The Decalogue (1989) Episode 3

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


  1. Damn, I completely forgot about this segment, which is so odd, because I really do love it. Yet another great write-up here, Chris!

    1. @Alex Withrow: I love how each segment is so well thought out. Tough to remember each and every episode :) Thanks for stopping by

  2. Another great post, Chris! This is one of my favorite episodes. I love Episode 4 too, so I can't wait to read your write-up on that. :)

    1. @Josh: Thank you! I'll probably share a top 10 list of my favorites, once I reach the end of this marathon. I haven't decided my ranking yet.

      You're in luck, my thoughts on Episode 4 posted today!

  3. Visually, this was my favorite as I loved some of the shots that were created including that tracking shot on a skateboard. The story was fascinating in the way it explores loneliness but also the conflict in a man who spends that night with a former lover but has to return home to his family though he doesn't really do anything with this ex-lover.

    1. @thevoid99: Don't remember that tracking shot on a skateboard, interesting, I'll look at the visual aspects again, when I rewatch.
      I think a lot of grown ups can relate to a flame from the past suddenly there, and you feel a bit awkward.

  4. All true statements and will postulated, Chris. The way you look at it is very different from me yet I can see what you are saying and also see how it is supported in e-3. Yes, the husband did enjoy what he did and clearly he got a rush from the craziness of what they were doing. He was bored at home. That is also true yet when you make a commitment to be faithful in your marriage in the marriage vows which you take and swear to God to keep then it is your responsibility to work those things out in the marriage. Clearly, his wife loved Janusz and he didn't communicate very well with her.

    Kieslowski though is 1,2, and 3 is not judging the mistakes of his protagonists. He is not judging Wavel's father, or Dedora or the husband. He shows you very clearly though their limitations (where they fall short in their character) and then shows us how the situation resolves itself and how they handle their mistakes. I
    Janusz thinks that he needs the affair and the relationship to feel alive and not bored and so at the beginning of the evening (because this is a slice of life) he is still attracted to the thrill of danger but by the end of the evening , by 7:00 am, the next morning he realizes what he really , truly needs is to be home with his family. It is not a tragedy because he realizes his true need and he makes sure he gets it. He also thought he needed to lie and at the beginning he lies to his wife (the car was stolen) but at the end when he realizes he wants to be at home with his family (keep the Sabbath holy) he tells her truthfully he was with Ewa but not anymore.

    I am glad you mentioned posting to E-3. I got so excited after the last two episodes it didn't even occur to me.

    1. @country mouse: Thanks for the comment. Yes, it's important to be faithful, and I think he does respect his wife. But if you're bored, you're bored, and you have to listen to yourself and change your life. Perhaps Janusz needs to reignite his marriage, go on holiday,meet some new people. Do something different in his life, together with his wife.
      Ewa is in a similar situation, going to visit old friend briefly is not going to work in the long-run, she needs to find a long-term solution to her loneliness.

      Who knows? Perhaps Janusz will divorce his wife, and marry Ewa, it's open-ended, and we will never know. Janusz shouldn't stay with his wife out of guilt, but it should be out of love. Maybe he stays with her for the children's sake, and that is commendable. I'm not sure if it's guilt or true love at the end for Janusz , I'll have to rewatch again.
      To me, the evening reveals as much about Janusz as it does about Ewa.

  5. All good points and I agree with all of them. I keep coming back to what is the theme of this: the theme is the 10 commandments. If you go back to the covenant that God made with Moses that is to keep the commandments one would be blessed and if they did not keep them they would be cursed. Therefore, from our vantage point we can something like yes, if you are bored you should move on, that is a 21st century way of looking at gratifying oneself.

    From a universal, moral vantage point there are absolutes: beauty/ugliness, good/evil, right and wrong. One person does not on their own come up with a definition of right or wrong.

    What makes this show so interesting is if the following occurs:
    **in your mind, before watching an episode , one says ok this is the commandment: thou shall keep the Sabbath holy...though shall have a day , a day which is set aside from our earthly, material constraints of earning a living ,from paying the bills, from thinking of our own needs and on this Sabbath day we honor God, we say that we there is something majestic and higher than ourselves there is the Creator.
    **Then we say, ok, that is fine I can agree with that statement and then life happens. Something happens and my own limitations combined with a given set of circumstances gets in the way: I have a flaw. I make a mistake. Yes, I can justify it. A really hot person showed up that turned me on and was a lot more interesting than my spouse and I had an affair with them Now what??
    **Can I repent>can I change my ways, will I suffer, am I cursed. What is to become of me? Can someone help me? (think of the doctor in e-2 that helped the woman, )
    **Now you have the writer-director he is taking the main character in each of the first 3
    episodes, the boys father , the doctor and now Janusz and putting them up against a dilemma, a problem and seeing how they work it ous
    **we are the audience. we do not have live their suffering but we are the Greeks watching a Greek tragedy, we are made to feel their pain so we can learn without having to suffer ourselves.
    **we all face on a daily basis some test of our character: some are easy (someone gives us to much money back and we can return it or not), other times it is more fraught with serious consequences like the loss of a child or a dealing with loss or death and we are put to the test. Sometimes we pass and show ourselves to be courageous and other times we fail.
    **these 3 lessons show people who were put to the test and we are put in the position as the writer-director's audience to decide if the decisions they made were right or wrong, good or bad, whether the characters deserve our compassion or animosity?
    **we are little like God in that we watch from a distance (hence we are somewhat like that mystery man with his fire sitting in the snow, or the orderly watching the woman's husband fight for life in the hospital or like the man driving the bus )
    **it is like being on a jury or being a judge seeing all the details, big and small like the pill dropping on the floor, or the skateboarding security guard not doing her job
    **do we stay focused on the main events while at the same time there is plenty going on in the sidelines as well.

    1. @country mouse: Yes, we’ve come a long way since Moses. Yet there is still truth to be found in the Commandments. I think today, someone who thinks they would be cursed if they didn’t follow 10 Commandments to perfection would be considered a religious fanatic-so times change. Even though its commendable to be so loyal to a cause, and I like that idea that you would be blessed, if you follow the commandments. The commandments encourage you to be a better person.
      Interesting idea, to watch the episodes with that particular mindset. But yeah, we are human, we make mistakes, and can't live up to the Commandments all our life. (unless we are Jesus or a monk or something)
      I agree we are made to feel their pain so we can learn without having to suffer ourselves. Though you learn more from real life in my experience, because our own reputation in on the line.
      The audience does, in a way, decide if the decisions characters made were right or wrong,and how we feel about it can change on rewatch. Great point that we are somewhat like that mystery man, observing like a jury.
      Indeed on first watch it's the story, while on rewatches you tend to notice details.


What do you think about the post? I look forward to hearing from you. Rest assured I will reply soon.


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