December 01, 2007

The "Three Colours" Trilogy (Kieslowski, 1993–94)

Final set of random musings:


I’ll confess: I was initially slightly underwhelmed by this. I recall when a friend first watched this and described this as “very arty” – and therefore, every time there was a fade to blue I couldn’t get the idea of a very self-conscious director out of my head. Moreover, the one thing I did to prepare me for the trilogy was to read the blurb on the back of my DVD box, which led me to expect a thorough and overt exploration of “liberty.” So yeah, I think my initial reaction is understandable in that context? Fortunately, the film stuck with me for the entirety of the next day and the more I contemplated it the more I realised I was… well, wrong. Liberty is indeed relevant, but I now understand that Kieslowski deals with the concept in a more subtle, ironic way than I expected (knowing this made me much better prepared for Blanc and Rouge.) Julie seeks liberty through escaping from life itself, believing it to have no meaning – but she’s misguided, for her life does still have meaning, and therefore her escapade leads only to self-entrapment. Kieslowski’s ability to portray her closed mindset by focusing on the most minute of details is extraordinary – I watched a little featurette where he demonstrated the importance of a sugar cube being dipped into coffee and its subsequent reflection of Julie’s desire to forget more important details. La Binoche delivers a magnificently nuanced performance here, full of subtleties that will probably reveal themselves with further viewings. 1993 is an extraordinary year for actress (Hunter! Thompson! Pfeiffer! Bassett! And they’re just the ones that I’ve seen!) but I think I’d probably give Binoche the edge for the year – her work really enhances the beauty of the film as a whole. Of all the characters in the trilogy, I think Julie might be the one that I most relate to in an odd sort of way, and her gradual re-engagement with life fills my heart with a kinda reserved form of glee? Blue-tinted, of course (I love the colour scheme!)


So everything I’ve heard about this trilogy in the past has led me to believe that this is the weakest of the three? Um, WRONG. This is so much more than an off-kilter black comedy, and it contains the trilogy’s most fully-realised characterisation in Karol as well as the character that I have the most affinity for in Mikolaj. It’s absurd, bleak and absolutely charming all at the same time. It also strikes me as the most natural of the three, the most effortlessly-conceived – perhaps this has something to do with the fact that it deals with Polish characters in a Polish setting? Certainly, it engages with the issue of Poland’s transition to capitalism, and I love how the ellipses used in Karol’s rise do much to reflect the (potential) economic fluidity of the years. As for the romantic elements of the story: wow. In none of these films did I really expect what was going to happen next, but I had an inkling here and how wrong was I?! I mean, I can’t be blamed for expecting a reconciliation between Karol and Dominique, can I? Yet Kieslowski actively thwarts that, and in revealing Karol’s financial success as an elaborate plan to strike back at Dominique he masterfully subverts the film’s theme of equality and raises some of the most fascinating questions about our humanity. Does our humiliation really run that deep? Viewing the film in this context colours certain events in a different light entirely – for example, I once saw Karol’s effectively saving the life of Mikolaj as an act of tender fraternity, but knowing what happens later on it’s apparent that it could just be another part of Karol’s grand scheme. This is why I view Karol as the most complex (and successful) character in the entire trilogy – I could spend an age considering his motivations, his ambitions, his beliefs… and Zbigniew Zamachowski does a terrific job of internalising all this. I think one could easily view this as the most pessimistic of the three films, and it’s a factor that I was definitely taken aback by, but the final shot offers some redemption imo. Dominique is in jail, although no more so than Karol in his mental imprisonment, but Kieslowski’s kind enough to offer the slightest hint of optimism – it’s clear that the characters still love each other, and in the harsh emotional landscape that they’ve cultivated for themselves, that might just be enough to counter all the pain? God, I love this film. If any of the individual films in the trilogy deserves to be termed a masterpiece, it’s this.


Rouge had already won me over by the time its opening sequence ended. The use of the telephone line as a metaphor for communication, human contact, the transience of these connections… it seemed to sum up the first two films and hinted at the direction towards which this one was going. Having said that, this is also the film with which I have the most difficulty ‘reading’... not that it bothers me? The relationship between Valentine and the judge is one of the most touching that I’ve encountered… maybe ever. That brief moment when both place their hands on the window of his car almost made me bawl for it’s such a beautiful, emblematic gesture, a sign that the initial judgments that we passed over the judge himself have now been transcended… that redemption (salvation?) not to mention fraternity really is possible in Kieslowski’s world. Transcendent is such a useful word for this film actually. Again, I’m not entirely sure how to read the film yet, but the character of the judge struck me as almost God-like in his actions (although if that’s the case then there are all sorts of implications that I can’t even begin to consider right now.) As the film’s use of foreshadowing begins to suggest that Valentine and Auguste are destined, I began to ask myself if the film wasn’t also about fate and missed opportunities and our ability to deal with the mistakes that we’ve made. Hell, it’s really about everything isn’t it? Life itself! And god, Jean-Louis Trintignant is just marvellous in his role. I know La Binoche is spectacular and she’s completely deserving of all her praise, but for my money it’s the veteran that gives the best performance in the entire trilogy, imbuing it with depth and encapsulating the secrets of the film in the contours of his face. He’s marvellous. And as for the finale… I think my heart actually sank with the ferry when I saw it. I was terrified – surely Kieslowski wouldn’t do this to me? I’m so thankful that he didn’t. Once again, he left us with hope and the suggestion that Julie/Olivier and Karol/Dominique had succeeded in moving on… well, there’s another beautiful moment in a film (and trilogy!) full of them.

Ok I’ll stop babbling now. Although I must mention how I loved the “talkiness” of Rouge. So completely up my alley. And btw, the old lady at the bottle bank? !!! Oh, and Irène Jacob is so gorgeous it hurts!

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