At Film Space: on Saturdays at 7 pm
Film Space is now beginning its “A Month of Krzysztof Kieslowski” featuring the Three Colors Trilogy, films of which I am very fond, plus his The Double Life of Veronique.
Film Space is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, in the Media Arts and Design building across from the ballet school. Now that the weather is cool, they are resuming their rooftop showings, weather permitting. You might want to bring something to sit on or lie on. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance. Well worth supporting.
At Film Space on December 6, 7 pm: Trois Couleurs: Bleu / Three Colors: Blue (1993) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 100 mins – France, Drama. English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 84 out of 100.
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 Française description
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.
At Film Space on December 13, 7 pm: Trois Couleurs: Blanc / Three Colors: White (1994) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 91 mins – France, Drama. In Polish and French with English subtitles. Generally favorable reviews: 77 out of 100.
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 Française description
White is perhaps the craziest of the three: Kieslowski moves quickly and fluidly through a careening narrative that encompasses love lost and regained, death and rebirth, France and Poland, abject poverty and capitalist triumph. All in 90 vivid minutes. It’s actually a comedy, though it might take a second viewing to convince you of that. A black comedy. Which I suppose is why it’s called White, Kieslowski being Kieslowski!
There’s an interesting film clip of an interview with the film’s female star Julie Delpy discussing and dissecting the ending of White, where her character uses sign language to communicate with her ex-husband. There seems to have been some disagreement about what her signs were meant to convey, and here she explains it all.
Interestingly enough, this whole scene seems to have been an afterthought, and she was called back to film this additional scene in the middle of the shooting final film in the series, Red.
Doug Cummings, Senses of Cinema: White is a return to the dark humor and irony reminiscent of Decalogue: Ten with its story of Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), an impotent Polish man whose French wife, Dominique (Julie Delpy), divorces him. This sets in motion Karol's elaborate plot to regain equality in their relationship, though the scheme he hatches verges on revenge and thus ensures a tragic combination of love and separation. (Quoting a Polish proverb, Kieslowski remarked, “There are those who are equal and those who are more equal,” suggesting equality is a fleeting and imperfect ideal.) However, the film suffers in comparison to Blue and Red—the cool machinations of its protagonist (as well as its storytelling) often seem manipulative and superficial, but Kieslowski's pessimistic wit shines throughout.
Cinemathequeontario: “A continuing testament to the Polish director’s poetic mastery. . . . articulates a whole language of sensations, images, ironies, and mystery” (Desson Howe, The Washington Post). In this somewhat anomalous second film in the Trois Couleurs trilogy, an impotent, penniless hairdresser claws his way back to the top after rejection by his wife (Julie Delpy) leaves him shattered. Blanc shies away from the explicit treatment of existential themes found in Rouge, and the introductory collapse of its whimsically pathetic protagonist is a far cry from Bleu’s majestically grieving Binoche. But with oddly compelling, sometimes comical verve, Blanc offers a haunting tale of love and possession in which the hairdresser’s elaborately planned vengeance is depicted as an ambiguous triumph. Winner of the Silver Bear at the 1994 Berlin film festival.
Saturday, December 20: Trois Couleurs: Rouge / Three Colors: Red (1994) by Krzysztof Kieslowski – 99 mins – France, Drama. English subtitles. Reviews: Universal acclaim: 84 out of 100.
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 Française description
James Berardinelli, Reel Views: "Blue, liberty; White, equality; Red, fraternity... We looked very closely at these three ideas, how they functioned in everyday life, but from an individual's point of view. These ideals are contradictory with human nature. When you deal with them practically, you do not know how to live with them. Do people really want liberty, equality, fraternity?"
- Writer/director Krzysztof Kieslowski
Red, the final chapter of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy, is a subtle masterpiece. With its satisfying exploration of such complex and diverse themes as destiny and platonic love, Red is not only a self-contained motion picture, but a fitting conclusion to the series. Through one brief-but-important scene, this movie adds closure to both Blue and White, tying both to each other and to Red, and thereby reinforcing the commonality of ideas threaded through all three.
This time around, the protagonists are a young woman named Valentine (Irene Jacob, who starred in Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique) and a crotchety retired judge, Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Valentine, a fashion model, meets the judge after running down his dog in the street and taking the injured animal to the address listed on the collar. Kern is initially indifferent to his pet's predicament, telling Valentine to keep the dog if that's what she wants. She does; however, the animal eventually runs away and finds its way back to the judge's. When Valentine goes searching, she inadvertently learns Kern's secret - he enjoys spying on people by illegally tapping into their phone conversations. Told in parallel with the chronicle of the unusual friendship between Valentine and the judge is the story of two lovers that Kern spies upon. Auguste and Karin seem devoted to each other, but fate has already cast its die against them. For Auguste's life is eerily similar to that of Kern thirty years ago and, like the older man, he is drawn by forces beyond his control towards Valentine.
Thematically, Red is the strongest of the three films. Its construction allows hardly a moment to pass when the viewer isn't considering how fate manipulates the lives of Valentine, Auguste, Kern, and Karin - not to mention the characters from Blue and White (reprised oh-so-briefly by Juliette Binoche, Benoit Regent, Zbigniew Zamachowski, and Julie Delpy). Then there's the meaning of platonic love (or "fraternity") - friendship completely divorced from sexual overtones. Kieslowski shows exactly how multi-faceted any relationship can be, and what occasionally must be sacrificed to the basic human need of finding a kindred spirit.
Red also toys with foreshadowing in a very literal sense. A shot of Valentine used for a billboard ad presages something that later happens to her in real life. It is this moment, more than any other, which crystallizes everything that the Three Colors trilogy is attempting to convey about life and destiny. While Red lacks the emotional depth of Blue and the dark humor of White, it more than makes up for these with its textual and stylistic richness. The red-saturated visuals by Polish cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski are crisp and consistently atmospheric, and the score by Zbigniew Preisner is at full power (after being shunted into the background in White).
The performances are without flaw. Irene Jacob is mesmerizing as Valentine, a woman unknowingly trapped in fate's web. As is true of the other female leads in the Three Colors trilogy, her acting ability matches her screen luminance. Jean-Louis Trintignant presents a multi-layered character whose final secrets are not revealed until late in the film.
Red virtually demands more than one viewing for an appreciation of the picture's ambitious scope. Repeated examination of Red's narrative and thematic structure makes it apparent what Kieslowski has accomplished not only here, but through his entire trilogy. This is one of 1994's exceptional motion pictures.
Roger Ebert: One of the opening images in Red is of telephone lines, crossing. It is the same in life. We are connected with some people and never meet others, but it could easily have happened otherwise.
Looking back over a lifetime, we describe what happened as if it had a plan. To fully understand how accidental and random life is - how vast the odds are against any single event taking place - would be humbling.
That is the truth that Kieslowski keeps returning to in his work. In The Double Life of Veronique, there is even a moment when, if the heroine had looked out of a bus window, she might have seen herself on the street; it's as if fate allowed her to continue on one lifeline after choosing another. In Red, none of the major characters knows each other at the beginning of the movie, and there is no reason they should meet. Exactly.
The film opens in Geneva, in an apartment occupied by a model named Valentine (Irene Jacob). She makes a telephone call, and the phone rings at the same time in an apartment just across the street, occupied by Auguste, a law student. But she is not calling him. Her call is to her boyfriend, who is in England, and whom she rarely sees. As far as we know, Valentine and Auguste have never met. And may never meet. Or perhaps they will.
One day Valentine's car strikes a dog, and she takes it to the home of its owner, a retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant). He hardly seems to care for the dog, or for her. He spends his days in an elaborate spying scheme, using wiretaps to monitor an affair being carried on by a neighbor. There is an instant spark that strikes between the old man and the young woman - a contact, a recognition of similarity, or sympathy - but they are 40 years apart in age, strangers to one another, and have met by accident, and . . .
The story becomes completely fascinating. We have no idea where it is going, where it could possibly go. There is no plot to reassure us. No goal that the characters hope to attain. Will the young woman and the judge ever meet again? What will come of that? Does it matter? Would it be good, or bad? Such questions, in Red, become infinitely more interesting than the questions in simple-minded commercial movies, about whether the hero will kill the bad guys, and drive his car fast, and blow things up, or whether his girlfriend will take off her clothes.
Seeing a movie like Red, we are reminded that watching many commercial films is the cinematic equivalent of reading Dick and Jane. The mysteries of everyday life are so much deeper and more exciting than the contrivances of plots.
We learn something about Auguste, the law student who lives across the way. He has a girlfriend named Karin. She specializes in "personal weather reports" for her clients, which sounds reasonable, like having a personal trainer or astrologer, until we reflect that the weather is more or less the same for everybody. But perhaps her clients live in such tight boxes of their own construction that each one has different weather.
Valentine talks to her boyfriend. They are rarely together. He is someone on the phone. Perhaps she "stays" with him to save herself the trouble of a lover whose life she would actually share.
She goes back out to the house of the old judge, and talks to him some more. We learn more about the lives he is eavesdropping on. There are melodramatic developments, but no one seems to feel strongly about them.
And Valentine and Auguste. What a good couple they would make! Perhaps. If they ever meet. And if, in the endless reaches of cosmic time, there had been the smallest shift in the lifetimes of Valentine and the Judge, they could have been the same age. Or another infinitesimal shift, and they would have lived a century apart. Or never lived at all. Or if the dog had wandered somewhere else, Valentine would not have struck him, and met the judge. Or if the judge had had a cat . . .
Think about these things, reader. Don't sigh and turn the page. Think that I have written them and you have read them, and the odds against either of us ever having existed are greater by far than one to all of the atoms in creation.
Red is the conclusion of Kieslowski's masterful trilogy, after Blue and White, named for the colors in the French flag. He says he will retire now, at 53, and make no more films. At the end of Red, the major characters from all three films meet - through a coincidence, naturally. This is the kind of film that makes you feel intensely alive while you're watching it, and sends you out into the streets afterwards eager to talk deeply and urgently, to the person you are with. Whoever that happens to be.
About the director:
"Live carefully, with your eyes open, and try not to cause pain."
Krzysztof Kieslowski (b. June 27, 1941 in Warsaw, Poland – d. March 13, 1996) was a leading director of documentaries, television and feature films from the 1970s to the 1990s. The social and moral themes of contemporary times became the focus of his many significant films and his unique humanist treatment of those themes secured his place as one of the greatest of modern film directors. He was a prominent member of the Polish film generation who defined the so-called "Cinema of Moral Anxiety" - films which tested the limits of Socialist film censorship by drawing sharp contrasts between the individual and the state.
Kieslowski graduated from the Lodz Film School in 1968 and began his film career making documentaries that were both artistic and political and aimed to awaken social consciousness. Workers '71 attempted to relate the workers' state of mind as they organized strikes. The people's desire for more radical change was addressed in Talking Heads. In 1973, social and political commentary infused The Bricklayer, the story of a political activist who becomes disenchanted with the hierarchy surrounding Party politics, and returns to bricklaying. Kieslowski's documentary Hospital (1976) is both homage to the hardworking surgeons in a Polish hospital, and a revealing look at the problems with health care in Poland.
His early feature films were made for television; they include Personnel and Calm. Because his feature films evolved from the documentaries, he continued to use documentary techniques to enhance and add realism to the fiction films. The Scar (1976) was Kieslowski's first theatrical release, a socio-realist view of management problems in a large industrial factory. He came to festival attention with Camera Buff (1979), a parody on the film industry, an exploration of the unknown and a wry commentary on censorship. Blind Chance, a 1981 feature film, concentrates on what role fate or chance plays in our futures.
In 1984, he began a longtime writing collaboration with Polish lawyer, Krzysztof Piesiewicz with No End. Set during Poland's martial law of 1982, it is the story of a dead lawyer who watches over his family as they continue on with their lives. His wife becomes involved in his last case involving a worker who had been arrested when he tried to organize a strike.
Kieslowski's mammoth Decalogue, co-written with Piesiewicz, is a series made for Polish television based on the Ten Commandments. Each episode is set in a contemporary apartment complex in Warsaw and is one hour long. Kieslowski tackled the project after feeling "tension, a feeling of hopelessness, and a fear of worse yet to come - everywhere, everything, practically everybody's life." The series was shown in its entirety as the centerpiece of the 1989 Venice Film Festival and is considered a masterpiece of modern cinema.
Lack of funds in Poland drove Kieslowski to seek financial backing from the West - most notably in France. The Double Life of Veronique (1992) firmly established Kieslowski with an international reputation. This moody, atmospheric study of two women, doppelgangers, one French, one Polish, who share the same name, birthday, heart condition, and a vague sense of the existence of the other, was a commercial as well as critical success and made a star of its leading actress, Irene Jacob.
The Three Colors trilogy, representing the colors of the French flag, Blue (1993, liberty), White (1994, equality) and Red (1994, fraternity) followed. The trilogy explores these three themes; in Blue, Juliette Binoche grieves as she loses her husband and child in a car accident and her new life and freedom cannot replace lost love. In White, a Polish hairdresser tries to regain the love of his ex-wife, a beautiful French girl played by Julie Delpy, and seeks equality in their one-sided relationship. In Red, Irene Jacob is a model who gradually falls in love with an older man (played by Jean-Louis Trintignant) after she accidentally [hits] his dog in a traffic accident. The retired judge arranges for her to "accidentally" meet someone her own age and for whom he thinks will be good for her. The films were scheduled to be released three months apart and while each can stand on its own; they were designed to be seen as a single entity.
Kieslowski periodically announced his retirement from filmmaking, though he never actually abandoned the cinema completely. His last project was to coauthor another trilogy with Piesiewicz, with the films tentatively titled Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. Kieslowski died before the trilogy was completed. A chain smoker, the great director died following cardiac surgery at the age of 54. Heaven, the first in the trilogy, was completed in 2002 with Tom Tykwer at the helm and Cate Blanchett in the starring role.