Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Film Notes: Dekalog 3

Kryzystof Kieslowski's "Dekalog" series of ten short films, was billed as his creative response to the Ten Commandments. I was attracted to the concept, not simply because of it's biblical inspiration, and because I assumed it would contain some interesting ethical wrestling; but because Kieslowski is such an interesting film maker. His "Three colours trilogy", was not only beautifully shot and wonderfully constructed, but was intriguingly quirky in its' inclusion of subtle signs, references and illusions - few of which were 'in the face' of the viewer, but which constantly intrigued and fascinted.

The Dekalog series are equally subtle, loaded with hints, pictures and subtle references playing between each of the individual films - all of whihc are set in the same tower-block of flats. Intriguingly, it is not always obviosu which commandment is being referenced in each film, although Dekalog 1 is thought to be inspired by the 'have no other gods before me' instruction, and Dekalog 2, by the prohibition on misusing the Lord's name. Dekalog 3 is said to be attached to the command to keep the Sabbath Day - but the narrative of this film makes that far from obvious.

The story concerns the events of Christmas Eve night, and two people searching for a missing man. The two are Janusz and his former mistres Ewa, and they are looking for her husband who she has reported missing. From the outset, the commandment against commiting adultery seems a more obvious starting point for the film. However, the narrative takes a series of unlikely turns (spoiler alert!). For a start the couple do not resume their affair, which has been over for three years; then it turns out that the missing husband is not a missing person but left Ewa years ago - and the whole night they spend together is predicated upon an elaborate series of lies (which call another commandment altogether into play). Finally as they separate at 7AM, and Janusz goes home to his wife, who simply wants to know if he is going to be faithful to her or resume the affair; Ewa reveals what has realy been going on. She was alone on Christmas Eve, and set herself the 'bet' of gaining company until Christmas Morning, or ending her life. 

Dekalog 3 contains many of the strenghts of the first two films, bleak and atmospheric shooting, compelling acting and an engaging storyline. It doesn't match up to the first two in terms of links to the commandments, emotional engagement, or depth of thought however. Of the first three films, this is the weakest by some margin. The alleged links to 'the sabbath' commandment are made by seeing links between Sabbattarian duty, and Janusz's duties as a husband - but this seems contrived. This couple seem to be damaged by the fallout from the violation of the adultery commandment, and caught up in the middle of a web of lies; and these commandments seem to be closer to the mark. 

Unlike the focused impact of Dekalog 1 & 2, the third film seems to drift. The bleak empty streets, the moody filming and Maria Pakulnis' brilliant performance as Ewa, don't quite compensate for the fact that this film just doesn't grab the viewer by the throat like the first two.

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