It’s easy to feel yanked around by this fourth installment in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 10-part series of short films, all based on the Ten Commandments. The plot hinges on confidential letters – some of which are red herrings – and for its final act the movie plunges straight into taboo territory. During one scene, the two central characters ride an elevator up and down while engaging in cryptic conversation. Decalogue IV is equally dizzying.
So this is no facile consideration of the command to “honor thy father and mother.” What does that mean when mother died days after your birth, leaving you a letter you don’t discover until you are 20? That’s the case for Anna (Adrianna Biedrynska), a drama student living with her father Michal (Janusz Gajos) in the Warsaw apartment complex where much of the series is set. As a result of that letter, all sorts of family secrets are revealed, some more squirm-inducing than others.
As is the case throughout the Decalogue, Kieslowski and co-screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz take the seemingly “simple” instructions of the Ten Commandments and plunk them down in the messiness of human reality. Decalogue IV, like the others, is less interested in whether or not its characters obey and more interested in what the law looks like from their individual, on-the-ground points of view. And here, that view is especially distorted.