There is a little bit of the Ten Commandments in Decalogue VII, part of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s series of short films based on the Biblical commands, but there’s even more Brothers Grimm.
Majka (Maja Barelkowska) lives with her mother Ewa (Anna Polony), father Stefan (Wladyslaw Kowalski) and a 6-year-old girl named Ania (Katarzyna Piwowarczyk). Although Ewa treats Ania as her daughter, we soon learn that she was actually born to Majka when Majka was a teen. Increasingly distressed at the way she has been cut out of her own daughter’s life, Majka runs off with Ania one day, telling her the truth and setting out to start a new life together as mother and daughter.
Kiselowski and co-screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz drop in fairy-tale references throughout, from the nightmare about wolves that Ania has to the staged fable Ewa takes her to see to the question she poses to Majka: “Have you kidnapped me like in the story books?” Visually, Decalogue VII evokes this motif with the red coat Ania wears while walking through the woods and the bridge she hides under with Majka. Even the concrete apartment complex in which much of The Decalogue is set – and where Ewa and Stefan live – has the air this time of a fortress or castle.
That last detail would seem to paint Ewa as some sort of evil witch, but Decalogue VII, like every film in the series, is never that black and white. Ostensibly riffing on the Commandment against stealing, the movie forces us to consider this family and ask: Who is stealing here? Who is being stolen from? It turns out that fairy tales, like Commandments, aren’t always helpful constructs when it comes to our daily moral dilemmas, even though that’s the cultural utility that’s often ascribed to them.