Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Survival Kit

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“Survival is just a matter of logic.  Looking at the possibilities and preparing,” Chuck said, walking quickly with his unusually flowery tote down the theatre aisle.

I had no idea what in hell I was doing here.  Chuck told me it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” and that I “would commit hari-kari” if I missed it.

Honestly, I had never heard Chuck speak so strongly about anything, except perhaps Pixar.  He is an insane movie nerd, and all the time I’ve spent with him he has been speaking about this film or that, this scene or that.  I like movies, but I have a life.  I’m not so sure that Chuck does.

We climbed over the black lip before the screen of the cinema and I queried, “You never told me what this is about.  What are we getting into?”

“I did tell you.  It’s a Purple Rose of Cairo situation.”

“And I told you, I’d never seen that film.”

“Simple.  A movie character sees a lonely woman in a theatre and he climbs out of the film to spend time with her.”

“So movie characters will be spending time with us?”

“The second half of the film, she visits the world of the film that she had been watching.”

“So we are…”

Suddenly, the world around me turns dark, almost amber, but a hazy light shone through the trees.  Trees?  How are there trees?  And I would swear…  I turned around and looked at a car behind me.  It is a 1967 Pontiac LeMans.  It is supposed to be a bright yellow (how did I know that?), but instead it is a muted grey.

“Entering the world of cinema, to experience it firsthand.”  He gazed at me, eyes smiling, his hands stretched out.  “I told you, once in a lifetime chance.”

A group of people came staggering toward us, as if they had just suffered through a horrific battle.  “Really?” Chuck scoffed, “This is too simple.” As they came closer, I could see that they wore everyday clothes, if an older style, but their lower eyelids were darkened and their brows extended over their eyes. 

I stare at them as I realize that a huge group of zombies were cambering toward us, I moan, “No… not a horror movie.”

Chuck meanwhile is digging in his tote.  “Nothing to worry about.  We just need to be prepared.  And I am.”

I shake my head in terror, “I hate horror movies.  You know that.  I can’t stand to watch them.  And you put me in the middle of one?  This is a chance I would be happy to forego.”

Chuck doesn’t even glance back as he reaches the bottom of his tote.  “Look, I didn’t know that it was going to be a horror movie.  But there’s nothing to be afraid of.”

“Doesn’t everyone die at the end of this film?”

“Yeah, but it’s all in good fun.  There,” he grunts as he pulls out a pair of handlebars from his tote.  Attached to the handlebars is a scooter, which he drags out of the tote.


“Yeah, I know, amazing, isn’t it?  I have a friend at Walt Disney Studios.  He let me borrow Mary Poppins’ carpetbag.  You didn’t think it was really my style did you?  But you have to be practical.”
“How did you know it would work?”

“This is the world of cinema.  Anything can happen here.”

He sets the scooter on the dirt road, as the zombies pause by the LeMans, looking for brains to chew on.  “Zombies here are so slow.  Just about any vehicle can speed past them.”

“Why a scooter?”

“You think a Ferarri could fit through the lip of the bag?  It’s big, but not that big.”  He climbs on the driver’s seat, and indicates I’m to sit behind him. “Besides, this isn’t a scooter.”

The zombies are but a yard away as he turns the key of the scooter and I rush over to secure myself on the back seat.  “It’s a Vespa.  From Roman Holiday.  You know, with Audrey Hepburn?”
He speeds off, leaving zombies in the dust.  Other groups of zombies lunk along ahead, but Chuck easily evades them with his Vespa.

“When you are in the cinema world, there is one other thing that helps one survive, beside logic and preparation.   And that’s imagination.”

“How did we even get in here?”

“I’m not exactly sure.  I received an invitation by email from an unknown address, but I don’t care who it came from or what their purposes are.  I could never pass up an opportunity like this.  I figured that no matter who it was that offered this to me, no matter what insidious purpose he had, I couldn’t say no.”


“Ah, just as I thought.  He wouldn’t just place us in a Romero film.  We’re in a series of clips. I wish we had the soundtracks, though.  We’re really missing out.”

Chuck sped quickly toward a motel on the side of the road.  Behind the motel was a hauntingly familiar house.  “Psycho, really?  Chuck, I didn’t come here to be stabbed.”

Chuck pulls over in front of the motel, next to the vehicle with NFB 418 on the plate.  He climbs off of the Vespa, puts down the carpetbag and reaches in, pulling out a lavish, shiny, samurai sword.  “Nothing’s going to happen to us.  Especially here.  Norman Bates is frightening because no one expects danger from him.  We are prepared. Come on!” 

We rush through the unlocked door (1960 was so innocent), through the bedroom to the bathroom.  And there he was, Norman, dressed in his wig and dress, attacking Marion in the perfect combination of sex and terror.  Chuck picks up a telephone book, and tosses it behind Norman.  He spins around, terrified to see someone behind him.  Chuck positions himself, samurai-perfect, and Norman attacks, knife over his head.  Chuck dispatches him handily, with two strokes.  Then he wipes his blade off on the back of his fallen foe.

“Now I know for certain who gave us this marvelous opportunity.  My arch-nemesis, Corey.  The only reason he would place us here is not to frighten us, but because of his weakness.  He has a shower fetish.”

Chuck spins around and begins to drag me out of the motel.  Suddenly, I find that we are both in the bed, sound asleep, and yet we see the motel room clearly.   A set of blades scrape on the wall, and the wallpaper rips and tears, blood cascading through the torn openings.  “Huh,” my friend grunts, clearly not expecting this.

“Nightmare on Elm Street.  I despise this film, “ I murmur.

Although asleep, Chuck’s carpetbag is still on the floor.  He quickly digs down and grabs two cans.  “Here.  Drink this.”  He throws me one.  It’s a twenty ounce can of Red Bull. 

Suddenly, a man with a wide brimmed hat, striped shirt and specially made finger blades hovers above me.  “You and I still have some business to attend to,” he mocks me.

I watched Nightmare as an older teen, and I stayed up for nights, frightened that my very dreams might attack and maul me.    I shook as Freddy placed his index finger blade under my chin and whispers, “You are very, very late for our appointment…”

“Drink!” Chuck yells, and his shout startles me out of my tharn-gaze.  We both guzzle the caffeine-drenched beverage together, as I feel the blade descend into my gullet…

Then Freddy, the blood, the tears in the wall all disappear.  We were instantly awake.  “Fast acting,” Chuck quips.  He grabs my hand , the sword, and the carpetbag and we run out of the motel room.

Instead of the Vespa and vehicle, outside the motel room is a beautiful, clear lake, surrounded by trees. “Ah, now this I might have expected.” Chuck tosses me the sword, and I miss it, letting it drop on the ground.  I was glad to see that we were finally in a color world, full of greens and mist.  “I’m going to be busy,” Chuck says.  “You need to keep your eyes open, and look around.  Don’t let anything take you by surprise.  And use that sword.  Quickly, when the time comes.”

Suddenly, right behind Chuck, the familiar figure with a hockey mask attacks him with an axe.  Chuck, displaying a physical confidence and swiftness I’d never known he’d had, kicks Jason in the gut, then shifts and knees him in the face.  “Where did you learn…”

“Behind you!” Chuck shouts.

I spin and there is Jason again, with a machete, pulling back to strike me.  I quickly lash out with the Uma Thurman sword and before I knew it, Jason’s head was rolling on the ground.  I glanced over at the man Chuck had dispatched, but Jason was still there.

My friend saw the shock on my face.  “You didn’t kill Jason.  That is his mother.  She was the villain in the first film.”

I collapsed on the ground, dropping the sword, still bloodied. “I’d never killed anyone.  I can’t believe I’ve taken a human life.”

Meanwhile, Jason gets up and attacks Chuck from behind, using his weight to push him to the ground, beating him with hard, swift blows.  Chuck winces from the pain, then pulls a switchblade from his pocket and opens it upon Jason’s unprotected chest, entering his heart. 

“You didn’t kill anyone,” Chuck breathlessly states.

I looked again at the decapitated head, hockey mask still attached.  “Then what is this?”

“She’ll be back.  They all will.  This isn’t our world, where people die, never to be experienced again.  In the cinema world, the past always exists, and we can always visit it.  It never disappears.  Jason’s mother is alive, and she can die, but she will always come back, good as new.” He catches his breath, “Let’s go.”

We run through the woods, and find just on the other side of the trees a huge bar, on the side of a lonely road.  My friend smiles, “Let’s get a drink. If we’re lucky, we might get a glimpse of Santanico.”

As we get a bit closer, I notice the gauche neon, in the shape of a half-nude woman with the words “Titty Twister” beside her.  I tried to remember what film I saw this in, but it wouldn’t come to me.  As we entered, I glanced around at the large, open room and knew it seemed familiar.  As the door behind me automatically locked and barred, I knew.  “Dusk till Dawn, really?” 

“I know.  And we already missed the dance number.  Damn.”

Hordes of vampires surround us, slowly approaching us.  I hold up the samurai sword, ready for the fight of my life.  Chuck calmly speaks to me, “Put that thing down.  It won’t do you any good here.”  He is already reaching in the carpetbag. 

A vampire jumps over the bar and lands next to me, ready to strike.  I punch him in the face. “Chuck…”

“Just a sec.”

Two more vampires approach me from either side.  I spin and kick them both in the chest in one swift movement.  Although I am getting the hang of cinema world, this particular setting truly frightens me.  I’ve learned a lot, but even George Clooney barely survived this bar.  “Chuck?” I shouted.

“Got it.”

Just as twenty vampires were ready to attack us, he pulls out a small stick, waves it and shouts “Lumos maxima!”

Suddenly, bright light shone over all the bar, leaving no corner darkened.  Vampires screamed and collapsed, some melted, but all died, handily.

Chuck begins shouting at the ceiling.  “Is that all you got, Corey?  You lack just as much imagination as you ever did in your idiotic reviews.  You wouldn’t know a good film if it bit you in the head and swallowed your forehead!  Come on, which horror film can kill me?  I’m ready for whatever you can throw at me!”

The dismal strip club disappeared and replaced with a bright, clear, blue sky.   I quickly realized that I wasn’t looking at the sky directly, but reflected off the mirror windows of Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, with Dubai a thousand feet below me.  Only a few yards below me was Chuck, stretched across a window, sweating, his breath labored as he struggled with a panic attack.  I climbed up to an open window, just a yard above me.  Once secure, I reached down to my friend, terror in his eyes and shouted through the wind, “Just one step at a time, Chuck.  You can do it.” 

“I…I… can’t move.”

“You don’t need to have your carpetbag for this, Chuck.  Remember, it’s cinema world.  You can do it.”

“You can!  Just try!”

Chuck, for a moment, went within himself, closing his eyes, finding his strength.  With a steel resolve, he pulls a foot up, finds a grip.  Then he puts his hand up, stretching out his arm, gripping the window frame.

And slips.  The sweat on his hands was too thick, and he couldn’t maintain his hold.  He falls. A thousand feet.  Well, perhaps twenty feet until I couldn’t look anymore.

I wipe the tears from my eyes and the frustration from my soul.  “Okay, Corey,” I speak in an even voice.  “Yes, you knew his kryptonite.  He hates heights.  I’m okay with them.  I can’t stand horror films, but I love a good action film. And Mission Impossible 4 is one of the best.”

I looked out the window, trying with all my effort to see the smiling face in the projector’s booth far beyond the screen.  “You won.  You proved your point.  Now please rewind the film and let us go home.”

Monday, October 19, 2015

What’s the Deal with M. Night Shyamalan?

All right, full confession right up front: I’m a fan of M. Night.  I don’t think he’s some Hitchcock or Spielberg, but I like his style.  He tells great stories.  I think of him as a campfire narrator.  He’s the guy who we listen to at the campfire and we get creeped out or sometimes scared or at times we are incredulous at his tale, but we’ve learned that he’s someone to listen to, and he makes us forget the real world for a little while.   A good entertainer, if not especially deep. 

I do love his turns in his films.  I don’t call them “surprises” because they aren’t always surprises.  But he builds up a story toward a turn and then slowly finishes it after the turn is made.  And I love that kind of straightforward storytelling.  And I think enough of his movies are worth re-watching even after you know the turn. There’s enough detail and character interest that watching it a second time isn’t a chore.

I recognize that he’s made some duds. Every director has those.  But that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the next tale he tells.  The darkness is lessened, the smoke a bit lighter while he’s telling his tale.

But the man has detractors.  Frankly, he is completely hated by some.  As if he had deeply hurt these people who just saw a film they didn’t like.  They call him names and say he hasn’t had a decent film since Sixth Sense, and blah, blah, blah.  And it is not a few people.  I was in a theatre when his name came up in a trailer and some in the audience booed the name.  I was sad at this.  I didn’t think he deserved it.  After all, he hadn’t participated in rape, statutory or otherwise. He just made some films these folks didn’t like.

And I wonder, why this hate?  Why is Shyamalan’s film The Visit greeted with as many haters as lovers?  While I don’t have any real answers, I want to share a few thoughts:
Reasons to hate M. Night Shyamalan:

1. Morals
Although he labeled only “The Lady in the Water” as “a fable”, the fact is that all his films are fables—stories with a moral.  The Visit openly gives a moral about releasing anger.  The moral in the Sixth Sense wasn’t as obvious, but all his movies lead to a point, even his written-but-not-directed movie Devil, which is about forgiveness.  Personally, I like a good sermon, and M. Night tells a good yarn with a good lesson at the end to wrap it all together.  But I can see that others may not like this approach.

2. Pseudo-fake
In The Visit and especially in The Happening the actors are directed, in parts, to act like their acting.  This is all part of the storytelling, but we prefer our actors to be more natural seeming.  This is a problem that Verhoeven and Richard Kelly also have, trying to communicate a sense of satire or falsehood by having their actors “act”.  But this doesn’t communicate to all audience members.

3. Your Slip is Showing
Shyamalan’s scripts are so straightforward and mechanistic, that all the parts are out there, easy to see.  There’s the three-part script, the obvious building blocks, the “surprise” and the wind up—a pretty basic outline, obvious to all.  And perhaps it’s too obvious for those who prefer a more artistic presentation.

 4. X Movie with Y Ending
Mark Harris earlier this year wrote a great analysis of why some critique the Oscars for not choosing the “great” movies for best picture 

He differentiates between “X” movies—dark and nihilistic films—and “Y” movies—drama that is light and often has a happy ending.  Some critics would only accept an X movie as being great, while Forest Gump and The King’s Speech, being “Y” films, are simply unworthy.  Where do Shyamalan’s films sit?  Perhaps Sixth Sense and Unbreakable could be considered “X” films (the two most likely to be considered “good” by M. Night), but the rest, while they might have a hard exterior, have a gooey center, a Y movie with an X wrapping.  So those who prefer X movies might see him pulling the dark out from under their feet, leaving them with a positive ending and a moral.  Yuck, say the X-promoters.

5. Self Promotion
But I think that Shyamalan’s biggest cinematic sin is wearing his self-promotion on his sleeve.  Maybe he did it himself, and maybe he was put up to it, but how it looks is that he thinks pretty well of himself.  We can forgive a bad film by Ridley Scott, because he doesn’t put his name above the title, or participate in gushing biographies about himself.  He does his work and lets others judge them as they will.  But by placing himself in actor’s roles and by the self-aggrandizing  turns in trailers, it seems as if he were comparing himself to Hitchcock or Spielberg, which is unacceptable.  That only works if you never put out a stinker.  But once you do, your ballooned reputation will pop, and no matter what good work you have done in the past, it won’t mean anything, because you will have used up all your goodwill in glorifying your name.

Again, I don’t think any of us knows whether Shyamalan did this himself, or was encouraged to do this by others in  the studio system, but it was a bad step.  And worse, when the campfire storyteller compares himself to Shakespeare, he’ll always come out defeated before he begins. 

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Christian Films and "Christian" Films

Earlier today I saw a post where a friend of mine was looking for Christian movies on Netflix streaming.  I can't find it now, but I figured I'd answer it anyway.

The first thing that I think it important to note is that most films that are named "Christian" are often not very much so, or they hold to a very narrow idea of what "Christian" means. Because of this, most of the time the acting in "Christian" films are often the worst, although the production value is getting better. Fireproof was the best non-sports "Christian" film I've seen. The rest wasn't worth my time. Another decent one I saw is Cry From the Mountain, from Billy Graham's World Wide Pictures. Both are, at best, mediocre. Neither of which, of course, is on Netflix instant.
A "Christian" film is a movie that expresses the carefully constructed doctrine and morality of the American evangelical community.  It often promotes family and usually has an evangelistic message of some sort within it.  The latest of these is a film called War Room.  They are often promoted by churches, and some churches even have special showings for their members.  Frankly, like "Christian" music, it is a business model.

When I call something "Christian", I would like to think it reflects the tradition of 2000 years, especially the values of Jesus, like loving your enemy or forgiveness or helping the needy.  Family is okay, but Jesus also said "If you do not hate your mother and father and wife and children... you cannot be my disciple."  I'm not saying that Jesus actually meant to hate people (he didn't), but he was certainly saying that "family values" isn't the center of all that is good.  And I don't think that the evangelical church's version of Calvin-lite really expresses the values of Christianity for the majority of it's run.

Still, there are thousands of great, truly Christian films that don't fall under that American production label. So here is a list of great films that reflect the values of Jesus, and make powerful statements AND are great films. That also happen to be on Netflix Instant.  Here are a few:

Ida-- A woman about to take her monastic vows finds out that her family was killed as Jews in the Holocaust.

The Kid with a Bike-- I think the Dardanne Brothers are the greatest producers of Christian films in the world right now. This one is about a single woman who takes in a troubled kid.

Together-- Okay, this isn't a Christian film, but it is a great movie about living in community, Christian or otherwise

After the Wedding-- A man who dedicates himself to the poor is called home for a wedding, and he is given an offer he cannot refuse.

The Selfish Giant-- A powerful movie about what it takes to bring redemption.

Short Term 12-- A look at a private school full of special needs kids. Much better than it sounds. Really, really good.

The Overnighters-- A documentary about a pastor who lets people sleep overnight at his church.
These are among my favorite films of all time. So if you don't like them, blame me.

I'll take some time to cover some other Christian and spiritual films in the future.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Dekalog 6: "You Shall Not Commit Adultery"

In the ten commandments, the word “adultery” is used exclusively for the breaking of a marriage covenant through unfaithfulness.  In Leviticus 18, there is a long list of other sex offenses, including incest, homosexuality and having sex with one’s wife while she is on her period (don’t ask me, I’m just letting you know).

   Interestingly enough, in Christian ethical discussions, one of the main sins that fall under “fornication” is sex before marriage.  The Bible does speak about this.  It assumes that a man would want a woman who is a virgin when they are married and if a bride deceives her husband about this fact, then she might be killed.  If a virgin is raped, then the man’s punishment is to marry her.  Let’s just say that those were different times.

The Bible doesn’t come close to speaking of the situation in this context.  Magdla (named after the “prostitute” in the Bible, Mary Magdalene, who wasn’t a prostitute at all, but possessed by seven demons), has a boyfriend or two, with whom she romps gladly in bed.  She leaves the curtains open, not only because she is on the third floor of her apartment, but because she is open and not ashamed of what she does.  Tomek (possibly named after the Bible’s doubting Thomas?) has stolen his friend’s small telescope and spies on Magdla from across the courtyard that separates their two apartment buildings.   But this peeping “Tom” is not only looking, but he enacts his obsessions with her in other strange ways.  He sends her notices, that informs her to go to the post office where he works to obtain money; when he sees that she has a lover with her, he might call the gas company to tell them her apartment has a leak; he gets hired as a milkman so he can ask her questions in the morning, allowing her to talk to her.  Frankly, he’s not healthy.

Finally, he is caught, and he confesses to her his spying.  She is offended, and then bemused.  She sees him only as a bundle of hormones, quivering with sexual tension.  He assures her that he is not, that he only wants to go out on a date.  But his humanity is blocked by her previous encounters with men, convinced that sex only has to do with a physical need and the release of tension.   There are three “loves” in this “Short Film about Love”: lust, romantic love and a third: the recognition of the person before us as an equal human being, a person of value and substance.  Magdla doesn’t experience that third love until the end of the film.

As much as this film is about love, it equally seems to be about privacy and shame.  Magdla flaunts that which most people consider to be private, and she sees herself as very open.  Tomek is full of shame and is always in a dark room, behind doors, fearful of what would happen if his secret were known.  But it turns out that his greatest fear isn’t to be found out, especially by the focus of his love, but to be spurned and mocked.  To have his most precious private thoughts cast back at him with spittle.  He is private, not just due to shame, but from protection, for if his love were laughed at, then the structure on which he has built himself would collapse.

This film is a tragedy, not unlike Romeo and Juliet, two people who are torn apart by assumption and misunderstanding.  It is a perfect film, without a single extra scene, a gem of plotting and character building. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Dekalog 5: "You Shall Not Murder"

In the Bible, human life is connected to the likeness of God, similar to how pagan religions recognize their statues of their gods. A statue, an idol, is a representation of a god, an epiphany, a singular descent of god upon earth.  Even so, the Bible says that every single human being is an epiphany, a representation of God on earth.  Thus, to kill a human being is to wish death upon God.

 Jewish tradition states that every human being is a society, a complex nation to which there is no reaching the depth of it.  Thus, the killing of every human being is not just murder, but genocide.

But religions debate about the death penalty for murder, as well as legal systems.

Jacek is a young man, full of spite and selfish anger.  He throws rocks down onto traffic, flies in the face of other’s concerns and finally he kills a random taxi driver, for no real reason than he wanted to.  If there was anyone who was a burden on society, worthy of being extinguished, he is the man.  Mind you, the taxi driver was also a jerk, ogling young girls and not helping people clearly in need.   But should such a man be killed simply because he was a jerk?

And this is the question proposed by the film—should a selfish, hateful bastard be killed by a selfish hateful bastard, whether that killer be a random murder or the state?  It presents to us the conundrum of the death penalty—does the death penalty prevent future crime by helping people realize that there are consequences to their actions, or does it perpetuate murder by showing that killing is right in some circumstances?  Is the state a promoter of justice or a fellow murderer?

Although Piotr, the young defense attorney in this case, is clear about his proposal that the death penalty is not a part of a system of justice, I don’t believe that his complex moral arguments represent the filmmakers point of view.  Rather, his statement at the end, when we have finished viewing two deaths in detail is what perfectly presents the interpretation of the whole situation: “I abhor it!  I abhor it!”  This loathing of killing is what we are supposed to have seep into our souls.

Again, Kieslowski does not give us any answers.  The only thing we are left with is anger that killing happens at all.

A slightly longer version of this film, with better camera work, has been released as A Short Film about Killing. 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Dekalog 4- "Honor Your Father and Mother"

As we saw earlier, the ten commandments are often used to be a “title” for a group of commands.  In the Bible, “Honor your father and mother” is just another way of saying respect or obey all authority.  The father, especially, is the backbone of patriarchal society, so if one does not obey one’s father, then all kinds of rebellion and immorality are possible.  Rebelling against and shaming one’s parents are punished severely in the Old Testament law, even to the degree of killing an older son who gets drunk a lot.

In this episode, the idea being explored is not, “isn’t there a moral way to break this command”, but rather exploring the idea of honor, and pushing the edge of the envelope.

Anna has always lived with her father, Micah and has known no other parent, since her mother died just after she was born.  We see them have a fun relationship, without much discipline, but Anna is a good kid, grown now and reliable.  She is also thinking about marrying her boyfriend.  Then she finds a letter in her father’s desk which says, “To be opened after I pass away.”  Of course, curiosity gets the best of her, and she opens it only to find another envelope addressed to her from her deceased mother. 

After this is opened, the questions brought up in this film get deep and serious.  (Alert, spoilers here:) If a parent isn’t a biological parent, what are the responsibilities?  May a child then rebel?  If one finds that a parent isn’t a biological parent, what do you call the love between the parent and the child?  Could it be erotic, romantic? Does every relationship between a father and a grown daughter have an element of eroticism in it?  

These questions are so difficult, I am surprised the filmmakers were allowed to explore this direction, let alone put it on public television.  Incest, of course, is forbidden by the Bible and religions and law… but if there is no biology, then is it really incest?  Then the film brings up the next question: what if there is no evidence to say whether a parent and child are related… if sexual desire is spoken between them, what is to happen then?

Many forbidden questions here, and no answers.  This episode is equal parts frustrating and fascinating. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Dekalog 3- :Keep the Sabbath Holy"

As most commandments of the ten, the command of the Sabbath is not only about the seventh day of the week, but about any proper festival that requires a meaningful ritual.  In the ancient world, they took these festivals seriously.  In the Old Testament there was a time when everyone was to hold a day of celebration.  Then the law was read to them, and they were grieving with guilt.  But the crowd was told not to grieve, it‘s not the day for that.  Grieve tomorrow, they said.  The day of celebration can’t be marred with it.

In Kieslowski’s narrative, the holy day is Christmas Eve, a day of presents and celebration.  Januzs dons a Santa Claus outfit and is generous to his family.  Then Ewa, his former lover with whom he had a long standing affair, shows up at the door.  She says her husband has gone missing and she needs help finding him.  Januzs decides to help her out, lying to his wife that his car was stolen.  And off they go.

Clearly, the last thing Januzs and Ewa is doing is keeping the holy day in a holy way.  They are spending the night with their adulterous lover, lying to everyone from his spouse to the police, and in general making many people’s lives a bit more difficult.  They are no Thelma and Louise, but they aren’t bringing peace on earth that Christmas night.

Or are they?  Their intent is to find and to care for Eva’s husband, to bring him back home and to make sure he wasn’t injured.  (spoiler!) In the end, it is discovered that Ewa’s real intent was to prevent her from committing suicide, for holy-days are family days and she had no more family.  They also visited a drunk tank, where they prevented the sadistic caretaker from abusing his charges, if only for a moment. (end spoiler!)

There are different kinds of holiness.  There is a ritual holiness, like going to church.  There is a superficial holiness, like staying away from one’s lover on a night when we are supposed to be with family.  But often in the Bible holiness has to do with God’s mercy, which is unique among the living beings of the universe and those who show that mercy.  Mercy like helping your former lover who is on the brink of death instead of being with one’s family.  Mercy like supporting the drunks, objects of derision.  And if Christmas isn’t about that merciful kind of holiness, then what is?

There are a number of fascinating details in this hour of television, but I’d like to point out the names of the two main characters.  In English, we may note that Ewa’s name is “Eve”, like Christmas Eve.  But I think the name more pointedly is to the Bible’s Eve who tempted Adam to sin, even as this Ewa tempted the male protagonist to abandon his family on Christmas.  His name is Januzs, which is from the Greek mythological character Janus, who had two faces.  I believe his name was chosen because he is both looking toward his family and his ex-lover, trying to appease them both, but can’t.

One final detail (spoiler!).  The last scene shows a conversation between Januzs and his wife, where she indicates that she knows he spent the night with his former lover.  She then responds, sadly, “Does this mean you will be gone at nights?”  Her resignation of a lonely life without her husband and father of her children is heartbreaking.  His encouraging response does little to heal her continuing pain from living in a broken marriage.  A heartbreaking ten seconds.