mother through this gesture. He is trying to redeem himself but does Law give him the opportunity to redeem? The lawyer and Kieslowski are deadly against this kind of non-opportunity because they feel that human beings are a social product of not just their present but also of the past. To reduce such a complex human history into an individual dead-end is like a murder of humanity. The punishment should reform and awaken the possibilities; it should not delete them permanently.

No comments: