DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: Three Colours Trilogy

Friday 25 November 2011

Three Colours Trilogy

Three Colours: Blue, White, Red (1993/94) dir. Krzysztof Kieślowski
Starring: Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy, Irene Jacob, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Benoît Régent, Jean-Louis Trintignant


By Alan Bacchus

Blue, White and Red, the glorious trilogy of French films from legendary Polish director, Krzysztof Kieślowski, are essential viewing for lovers of international cinema. Using the three national colours of France, representing Equality, Liberty and Fraternity, Kieślowski created a thematically complex yet wholly accessible linked trilogy incomparable to any other series of films in cinema. Each is unique and self-contained, and there’s no particular order in which they need to be seen. The films freely weave themselves in and out of one another with grace.

Kieślowski specifically chose three different cinematographers to shoot his films, resulting in three distinct ‘looks’. Blue, as shot by Slawomir Idziak, is dark and brooding, using predominantly blues (of course), but also deep yellows and noirish grey shadows concealing much of his frames. White is the least stylistic with bright and traditionally composed imagery subordinate to the narrative. While Red is shot with a dreamy, romantic, effortless style, energetic and effervescent.

Blue, the darkest of the the three films is also the most intimate and contained. After a tragic car accident, Julie (Juliette Binoche) is left a grieving widow and dodging questions from the media about her late husband’s (a renowned composer) last unfinished concerto. Sequestering herself from the world and the emotional pain of her losses, she finds strange solace in a female companion of her husband’s.

Kieślowski represents Blue as Liberty by using the strange irony of her new friendship with the former illicit lover to free herself of her former life and become a new woman. In keeping with Julie’s internalized emotions, Kieślowski employs a distinctly abstract and impressionistic cinematic style. The deep blues and yellows absorb light and constrain his world in shadows and darkness. Unlike the complex plotting of Red, Blue is sparse, fuelled by mood, texture and the brooding emotions of its heroine. The result is intoxicating.

Usually billed as the ‘comedy’ of the three films, White is Kieślowski at his most affable, but also his most cruel. It features an unusual setup, including the supremely absurd opening scene, which shows the complete destruction of his lead character, Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), a Polish immigrant who stands agape in a courtroom where his wife is divorcing him for his inability to consummate their marriage. What shame. The casting of Julie Delpy, normally portrayed as a sweet and innocent fanciful girl in other pictures, aids in disarming us to her cruelty and selfishness toward Karol.

After a series of other mishaps, Karol, at his lowest moment, meets another Polish ex-pat who asks Karol to kill him as a favour in exchange for money. Through this random association (a strong theme across all the films) we see Karol build his life and career back up to the point where he is wealthy and successful and finally ready to exact revenge on his ex-wife, who forsake him so many years ago.

Within this noirish black comedy set up Kieślowski presents a sharp political allegory to Poland’s post communist-era financial troubles with the rest of Europe. As an immigrant in a strange land, Karol’s inability to integrate into French society causes him to resort to underground illegal means to achieve his success, something which echoes the rise of Eastern European crime in the '90s and beyond. With nothing to lose, Karol exploits the tenets of the free market capitalist mentality to become a self-made entrepreneur fuelled by his deep-rooted desire to destroy his opponents – in this case, his equally diabolical (though gorgeous) ex-wife.

While it’s painful to even consider ranking these films, arguably Red is the standout picture, garnering Mr. Kieślowski two Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Screenplay. Portraying the theme of Fraternity, Kieślowski puts us in the shoes of Valentine (Irene Jacob), a model, who, while driving home after a photo shoot, accidentally hits a dog. Her compassion for the animal causes her to seek out her owner, thus sparking a remarkable, enlightening journey of discovery and reconciliation of her own inner anguish.

Red is the most romantic, hence the use of the colour of love prominently throughout. Yet, Kieślowski’s heroine never experiences love. We can feel it in the air, like God almighty moving his characters around like chess pieces on a board to be in a position to fall in love, or at least release themselves of their fates. Such is the happenstance meeting of Valentine and Kern, who spends his days listening in on his neighbour’s conversations. Kern’s emotional reconciliation is brought out by Valentine’s gentle innocence.

Again, Kieślowski uses coincidence and chance to express his themes of existence, love, repentance and forgiveness. Red is elliptical without being self-consciously clever. Kieślowski uses parallel narratives, which twist and turn within one another and even double back through the other films, connecting all three main characters as one form of human conscience and thus a glorious finale to this landmark series.

Three Colours Trilogy is available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.


Alexandre Fabbri said...

Three Colours Red is not quite a romance but it is about connections as you rightly say. In fact, Kieslowski frequently used the colour red during the film to indicate the sense of memory (and even the past) and this is shown to good effect in the scene where the car battery of the red jeep goes flat.

Alan Bacchus said...

I think i used the word 'romantic' vs. 'romance', which is how the tone felt to me (compared to the melancholy of Blue and the cold black comedic tone of white)