The third episode of ‘Dekalog’ is good but not great, and doesn’t resonate as powerfully as the first two.
Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
1988 | Poland/West Germany | Drama | 57 mins | 1.33:1 | Polish
Not rated (likely to be PG13 for some mature themes)
Cast: Daniel Olbrychski, Maria Pakulnis, Joanna Szczepkowska
Plot: It’s Christmas Eve, and Ewa has plotted to pass the hours until morning with her former lover Janusz, a family man, by making him believe her husband has gone missing. During this night of recklessness and lies, the pair grapple with choices made when their affair was discovered three years ago, and with the value of their present lives. (from The Criterion Collection)
Awards: Won FIPRESCI Prize & Children and Cinema Award (Venice). Official Selection (Cannes).
Source: Telewizja Polska S.A.
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on Criterion Blu-ray – first published 27 Mar 2017)
There’s bound to be some kind of dip in a 10-parter television series. This happens in the third episode of Dekalog, a weaker portion of Kieslowski’s masterful work about the human condition. Maybe this episode inches closer to television rather than cinema. I don’t imply that it is inferior in any way, but that the plotting and aesthetics are less cinematic than (at least in comparison to) the first two episodes.
It is Christmas’ Eve. There’s thick snow and the streets are empty. Presumably people have gone home to celebrate and be with their loved ones on this holy day. But we are naive to assume that there aren’t lonely souls, cooped up at home, wanting companionship for the night. So we meet Janusz (Daniel Olbrychski), a family man giving his kids a surprise as Santa. At midnight mass, he chances upon an old flame, a woman whom he had an affair with three years ago. She’s Ewa (Maria Pakulnis), one of the lonely souls.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Kieslowski gives us a straightforward story, tailing these two characters through the dark hours as Ewa spouts lies about her missing husband, and Janusz feigns interest (and maybe in the process sees his affection for her reignited). There’s still that trademark ambiguity, but there are less shades of grey in this one. Themes of regret, guilt and love dominate the conversations, but the impetus for the narrative to unfold lies in the innate need for one to reach out to another.
I would like to regard Dekalog: Three as a ‘Before’-type film (reference to Richard Linklater’s trilogy), only that ‘After’ may be more apt in describing the sombre tone of the work. The ‘Before’ films are about finding and feeling the bittersweet nature of love and existence; Dekalog: Three a.k.a. ‘After Midnight’, however, suggests a vague reflection of an aftermath, where neither bitterness nor sweetness are felt in their purest forms. Kieslowski asks of us to detach ourselves from the past, but bad memories come back to haunt us, almost as if they are inviting us to reconsider regrets as friends. Even if this episode doesn’t resonate as powerfully as the other episodes, there’s ample food for thought.