“The things we have are more important than the things we don’t have.”
So says Hanka (Ewa Blaszczyk) in Decalogue IX, upon learning that her husband is impotent. She’s offering a variation on the Biblical command concerning covetousness (The Decalogue is Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 10-part series of short films based on the Ten Commandments), yet if this is truly what she believes, she doesn’t act on it. And neither does her husband, Roman (Piotr Machalica).
Decalogue IX, then, puts a Biblical commandment to a real-world test, as so many of these installments have done. And, once again, the emphasis is less on the failures of the characters to obey than on the messiness of morality in practice. Yes, coveting is no way to live, but the position Hanka and Roman find themselves in leaves them almost powerless to resist it.
And so the couple’s pledge of contentedness is eaten away by desire, suspicion and fear (some of it validated). If Decalogue IX’s melodramatic plot developments make this installment the most reminiscent of soap opera, Kieslowski still manages to elevate things with some striking imagery. An early ride in a dark elevator with Hanka and Roman underscores their growing separation, as the light cast by each passing floor alternately illuminates her, then him – but never both at once. The couple’s phone – so often the bearer of bad news – is frequently framed as a threatening object in the foreground. And there are two instances of Hanka looking directly into the camera that have a jolting power. In both cases, she’s looking away from what she’s lost and toward what she still has.