Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Dekalog III - A Dialogue through Light

Dekalog III is based, nominally at least, on the third commandment. This commandment states "Honour the Sabbath Day and keep it Holy"...

With Christmas Eve night as their backdrop, Krzysztof Kieslowski
illuminates the lives of those who are without a home, lacking the warmth of familial love. Dekalog III, as all the parts of the Dekalog do, appears to call not for strict adherence to rigid, non-negotiable and potentially contradictory laws, not for acts of faith as much as acts of good faith in the spirit of what God and the Bible teaches. The Sabbath day is kept holy not by prayer and ritualised solemnity alone (we see the protagonists at Mass) but also the practice of compassion.

Ewa is alone on a Night meant for sharing, a night that is defined by family. It is her Saint's day too. She calls on Janusz, a married man with whom she once had an adulterous affair. She is seen looking through the window of his home as he, dressed up as Father Christmas, brings gifts to his children. She talks to him on the phone. She lies. She tells him that her husband, from whom she is in fact long separated, is missing. He, reluctantly but with sympathy, agrees to accompany her.

Gradually they discover the truth b
ehind this night and the truth of what had passed between them many years ago. They accept and rebuild a bond. It is a pact sealed before and through God in the breaking and sharing of a wafer-like disc of bread in Ewa's apartment.

* * *

What passes through the doors and the windows that separated Ewa from others is light.

Reflections on the inside of night-blackened windows appear to place lamps and fairy lights outside on the streets. There are many instances of reflections that offer a pathway in through a spilling out. A welcome and a call. Street lights come in too, reflected on the outside of windows. Blinding light punches through the multitude of doors that are closed in the characters' faces. Barriers that isolate are pierced and dissolved.

In out (above top); Out in (above bottom)

The entire city, on this night, is decorated as if a sprawling concrete Christmas tree. Kieslowski and Cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski's shots distort light. They blur it, magnify it and flare it through their lens. Ewa and Janusz are garlanded by strings of lights, wreathed in orbs of gold, haloes of white and red, as if protected by heavenly souls.

Kieslowski chooses to place stress on the colour Red in particular (image below). He employs it as a means to intensify danger (pursuit and capture by the police), passion (Ewa licking her finger to salve a cut on Janusz's forehead), fraternity. Counterpointing such haemorrhages of colour is the white light in which calm, truthfulness and safety is doused.

Ewa is desperate in her loneliness. She tells Janusz how she was prepared to kill herself, showing him the pill in her coat pocket. Her plan was to get through the night with his help. If she could get to 7:00 AM, to the break of dawn and, significantly, new light, she would be ready to face the world again without fear.
Daylight, even more than artificial light, is the source of benediction in Dekalog III.

Years ago their trysts took place in the evening. By bringing their relationship into daylight they cleanse the pain and sorrow that their 'dark' acts had caused. They overcome the despair together. This is now a friendship, albeit one that can have no future. The symbolic significance of light in their relationship is emphasised by their farewell. Seated in their cars, facing each other, they flash their lights:

Perhaps this is a way to say 'I love you' but they do it, chiefly, just to connect. They do it in a way that is unspoken, the way in which they will continue to be a part of each other's lives; not speaking, not seeing, but knowing and feeling. Light is everywhere about them, surrounding them and guiding them. You cannot touch it or talk to it but it is there showing you the way. It is God-like and for Ewa and Janusz on this Sabbath day it is a salvation:

"I am the light of the world; anyone who follows me will not be walking in the dark; they will have the light of life"
John 8:12

Janusz returns to his wife. She knows of the affair and now she hopes and prays it will not resume. He sees her sleeping, her face half in shadow* - the mouth. Waiting for news, she cannot give words of comfort or love but she can receive. She awakes and asks:

"Will you be going out again in the evenings?"

"No...no I won't"

Christmas morning has broken with white light. These men and women had room in the inn. They had a place to stay all along. Now they have found a truer and more lasting place in each other's hearts. A real home.

*The Dekalog is full of incomplete faces, obscured and hidden. It is full of people struggling to connect with others.


  1. Stephen, You have written about one of the greatest films ever made. Will get back soon on the review(s).

  2. Wow, Stephen. Thisis a terrific sumamtion of the episode purely in terms of its theme and visuals. Kudos.

  3. JAFB,

    I'm writing a review of the whole thing which will be up soon, if you are interested.