Thursday, September 11, 2008

Alliance schedule

At Alliance Française on Fridays at 8 pm

Trois Couleurs / Three Colors by Krzysztof Kieslowski – A major film event begins in Chiang Mai tomorrow (Friday, September 12) at the Alliance Française, and merits your consideration. The three films that make up this Three Colors trilogy are being shown on the next three Fridays evenings at the Alliance (on the 12th, 19th, and 26th). (They will be shown again on three successive Saturdays in December at Film Space.)

These are quite amazing films, and you owe it to yourself to begin your acquaintance with them, if you haven’t already. You will want to return to them again and again to savor their richness, as they do not give up their secrets easily.

Friday, September 12: Trois Couleurs: Bleu / Three Colors: Blue (1993) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 100 mins – France, Drama. English subtitles.

With Juliette Binoche, Benoît Régent, Florence Pernel, Charlotte Véry, Hélène Vincent, Philippe Volter, Claude Duneton, Hugues Quester, Emmanuelle Riva.

Three Colors: Blue is the first part of Kieslowski's trilogy on France's national motto: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. Blue is the story of Julie who loses her husband, an acclaimed European composer, and her young daughter in a car accident. The film's theme of liberty is manifested in Julie's attempt to start a new life free of personal commitments, belongings, grief, and love. She intends to spiritually commit suicide by withdrawing from the world and live completely independently, anonymously and in solitude in the Parisian metropolis. Despite her intentions, people from her former and present life intrude with their own needs. However...”

Alliance description

Friday, September 19: Trois Couleurs: Blanc / Three Colors: White (1994) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 91 mins – France, Drama. English subtitles.

With Zbigniew Zamachowski, Julie Delpy, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Stuhr, Aleksander Bardini, Grzegorz Warchol.

This is the second of the "Three Colors" trilogy Red, White, and Blue: the colors symbolizing liberty, equality, and fraternity. White, therefore, was written around the destructive dynamics of a relationship based upon great inequality. Karol is a Polish hairdresser working in France. He has a beautiful wife, Dominique, whom he loves to obsession, and who is in the process of divorcing him for his inability to "consummate the marriage.” Karol loses all of his earthly possessions and is literally driven out of France by his estranged wife. Karol decides to fight back...”

Alliance description

Friday, September 26: Trois Couleurs: Rouge / Three Colors: Red (1994) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 99 mins – France, Drama. English subtitles.

With Irène Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Frédérique Feder, Jean-Pierre Lorit, Samuel Le Bihan, Marion Stalens.

Third and last part of Kieslowski's trilogy . . . Valentine is a young model living in Geneva. Because of a dog she ran over, she meets a retired judge who spies his neighbors' phone calls, not for money but to feed his cynicism…”

Alliance description

More on the first one, Blue:

Review by Bryant Frazer, at


It's hard to defend the artiness of BLUE. With a Kieslowski movie (maybe with all Kieslowski movies), either you get it or you don't. If you get it, you're a fan. The movie becomes a mystical, dream-like experience. You recall the most indulgent camera angles and close-ups at the oddest moments of your day. Perhaps you hum a few bars of Zbigniew Preisner's formidable score as you drink your coffee in the morning, or you have a nightmare about the kind of car crash that sets this story in motion. And when a friend doesn't appreciate the film -- in fact, they think it's a dull, pretentious throwback to the French New Wave or somesuch -- you find yourself speechless. It's hard to use words to explain the cinema's moments of great beauty, and you may as well give up before you begin.

THREE COLORS: BLUE is the first film in Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski's trilogy built around the precious themes of liberty, equality, and fratenity (the second and third films are WHITE and RED, respectively). The concepts correspond to the three colors of the French flag, and the conceit is actually less a stricture than a simple excuse for Kieslowski to make a set of movies that meditate on love, loss, and our essential humanity. Liberty is personified in the newly-widowed Julie (Binoche), who survives the automobile accident that kills her husband Patrice (a famous composer) and daughter Anna. This sea change in her life drives her to divorce herself from familiar people and surroundings, but she's dogged by an unwelcome artifact from her husband's life. His unfinished composition, Song for the Unification of Europe, is the subject of intense interest, and although Julie disposes of Patrice's notes for the piece (and tries to dispose of all her own memories), it continues to insinuate itself into her life until she confronts the music as well as her own devastated psyche.

It sounds very color-by-numbers, but the film is actually anything but. Kieslowski is a bold filmmaker, with a knack for hypnotizing an audience. As much as Kieslowski's THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE seemed concerned with lenses, this one dwells on reflections -- Julie's face reflected on the curve of a spoon, a doctor's face reflected in the iris of her eye, filling the screen. The richness of imagery occasionally rivals that of a novel (Julie touches a sugar cube to coffee; as we watch, the sugar turns the luminous color of her own skin). And Kieslowski works at capturing the essence of memory and the passage of time. At four moments during the film, the screen fades completely and music swells Patrice's unfinished piece and then the music cuts, and the scene fades back in at exactly the moment where it faded out. It's part of the mystery of the film that a viewer can have an immediate and intuitive grasp on such an abstract device.

Intuition, indeed, is the driving force behind Kieslowski's films. The relationships and imagery are drawn so intricately that the pictures reward repeated viewing, and it's only on the second or third time around that the whole power of one of these films really becomes apparent. It's easy to belittle a film like this, with its languid pace, elliptical dialog, and propensity for introspection (navel-gazing?). Don't these somber sequences substitute a content New Age-ism for any real statements in response to the questions they pose? Isn't Kieslowski living in a blithe, egocentric dream world? How can we be expected to identify with the rich widow of a French composer as she mourns her way through Paris?

Yet through Binoche's performance and Kieslowski's guidance, we do identify. We feel Julie's aloneness even as we understand her resolve to cast off her sentiment and distance herself from the inexorable sadness. At the end of BLUE, as Preisner's music swells up on the soundtrack, all of the disparate characters and situations that make up Julie's story finally come together. Pictures recall pictures as Julie is finally reflected in the eyes of another, and the delicate shape of another character is traced on a video monitor, echoed in shades of blue. These final moments articulate character and contradictory emotion in one crystalline, irrefutable passage of images, absolutely wordless -- the very definition of great cinema. If you're asking the same questions as our director, the simple clarity of such images provides answers enough.

What to watch for:

In Blue, you will be struck by the powerful performance of Juliette Binoche in what is basically a solo performance. It has been said that her face shows clearly what she is thinking all the time. Well, not all the time for me. Most of the time, yes, but at a couple of key points I was suddenly at a complete loss as to what was going on in her mind, and it was a puzzle that I needed to figure out.

Kieslowski obviously wants to key these three films and their themes in some way to the French flag and the French motto of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity: blue, white, and red are continually referred to in the film, as well as in the titles. At one point in the first film, we see the protagonist Julie carrying a box which, as a close-up shows, has prominently written across it the word "blanco", Spanish for white; in the next shot we are looking at her from behind, and she pauses in the street as a man in blue passes her on her left and a woman in red passes her on her right. This is a not-so-subtle reference to the structure of the Three Colors trilogy - blue, white, red, in that order, mirroring the French flag.

And then again, During one swimming scene in the blue pool, children in red and white bathing suits run out and jump in the water -- another reference to the trilogy (blue, white, and red).

And in the first film, Blue, there is blue all over the place; in addition to blue filters and blue lighting, any number of prominent objects are blue - a foil balloon, a tinted window, awnings, a folder, the walls of a room, coats, skirts, scarves, blouses, jeans, shirts, trash bags, crystals, a lollypop and its wrapper, binders, graffiti, a pool, a van, and a pen.

Blue, supposedly standing for Liberty. Does this help? Well, for sure, it can get you thinking, trying to make connections. You could say that this woman is on a campaign to be completely independent (at liberty, I suppose) with nothing to tie her down, and no alliances which might become entangling. She says at one point, “Now I have only one thing left to do: nothing. I don't want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. Those are all traps.”

Is this a cautionary tale? Liberty being taken to a ridiculous extreme? What precisely is the film trying to say? If one takes this as being an example of “liberty” then what about it’s unity with another part of the flag, the red, “fraternity” (or “brotherhood”)? This woman is about as opposite to “fraternal” as you can get! In fact, she’s basically an extremely unsympathetic and unpalatable character, cold, and selfish.

So the blue, white, and red of the French flag, and Liberté, égalité, fraternité, may seem like a help, our window to a grand scheme, but is it really? I rather think it only seems to be a help, on first glance, but really isn’t. If it’s purpose is just to get you to think about it, it certainly succeeds. Maybe something along the line of, “You can’t have all three!” Not at the same time.

Juliette Binoche, in what amounts to a one-woman show, turns in a mesmerizing and accomplished performance. She manages to bring an element of humanity and sympathy to a basically unsympathetic character – there is little in Julie, as written, for the audience to latch onto, but Ms. Binoche provides the emotional link to the story.

Blue is a powerful motion picture - both in terms of its dramatic impact and in its method of presentation, and it is an adventure to be prized highly.

What do you think?:

There’s considerable difference of opinion about who wrote the music in the story told in the film. Supposedly the woman’s husband wrote it, and he is shown as a fairly famous composer. But there are a number of indications in the film that the music was actually written by the wife, the one main character in the film. I’m quite convinced it was all hers.

Some people call the music pretentious. I think it is, but the same could be said of a number of composers, if you’re in the mood for name-calling. The film itself could be considered pretentious. I think you just have to accept that as a fact of life with Kieslowski, and go on from there to appreciate the film’s richness.

The famous last five minutes of Blue are truly extraordinary and are considered by some to be the finest wedding of sight and sound to be seen in film. I think it may be, but it certainly takes a number of viewings to catch the subtleties.

About the director:

Krzysztof Kieslowski was born June 27, 1941 in Warsaw, Poland, and died 13 March 13, 1996 in Warsaw, Poland, from cardiac arrest during heart surgery.

A distinctive voice in Polish cinema, known for his uncompromising moral stance, Kieslowski first came to attention in the early 1970s for his incisive (often shelved) documentaries and shorts on the political reality of life in Poland. His features of the late 1970s explored the relationship between the personal and the political with style, directness and a raw edge of realism, making him a key figure in the 'cinema of moral unrest'.

Although the authorities banned Przypadek/Blind Chance (1981), Kieslowski was undeterred and made Bez Konca/No End in 1984. In the late 1980s he turned to television, directing Dekalog, a series of ten films thematically inspired by the Ten Commandments. The international release of one of these, Krotki Film o Zabijaniu/A Short Film About Killing (1988), and the subsequent massive success of the whole series, was greeted with surprise by Polish critics, who compared Dekalog unfavorably with Kieslowski's earlier work.

His next feature, Podwojne Zycie Weroniki/The Double Life of Veronique (1992), was a co-production between the Tor Film Unit and French producers; it enjoyed critical and commercial success, especially in France.

Kieslowski's next work was a trilogy based on the French flag: 'liberty' (Trois couleurs Bleu/Three Colors: Blue, 1993), 'equality' (Trois couleurs Blanc/Three Colors: White, 1993) and 'fraternity' (Trois couleurs: Rouge/Three Colors: Red, 1994). They secured for Kieslowski - hailed as 'the most truly European director' - a place in the pantheon of European art cinema.

Announced his retirement from film-making after completing Trois couleurs: Rouge/Three Colors: Red.

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