Thursday, December 8, 2016

Dekalog Three, The Sadist Christmas Special Ever

Happy holidays, everybody. I'm finally back after what feel like why too long. Once again I found myself with positively too many things to take care of within any rational amount of time. Most of it is my own fault for taking on too many side projects. Plus there's some extra wasted time thanks the security job having the distinct disadvantage of making me physically ill these past two weeks. I believe it's a reaction to something in my guard shack which means I have to devote some of my down time to fending off illness and finding solutions to stop it from happening. Oh, and did I mention I'm deep in Final Fantasy XV...yeah, like usual I've gotten myself wrapped up in too much at once but I'm starting to get on top of it all.

I suppose being overwhelmed is something of a holiday cliche by this point. Many folks tend to find themselves burred up to their eyeballs with excessive tasks, often impeding their enjoyment of the season. That's a recurring theme in plenty of holiday entertainment, but let's face it, that's usually just trivial stuff. What about when you're having a genuinely crappy holiday? Well that's a theme I want to tackle by talking about possibly the most depressing Christmas special of all time, Dekalog three.

Chances are there's a good many of you with crossed eyes at the moment, wondering what on Earth Dekalog is or how there manages to be multiple of them. Dekalog was a late 80's mini-series for Polish television from acclaimed director Krzysztof Kieslowski. It spanned ten episodes, each a morality tale based loosely on one of the ten commandments and focused on residents of one apartment complex. There's also a mystery man who appears in most episodes as an observer to major events. While most of the praise for this series is well earned, it's not without a few weak points, episode two in particular is something of an artsy fartsy misfire. When the series is on point though, it's stellar and they don't get much better than three. I've been revisiting/finishing the series recently thanks to a nice Blu-Ray release from Criterion, sadly I can't offer up any screen caps from it on my puny laptop. Let's not worry too much about eye candy and just focus on the story.

It's Christmas Eve in Warsaw. The largely catholic populace is in full swing celebration with visits from Santa, midnight mass, all that jazz. Rather fittingly the first line of dialogue is spoken by a drunken man who can't find his home. We're introduced to two seemingly unrelated individuals. Janusz is a family man doing his best to make this a proper holiday. Ewa is a lone woman who pays a melancholy visit to her dementia/Alzheimer suffering aunt. The two people make eye contact during midnight mass offering a big clue towards their shared history.
Turns out the two of them had an affair years ago, before a mystery call to her husband sent the whole thing belly-up. Tonight she claims that same husband has gone missing and she needs Janusz's help in tracking him down. Thus begins a whirlwind tour of a cold and quiet night through Warsaw, as the pair visits morgues, drunk tanks, and the like in search of her husband.

During the long search we get some not so subtle hints that there's something else going on. It seems Ewa wants to keep her ex-lover out all night, but for what purpose exactly? The answer to that is pretty damn brilliant but more important is the onslaught of emotional baggage the two of them huck at each other, especially when they play chicken with a tram car. I mean these people have a hell of a time shaking off that nasty break-up.

It all sounds petty depressing, doesn't it? Believe it or not this ends up as one of the more uplifting entries in the series. Things get dark, that's for certain but by the end it seems as though everyone's a little stronger for the ordeal. That's why I think it sits among some of the top tier Christmas entertainment. Much as we'd like our holidays to be nothing but merriment and joy, there's always a strong chance of things turning to shit. The best seasonal tales reflect that, whether it be a man tormented by spirits and regrets in A Christmas Carol, or a violent hostage situation in Die Hard. Overcoming great challenges either emotional or physical is such a more universal and touching theme than magic babies or flying livestock.

Did I just go way off topic? Yes? Ok, so what I'm getting at is how Dekalog Three may be the perfect Christmas special for anyone having a hard time. There's a harsh reality to the whole feature that's relatable to almost anyone yet the setting of post communism Poland makes for something alien which perks your interest. You can empathize with the flawed characters yet learn by judging their mistakes and foibles.

One of my favorite touches, after the pair has already visited so many grim locations, most recently a drunk tank manned by an abusive official, they end up at the train station where the plot twist will reveal itself. Before that happens they meet a station worker stuck with the shitty duty of working overnight into Christmas morning, but does the situation have her beat down? Heck no, she rides around on her skateboard to stay awake. The sight of a young upbeat individual interacting by two regretful people at the end of a long night really helps to illustrate different ways of coping with a bad holiday.

So yea, if you can manage it, check out at least this episode of the Dekalog, so far it's my favorite with one and five running closely behind, though I recommend those only if you wish to curl up in a ball for a while. It could be just the item to offset uplifting tales like Scrooged without resorting to the bevvy of killer Santa movies. Not that those are bad, mind you, I love me some killer Santa but it's always nice to have a high class alternative.

Well it seems like things are starting to run on schedule here again. I should have several updates up before Christmas morning and this isn't the only place you'll find me this month. Currently I'm putting the finishing touches on a post for Dread Central, and am writing up an article that will hopefully launch me on yet another site. Keep your eyes pealed. Until then, be good little boys and girls and don't play chicken with trams.

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