Three Colours Trilogy

Krzysztof Kieslowski

The genesis of the Three Colours trilogy lies with the success of the Decalogue TV series and its two movie spin-offs, The Short Films (1988). Having tackled the Ten Commandments within a present day context, Kieslowski and his regular screenwriter Krzystzof Piesiewicz turned their attention to a modern analogue of the Commandments. The French revolutionary slogan "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity" provides three themes for the films; and the colours of its associated flag, the three titles and their dominant, symbolic, colours.

Blue is, according to Kieslowksi, "about liberty, the imperfection of human liberty" and he asks the question "how far are we really free?" Following the deaths of her composer husband and young daughter in a car crash, Julie (Juliette Binoche) seeks to free herself from everyone and everything that reminds her of her past, only to find out that she cannot do so.

White "is about equality understood as a contradiction. [This being that] Everybody wants to be more than equal." Polish hairdresser Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is being divorced by his French wife (Julie Delpy) for, amongst other things, his failure to consummate their marriage. Downtrodden and apparently out of luck, Karol meets a fellow expatriate who helps him return to Poland. There Karol makes a success of himself, aiming to get his revenge on the wife who spurned him.

If Blue and White see Kieslowski being ironic about liberty and equality, Red highlights his pessimism about the possibility of fraternity: "I've got an increasingly strong feeling that all we really care about is ourselves. Even when we notice other people we're still thinking of ourselves." Model Valentine (Irene Jacob) knocks over a dog in her car. Taking the dog to its owner, she discovers an elderly lawyer (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who eavesdrops on his neighbours. Slowly a relationship develops between the two, while parallels emerge between the life of the judge 40 years ago and that of a young lawyer today.

The Three Colours films might be criticised for not showing us anything new: White revisits the anomic Poland of A Short Film About Killing, trying uneasily to rework a near-tragic situation to comic ends, while Red cannot but betray its closeness to The Double Life of Veronique (1991) through the iconic presence of Jacob. They replace unfamiliar Polish surroundings with the over-exposed beautiful people of French art cinema, with Blue in particular becoming almost as much a style guide as an investigation of the human condition.

In other ways, however, the Three Colours films cannot be faulted. They showcase a director working at the summit of his powers, with equally skilled and talented collaborators like Piesiewicz and composer Zbigniew Preisner. Many moments will surely linger in the memory - be it the reflections in the dark pools of Binoche's huge eyes, or the elliptical time-lapses of Blue; the orgasmic flashes of blinding white light in White; the catwalk sequence in Red, where Jacob is illuminated by flashbulb after flashbulb, or even just recurring in-jokes like the music of Van Den Budenmayer.

Review by Keith H. Brown
Taken from EUFS Programe Autumn 1999

Recently, Kieslowski announced his retirement from the film industry, a decision which has sent shockwaves throughout the European film community. An ambitious, evocative director with a fine mastery of the technical aspects of film-making, he is probably best remembered for his Dekalog series which examined the Ten Commandments in everyday life. If Blue, White and Red are to be his final works, together they will form a fitting epitaph to the career of one of Europe's best directors.

Three Colours: Blue

Krzysztof Kieslowski, France 1993, 98 mins

The film opens up on a country road: a young "auto-stoppeur" is playing with a bilboquet (cup and ball) while waiting for a lift. A couple of cars pass him by while he makes a few unsuccessful attempts at getting the ball onto the stick. At the very moment he finally succeeds, a car crashing is heard. The accident is lethal: Julie's (Juliette Binoche) husband and young daughter die. She is left alone, and all the bruises on her battered limbs cannot express the pain inside her caused be the loss of the two people she loved the most. As the camera focuses on her bewildered eyes, we know exactly what thoughts are swimming in her head: she shouldn't have outlived this, she shouldn't have outlived them. A whim of Fate, but one she would gladly have escaped from if she had had the choice.

As Juliette discovers, life is unfair: we are governed more by chance of circumstance than by our own volition. Yet she realises there are still some choices she is left with in her pitiful position: first she decides for life, then she decides for freedom. LIBERTE. Freedom from the past, from the pain of haunting memories. It is a positive move, and one that takes a lot of courage and determination. She discovers this while trying to break free from all that connects her to her former life, and in the process discovers how entirely her identity was shaped by that of her late husband. By severing all ties with his "ghost", Julie is able to find herself anew.

The colour blue stands for all sorts of metaphors, most of which have to do with ideas of nostalgia or brooding, but for Kieslowski it is the colour of freedom, as associated with the French flag. He beautifully films Juliette Binoche weaving in and out of blue objects and scenery. Another persistant presence is the music, in the film, attributed to her dead husband. But was it his, or hers? and how does it fit in with her new life, her new self?

Kieslowski maintains a sense of structure and pace despite the use of stylish visuals, however it is Binoche that keeps the film from being dragged down by its ambiguous plot devices. She manages to light up the screen like an ethereal angel as she wanders through the aftermath of her life. Indeed the entire film seems to be set in a fantastical parallel to our own and many of the locations used are transformed, revealing their inherent beauty. Most of all, Blue is a film with power and emotion but it does not lose sight of its message: the importance of freedom.

By Une Femme

Three Colours: White

Krzysztof Kieslowski, France/Poland 1993, 92 mins

For some, white conjures images of starched bedlinen, purity, pillars of salt, innocence, chalk cliffs, virginity, crisp writing paper, Icarian feathers, lazy summer clouds, hope or Colgate toothpaste. For Krzysztof Kieslowski, white represents weddings, alabaster busts, snow and sexual ectasy.

Kieslowski weaves these representations round the central theme of Trois Couleurs Blanc: EGALITE, which the white of the Tricolor symbolises. However, Zbigniew Zamachowski's character Karol (Charles, a homage to Chaplin) aims for superiority in this distinctly different tale of rags-to-riches. That Karol loves Dominique (Julie Delpy) - despite the divorce, lack of sex, and acrimony - is undisputed. It is the methods he chooses to express it that are unique.

An involving, alternative fairytale - undoubtably Kiewslowski.

By Scott Keir

Three Colours: Red

Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994, 99 mins

A beautifully woven tale of chance encounters and relationships, Red is Kieslowski's best, and possibly final, film. Red is an altogether darker colour than blue and white and this is reflected in the film. Rich and complex in both tone and emotion, Red defies the usual conventions of associating the colour with blood, danger and evil (in most films, red is used to represent evil, blue is good and white is for innocence) and instead uses it to signify optimism, frustration and FRATERNITE.

Irene Jacob gives a splendid performance as Valentine, a young model who meets a former judge (Jean-Loius Trintignant) and together grow closer. They explore the boundaries of their relationship and rekindle qualities in each other that had been forgotten or neglected. Their influence on Valentine's neighbour, a judge to be, and his girlfriend parallels the implications of extending a fraternal hand to those in need.

As with the rest of the trilogy, Kieslowski's use of locations is truly masterful lending the streets of Geneva a serene beauty. Innovative camera work allows the film to almost hypnotise the viewer, drawing them into the world of the characters and evoking an empathy with them and their destinies.

Ultimately, Red is a film about the connections between seemingly unrelated people, a theme often touched upon by the director in his previous works. However, in Red, Kieslowski has created a masterpiece that will be hard to better.

By Neil Chue Hong

Footnote: Kiewslowski died of a heart attack in Spring 1996. He was supposedly working on another trilogy of films (even though he announced his retirement a year earlier). We may never know what they would have been.