Three Colors: White (1994)

threecolorswhite1The Three Colors Trilogy is made up of the three colors of the French flag. Thus, the second installment, between Blue and Red is of course White. It is considered by some to be the weakest of the three films, but that is rather unfair because it is still wonderful in its own right.

The other films are pensive, thoughtful pieces of drama, but White is actually quite funny in a dismal sort of way. You see, Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is a Polish hairdresser, who is going through divorce proceedings because his beautiful French wife says she doesn’t love him anymore. He has to sit through the court hearing being delivered in a foreign tongue, and he has to go through public embarrassment in front of everyone. It’s a humiliating situation and the worst of it is that he still loves Dominique (Julie Delpy). He loses all his money, his credit is invalidated, and she takes about everything else. At least Karol has his giant suitcase, but that’s about it.

threecolorswhite2That’s where a fellow named Pole Mikolaj finds him slumped up against a wall in the subway station. He’s pitiful, but they strike up a conversation in their native language, and he agrees to help Karol stowaway to get back to Poland. There’s nothing left for him in France after all, so he hides in his suitcase and his new friend takes it through customs. It’s utterly ridiculous, but they play it straight. Then picture this. You’re stowing away inside a suitcase and then some thieves steal it to get the payoff inside. Imagine their surprise when they find not valuables, but a human being. And the jokes on them because that human has absolutely nothing to steal. All that’s left to do is give him a firm kick in the rear and leave him for dead. If it wasn’t so depressing, this would be absolutely hilarious, and it still is pretty funny.

Next Karol tries to make some quick money, because hairdressing may be in demand, but it’s not a great moneymaking proposition. He ends up being hired as a bodyguard, and he’s a very awkward sort to be packing a firearm. His next scheme is to double-cross his boss by buying up plots of land before his bosses can. They looked to sell if for profit to big corporations, but Karol beats them and they cannot touch him. They’ve no way to get the money from him, and all of the sudden, it seems like he’s doing very well.

threecolorswhite3The time has come for one last vengeful trick and the joke’s on Dominque this time. He still loves her, but Karol enlists the help of Mikolaj and a few others, to help him get back at his wife. It works better than he was expecting, in fact, maybe too well. Dominque still has feelings for him, but now he may never be able to see her again.

Krzysztof Kieslowski’s films usually have a sensuous and mysterious woman in the lead, whether it’s Irene Jacob or Juliette Binoche. Julie Delpy is a similar type of beauty, and yet she is less the focal point compared to Karol Karol. In a sense, you give up some of that enigmatic aura of the aloof goddess, but Karol is an extremely funny character, even visually. Thus, White is not quite like Blue or Red, but they are interconnected and it’s still thoroughly worthwhile. Different is often a strength, not a weakness, and in this case, it is a good thing.

4/5 Stars

Three Colors: Red (1994)

 3a286-threecolorsred3Kieslowski’s films are mostly character driven and yet he often uses high drama to create a far more complex lens to observe his subjects. In Blue, the inciting incident was a deadly car accident. It seems only fitting that he would end this story with the catastrophic sinking of a ferry. He takes the same bleak, no-nonsense approach with little fanfare that he used before. It’s his way.

In fact Three Colors: Red as a whole is another simplistic film in plot, and yet the irony is that the film is chock full of complexity because its major point of interest is interpersonal relationships (as suggested by the intertwining phone lines shown early on). There is nothing more tangled and intricate about humanity than our relationships.

As such, this final installment is in many ways a story about love, romance, and friendship, and yet Kieslowski does not find it necessary to preach to us. He is better and more thoughtful than that, laying out the story for us to ponder and mull over. This is the story or better yet the parable he created.

Valentine (Irene Jacob) is a young student and model who is constantly an innocent and sympathetic figure with a pair of doe eyes. She is often shown in profile which continually reveals her youthful and even sullen beauty. She is even the somber poster girl of a gum campaign plastered around town. There’s a boyfriend in her life who she desires the affection of, and then there’s a brother who is hooked on drugs. In other words, life is far from rosy and secure.

One day she accidentally runs over a dog that she takes to the owner (Jean-Louis Trintignant,) who seems surprisingly unconcerned by the event. She does the only thing she can do with a clear conscious which is taking the dog to the vet and then taking care of it herself. Soon after, Valentine finds herself walking the dog by the old man’s house once more and she discovers what he does all day. It turns out he is a retired judge, and he spends his solitary existence eavesdropping on the conversations of others (including Valentine’s neighbor Auguste).

Later, through the grapevine, she finds out that a retired judge had a suit filed against him, and she rushes to his house to assure him she had no part. He already knows because he was the one who turned himself in.

Over the next days, Valentine begins to empathize more and more with Mr. Kern’s existence. As a former judge, he was forced to make decisions far more difficult than most. In fact, why do people follow laws? Is it out of goodness or purely self-serving? Is morality all relative? What really is good and bad, because how would we act in the other man’s shoes? By this point, we see Kern’s struggle a little better.

Finally, Valentine invites her new found friend to her last fashion show before she heads to England for a few weeks. It’s a touching moment when he pays her a visit after the show, but it also reveals the pain in the old man’s past. It may be a lucky guess but all we know is that Valentine figures him out. It just shows that you cannot judge others by first impressions.

So as it goes, Auguste’s life practically mirrors that of a younger Kern, and thus, so many parallels become evident. Aside from the obvious, I only figured it out after the film was done, but they are both judges, struggle in love and the like. At the end of the film when Kern sees the news about the ferry with Valentine and Auguste aboard, the only thing we know for sure is that there were seven survivors (guess who!). In a somewhat subtle way, the trilogy is connected and Kieslowski ends his tale on a fitting note. It freezes and just like that the career of one man was done for good. A couple years later he would already be gone. But he went out on top and Three Colors cemented his legacy. I always loved the color red the best. Here’s yet another reason why.

4.5/5 Stars

Three Colors: Blue (1993)

b0ad4-threecolorsblue“Now I only have one thing left to do: Nothing. I don’t want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. Those are all traps.”

I once thought that Before Sunrise was the type of movie that I would want to make. Three Colors: Blue is another concept that I have often envisioned without even knowing it. In fact, I had seen The Descendants, a film with a somewhat similar story arc told from a different perspective. Except whereas Clooney’s film is full of blatant drama and intense familial moments in Hawaii, Blue is far more nuanced.

The Descendants might be a more gripping drama, but Blue has the sort of complex depiction that seems to more closely mirror reality. The grieving process involves isolation, solemness, and at times few words. The easiest way to grieve is not to feel, not to fully embrace the pain. Sometimes that is the simplest if not the healthiest way to deal with it for Julie. It’s a real world approach to the scenario, and it’s no less painful to watch — perhaps even more so.

Julie’s husband Patrice de Courcy was a famous composer who was commissioned to arrange a grand piece to be performed at concerts for the Unification of Europe. It is a great honor and we quickly learn that Patrice is quite a big deal. However, after a car accident, Patrice and his 5-year-old daughter perish in the crash and only Julie gets away alive. It is a stark, unsentimental picture, and it succeeds in changing Julie’s life forever.

After being released from the hospital she soon sells all her possessions and moves out of her family apartment to take up residence somewhere far removed from any acquaintances, including a man named Olivier who is in love with her. She has a new home and begins to sever ties to her old life. The unfinished work of her husband (and her) is trashed and that’s the end of that. In her new Parisian home, she has a rodent problem and becomes the hesitant confidant of a local exotic dancer. Furthermore, she rejects the necklace that a young man pulled out of the wreckage. Her times of solitude are spent swimming laps alone in the local pool, submerged and half-covered in shadow. Grandiose symphonies reverberate through her mind haunting her. In such moments, Kieslowski will often black out the screen in the middle of the scene, effectively interrupting the action for a few seconds before bringing us back.

Words are few and far between for Julie and when she does speak it is often brief and reserved. We are, therefore, forced to observe her without the aid of dialogue. She is certainly detached but there is a provocative side to her. Something is mystifying about her soft features, dark eyes, and short hair. She is a wonderful woman of mystery and beauty because the reality of it is, we do not know a whole lot about her. We must discover more bit by bit and she does not readily disclose information.

It is when pictures of her life literally flash before her eyes on a TV screen that the story takes its next turn. Julie learns soon enough that her husband had a mistress that he was with for a few years. In the hands of Hollywood, this would be high drama. In the hands of Kieslowski, it is far from it. Julie is still the same aloof individual she always was and even a confrontation with the mistress does not change that. She is civil and generous through it all.

Finally, she returns to her husband’s composition which she learns Olivier has started to rewrite. They agree that he will make his own work and Julie must accept it for what it is. Faces from the film float across the screen and a still solemn Julie lets out a few silent tears. The anti-tragedy is complete, a subdued, intriguing piece of cinema. Not for those with short attention spans but, I am interested to see Red and White. Kieslowski intrigues me with his thought provoking films somehow reminiscent of the likes of Bergman or Bunuel.

4.5/5 Stars