The Decalogue 3
Spoilers occur about the ending, this review is intended for those who have already watched the film.
Christmas Eve. Janusz and his family are at mass. At the church, Janusz catches a glimpse of Ewa, the woman he loved, before he got married. Now at home, the phone rings. Janusz says that someone might be stealing his car, Janusz is a taxi driver. However, down on the street Ewa is waiting for him. She tells Janusz, that her husband has vanished, and despite it being Christmas Eve, he agrees to look for him. They drive around Warszawa’s empty streets, visit the obvious places, but also have the chance to catch up, and talk about the last time they were together. Morning is approaching, finally Ewa confesses. She has lied. Her lost husband has been living with another woman for several years. Her goal was to avoid being lonely, and spend the evening with her old flame Janusz, the night when families lock themselves away inside. An inner conflict resides within Janusz, as he has been deceived by Ewa, but also enjoyed himself.
Analysis and interpretation:
Dekalog 3 is connected to the third imperative of the Ten Commandments: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.”
For me, this installment is mostly about loneliness and the temptations of being unfaithful. You are conceivably disrespecting God even more so, if you are selfish and disobeying the commandments during holy days.
Ewa tries to get Janusz’s attention at the church service, knowing he is a married man, and this is certainly sinful according to the commandments.
Kieslowski has said it’s a story about responsibility. On the surface, Janusz lives a regular family life, but his wife knows that he doesn’t love her as much as she would hope, and he is poised to have an affair.
Janusz doesn’t seem entirely satisfied in his marriage, the opportunity to escape for the evening is appealing, and quite the cold-hearted gesture towards his family, considering its Christmas Eve. He lies to keep up appearances at home. Perhaps it is man’s fate never to realize one’s dreams fully.
At times during the evening, Janusz and Ewa behave as irresponsible teenagers, perhaps because they are feeling nostalgic. The reckless driving is in conflict with their age. She treats Janusz as a person who should look after her, and help her find out the truth about her missing husband. Ewa wants Janusz to be responsible, probably because she misses spending time with him.
We assume Janusz and Ewa still have feelings for each other, and it becomes apparent that Janusz may have gone out in the evenings before. Whether Janusz is happy or not in his marriage is up in the air, spending time with Ewa on Christmas Eve is a guilty pleasure.
Perhaps being there for his old girlfriend is an act of kindness, despite the history they share, and despite the lies that had to be told to make the evening together happen.
According to the third commandment, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy”, Janusz did not honour the holy celebration, or his wife. But Janusz did honour a friend who needed him. You can speculate if spending time with Ewa was right or wrong, and if it would have made matters better or worse to tell his wife Ewa needed his help.
I’m pretty convinced that Janusz’s wife would have argued, that this problem is for the authorities, and not Janusz’s problem. However, Janusz’s wife would also have been in a dilemma, as an act of generosity would be to let her husband deal with the missing person. His wife selfishly wants Janusz to be at home on Christmas Eve.
As a reviewer noted: “Decalogue Part 3 lasts about 1 hour, but it conveyed to me a lifetime of sorrow, pain, missed opportunity, forgiveness, regret”.
Another reviewer commented: “A sort of Scorsesian After Hours (1985), lacking of every grotesque features, and plunged in a metabolizing melancholy that leaves a bitter taste in our mouths at the sight of Ewa’s touching persistence, at the sound of her imploring voice, at the tearing awareness of her past and future solitude.”
The water spraying scene of naked men in the prison, and the bored security woman, likely is a harsh critique of 80s Poland, I’m surprised Kieslowski was not asked to remove those scenes from the final cut by the Polish authorities?
More spelled-out than the first two episodes, Decalogue 3 benefits from suspenseful sequences by car, a mysterious disappearance, and a twist ending. The main theme is of a husband caught between responsibilities towards his family, and helping an old flame in trouble.
If circumstances had panned out differently, would you be with another partner? Should you cut ties with an old girlfriend once and for all, and is it possible to have them as a friend? The answers, as is often the case with Kieslowski, are ambiguous. Presumably, Kieslowski is subtly pointing a finger at various departments of the Polish public sector, and this aspect is not as universal for today’s viewers.
Next time, I’ll look at Episode 4. Readers of this review, any thoughts on Episode 3?
Kieslowski on Kieslowski / Danusia Stok