TROIS COULEURS: BLEU, BLANC, ROUGE






(Three Colours: Blue, White, Red)

Director: Krysztof Kieslowski


TROIS COULEURS: BLEU

France, 1993


Production: MK2 Productions SA, CED Productions, France 3 Cinema, CAB Productions, TOR Production, Canal Plus, Centre Nationale de la Cinématographie; colour, 35mm; running time: 98 minutes. Filmed in Paris, 1993.


Producer: Marin Karmitz; screenplay: Krzysztof Pisiewicz and Krzysztof Kieslowski; photography: Slawomir Idziak; editor: Jacques Witta; assistant director: Emmanuel Finkiel; set design: Claude Lenoir; music: Zbigniew Preisner; sound editor: Claire Bez, Bertrand Lanclos, and Jean-Claude Laureux; sound recording: Jean-Claude Laureux, Brigitte Taillandier, and Pascal Colomb; costumes: Virginie Viard and Naima Lagrange.

Cast: Juliette Binoche ( Julie ); Benoit Régent ( Olivier ); Florence Pernel ( Sandrine ); Charlotte Véry ( Lucille ); Hélène Vincent ( Journalist ); Emanuelle Riva ( Julie's Mother ); Claude Duneton ( Doctor ).


Award: Golden Lion, Venice 1993.

Publications


Script:

Kieslowski, Krzystof, Three Colors Trilogy: Blue, White and Red , New York, 1998.

Books:

Campan, Véronique, Dix brèves histoires d'image: le Décalogue de Krzysztof Kieslowski , Paris, 1993.

Amiel, Vincent, Kieslowski , Paris, 1995.

Lubelskiego, Tadeusza, Kino Krzysztofa Kie'slowskiego , Kraków, 1997.

Attolini, Vito, Krzystof Kieslowski , Manduria, 1998.

Insdorf, Annette, Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski , New York, 1999.


Articles:

Nesselson, L., Variety (New York), 20 September 1993.

Ostria, V., "Le hasard et l'indifférence," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1993.

Peck, A., and others, Positif (Paris), September 1993.

Andrew, Geoff, "True Blue ," in Time Out (London), no. 1207, 6 October 1993.

Macnab, G., Sight and Sound (London), November 1993.

Mensonge, S., " Three Colors Blue, White and Red : Krzysztof Kieslowski and Friends," in Cinema Papers (Fitzroy), no. 99, June 1994.

Kehr, Dave, "To Save the World: Kieslowski's Three Colors Tril-ogy," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 30, no. 6, November-December 1994.

Wall, J.M., "No Sense of the Sacred," in Christian Century , vol. 112, 15 March 1995.

Jean, Marcel, "Voir Rouge," in 24 Images (Montreal), no. 76, Spring 1995.

Toh, H.L., "Krzysztof Kieslowski's Trois couleurs Trilogy: The Auteur's Preoccupation with (Missed) Chances and (Missed) Connections," in Kinema , vol. 5, Spring 1996.

Pope, Angela, "In Memory," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 6, no. 8, August 1996.

Coates, Paul, "The Sense of an Ending: Reflections on Kieslowski's Trilogy," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), vol. 50, no. 2, Winter 1996–1997.

Portnoy, S., "Unmasking Sound: Music and Representation in The Shout and Blue ," in Spectator (Los Angeles), vol. 17, no. 2, 1997.

Wilson, Emma, " Three Colours: Blue : Kieslowski, Colour and the Postmodern Subject," in Screen (Oxford), vol. 39, no. 4, Winter 1998.

Trois Couleurs: Bleu
Trois Couleurs: Bleu

TROIS COULEURS: BLANC

France-Poland, 1994


Production: MK2 Productions SA, France 3 Cinema, Cab Productions SA, TOR Production, with the participation of Canal Plus; colour, 35mm; running time: 92 minutes.


Producer: Marin Karmitz; executive producer: Yvon Crenn; screenplay: Krzystof Piesiewicz and Krzysztof Kieslowski; photography: Edward Klosinski; editor: Urszula Lesiak; assistant directors: Teresa Violetta Buhl and Emmanuel Finkiel; art directors: Halina Dobrowolska and Claude Lenoir; music: Zbigniew Preisner; sound editors: Piotr Zawadzki, Jean-Claude Laureux, and Francine Lemaitre; sound recording: Brigitte Taillandier and Pascal Colomb; costumes: Elzbieta Radke, Teresa Wardzala, Jolanta Luczak, and Virginie Viard.


Cast: Zbigniew Zamachowski ( Karol Karol ); Julette Delpy ( Dominique ); Janusz Gajos ( Mikolaj ); Jerzy Stuhr ( Jurek ); Grzegorz Warchol ( Elegant man ); Jerzy Nowak ( Old Farmer ); Aleksander Bardini ( Lawyer ); Cezary Harasimowicz ( Inspector ); Jerzy Trela ( Monsieur Bronek ).

Award: Golden Bear, Berlin 1994.

Publications


Articles:

Nesselson, L., Variety (New York), 31 January 1994.

Amiel, V., "Le milieu, les origines," in Positif (Paris), Febru-ary 1994.

Jousse, T., "Marché noir," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), Febru-ary 1994.

Rayns, T., "Glowing in the Dark," in Sight and Sound (London), June 1994.

Strick, P., Sight and Sound (London), June 1994.

Johnston, Trevor, interview with Julie Delpy, in Time Out (London), no. 1242, 8 June 1994.

Pawelczak, A., Films in Review (New York), July/August 1994.

Positif (Paris), September 1994.

Williams, D.E., " White ," in Film Threat (Beverly Hills), vol. 18, October 1994.

Jean, Marcel, "Voir Rouge," in 24 Images (Montreal), no. 76, Spring 1995.

Pope, Angela, "In Memory," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 6, no. 8, August 1996.

Coates, Paul, "The Sense of an Ending: Reflections on Kieslowski's Trilogy," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), vol. 50, no. 2, Winter 1996–1997.

Insdorf, A., " White ," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 33, March/April 1997.


TROIS COULEURS: ROUGE

France-Switzerland-Poland, 1994


Production: MK2 Productions SA, France 3 Cinema, CAB Productions SA, TOR Production, in association with Canal Plus; colour, 35mm; running time: 99 minutes.


Producer: Marin Karmitz; screenplay: Krzystof Kieslowski and Krzystof Piesiewicz; photography: Piotr Sobocinski; editor: Jacques Witta; assistant director: Emmanuel Finkiel; set design: Claude Lenoir; music: Zbigniew Preisner and Van Den Budenmayer; sound editors: Piotr Zawadski, Francine Lemaitre, Jean-Claude Laureux, and Nicolas Naegelen; costumes: Nadia Cuenoid and Véronique Michel.


Cast: Irène Jacob ( Valentine Dussaut ); Jean-Louis Trintignant ( Judge Joseph Kern ); Frédérique Feder ( Karin ); Jean-Pierre Lorit ( Auguste Bruner ); Samuel Lebihan ( Photographer ); Marion Stalens ( Veterinary Surgeon ); Teco Celio ( Barman ); Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy, Benoit Régent, Zbigniew Zamachowski.



Publications


Articles:

Variety (New York), 24 May 1994.

Rayns, T., "Glowing in the Dark," in Sight and Sound (London), June 1994.

Masson, A., "La naiveté du manipulateur," in Positif (Paris), Sep-tember 1994.

Strauss, F. "Tu ne jouiras point," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), September 1994.

Pawelczak, Andy, " Red ," in Films in Review (New York), vol. 46, no. 3–4, March-April 1995.

Jean, Marcel, "Voir Rouge," in 24 Images (Montreal), no. 76, Spring 1995.

Séquences (Haute-Ville), no. 181, November/December 1995.

Pope, Angela, "In Memory," in Sight & Sound (London), vol. 6, no. 8, August 1996.

Rudolph, E., " Ransom Ups the Ante," in American Cinematographer (Hollywood), vol. 77, November 1996.

Coates, Paul, "The Sense of an Ending: Reflections on Kieslowski's Trilogy," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), vol. 50, no. 2, Winter 1996–1997.


* * *


The thematics of Krysztof Kieslowski's trilogy, Trois Couleurs (Three Colours) , it seems, could hardly be more explicit—the colours of the French flag and the three cardinal principles of the French state: liberté , égalité , fraternité. However, when asked in an interview whether the trilogy's structure was not simply a pretext, in the same way that the Ten Commandments provided an overall grid for his Dekalog , Kieslowski replied: "Yes, exclusively that." There may be a degree of provocation to this reply, but it also pinpoints an important aspect of the trilogy. The tripartite structure is indeed a little too schematic to ring true, but it serves an important purpose in inviting the viewer to read the work for continuities and substantive thematic content that might not otherwise be apparent either in each episode or in the trilogy as a whole.

Certain recurring themes suggest themselves more immediately than others in the trilogy. All three films are about people separated from those they love, or from the world; all are about communication, about language, and about transactions of various kinds. All three invoke the presence of the law in various forms: civic law, as well as moral and spiritual principles. The tricolor motif might lead us to identify this as the trilogy's key theme, implying a comparative analysis of the three principles in secular and transcendental terms. Yet there is no a priori reason to assume that these meanings are more important than any other ones, and nothing precludes us finding other tripartite structures: the films could, for example, be seen as essays on the three senses that dominate each film: sight ( Blue ), touch (in the sense of possession, in White ), and hearing ( Red ).

If the trilogy encourages such varied speculation, it is because it operates more by discontinuity than by the self-enclosed unity that the title suggests. Kieslowski has characterised it as less a triptych and more a set of three individual stories assembled in one volume. The stories, and the ways they are told, are very different, making the trilogy more open to varied readings than the Dekalog , with its single location and recurring characters. Each story bears a slightly different narrative relation to its main theme. In the unremittingly sombre Blue , a young woman seeks freedom from the world after the death of her husband and child, but is recalled to it by contact with other people, and by the echoes of her husband's music. In Blanc —universally received by critics as a comedy—a Polish hairdresser divorced by his French wife returns home and revenges himself on her by becoming a successful black marketeer, thereby "getting even" as a cynical illustration of equality. More obscurely, Red 's story of fraternity concerns a young woman's chance encounter with an embittered judge; in an inversion of Blue , she restores him to society, from which he had distanced himself by adopting the god-like position of a cynical, omniscient observer. Fraternity here seems to be the interconnectedness of mortals, unknowingly caught in the machinations of a supercilious deity.

The threads of narrative continuity between episodes are ostentatiously tenuous and artificial. In Blue , Julie walks into a courtroom; in White , it turns out that she has walked in on the divorce of Karol and Dominique. In the flourish of closure that ends Red , the trilogy's otherwise unrelated central couples are united as survivors of a cross-channel ferry disaster. In addition, the music of an apocryphal Dutch composer, van den Budenmayer, refers us to the universe of La Double Vie de Véronique (there is no reason why we shouldn't imagine Irène Jacob's character Valentine to be a third incarnation of that film's parallel heroines).

Other unifying threads suggest that it is futile to look for coherence of a realist variety, and that the trilogy's narrative unity is purely an effect of imagery. In all three episodes, and in different cities, an old woman struggles with a bottle bank; Valentine, the embodiment of spontaneous caritas , closes this circle by helping her. In Red , such parallelism verges on the supernatural, with Kern's life story mirrored by the younger judge Auguste. Again, this uncanny aspect is simply the effect of an arbitrary narrative manipulation; rather than staging a flashback to Kern's youth, Kieslowski has that past happen to another character, in what he calls a "contemporary flashback."

Such narrative flaunting of parallelism fulfills a classic function of coincidence that at once satisfies our desire for closure, and at the same time unsettles us by presenting us with a universe that is more implausibly coherent than any universe could be. Depending on our willingness, or otherwise, to see through such artifice, we can read the films' structure of coincidence either as a providential order in which everything—that is to say, nothing—is accidental, or as bare-faced string-pulling by a cavalier author. Red dramatises this very opposition in the figure of Kern, who moves from the position of an omniscient but distanced god, eavesdropping on the world from his Geneva eyrie, to that of a manipulative "director" who apparently orchestrates the film's final coup de théâtre on the ferry. Extrapolated onto the level of a world view, such ambivalent coincidence leaves us free to decide whether the trilogy posits a hopelessly contingent fictional universe or one in which all loose ends reassuringly join up.

The look of the films also militates against a too-obvious sense of unity. All three are shot by different cinematographers, are visually unlike each other, and each uses its dominant colour in a different way. Blue permeates the first film's lighting as well as appearing in discrete objects, while in the third, red objects stand out against a neutral framework, without the uncanny stridency of the blue ones; red is simply a thread of colour holding this world together, just as the film's tracking shots unite diverse characters. White , on the other hand, is dominated by a prosaic drabness, with white appearing as an absence of colour; white flashes appear on screen, suggesting the brief ecstasy of orgasm and marriage, but largely the neutrality of white means that we are free to look for it anywhere on screen—in snow, cars, paper, the sky—without being directed to see it, and without having its significance imposed on us.

The trilogy's immensely seductive quality does result in part from its over-stimulation of our visual attention. Kieslowski encourages us to constantly look for the significance of the objects he shows us, but his gauzy, decorative way of shooting a lampshade or a disordered table-top do not reveal them with the matter-of-fact analytic scrutiny of a Bresson. Rather, he overloads them with visual aura, so that we cannot help being aware that their function is to signify; Zbigniew Preisner's often portentous music tends to overstress the point. Rarely are films so prodigal with their epiphanies. In Blue especially, the camera constantly invests its, and our, attention in movements and in proximity, as when Julie trails her hand along a wall and the camera trails along with her at wall-level, or in the close-up that reveals a minuscule feather ( Blue takes such poetic miniaturisation to unprecedented extremes). Even while the narrative encourages us to maintain an Olympian detachment, the camera rarely allows us to remain outside things. The result of such heavily signposted attention to the external world is to make us anxious that we might be missing the meaning of an object—or, in a more abstract sense, its presence — and therefore missing a piece of the puzzle. This treatment precludes the possibility that a lampshade may be just a lampshade. Alternatively, an image's meaning can be too brutally transparent, like the television footage of a bungee-jumper in Blue —at once free-falling and attached, too transparent a figure of Julie's own ambivalent suspension.

The trilogy is as much struck with the "glamour" of objects as it is with that of its leading actresses, who are very much objectified as complementary incarnations of some sort of feminine mystique. They are all curiously impassive, even when active: Julie a cool blue madonna of wounded isolation; Dominique a brutal example of the chilly attractions of the West; and Valentine quite explicitly the embodiment of warmth, alertness to the moment and—as it says on the chewing-gum billboard she poses for—"fraîcheur de vivre" ("a breath of life," says the sub-title). They are there less to be empathised with than to be marvelled at and then contemplated as inimitable presences.

For the viewer, there is a somewhat factitious appeal to the act of visual contemplation in these films. Kieslowski always allows us to know something that the characters don't, thereby giving us at least the illusion of privileged distance. At the start of Blue , a close-up under the family's car gives us a warning that it will crash a moment later. By constantly granting us such flashes of insight, Kieslowski leads us to infer an overall scheme in which even the most apparently random image finds its place. From there it is a short step to inferring a metaphysical order. This perhaps is the secret of the trilogy's appeal—what we might call its theological fallacy. "Something important is happening around me," says Valentine, and we too are inclined to believe that something important is happening before our eyes. These films shamelessly flatter our sensitivity to cosmic significance.

Much of their popularity may be due to the way that they encourage us to make our own associations and inferences; yet this apparent freedom is very much determined by the presence of so many heavily charged signposts. Everything in the trilogy signifies so unceasingly that we never feel as invigoratingly adrift as we do in the world of Antonioni, say, where things signify in the first instance because they so intransigently refuse to yield their meaning. Kieslowski's objects are never autonomous, but always significant, magical—which is to say, tied to human significance. The apparently sapient look to camera of the wounded dog in Red is an extreme example of this, where the camera's investment in the non-human world verges on anthropomorphism. None of this is meant to deny the trilogy's fascination, and indeed originality, only to acknowledge how problematic it is. It might seem churlish and paradoxical to attack the films on the grounds that they are over-stimulating, but Kieslowski seems unwilling to provide the viewer with any gaps that are not already orchestrated. In this sense, the visually blank White , the only episode not imbued with some sense of the uncanny, is also the only one that allows us to form our own position towards the drama.

Three Colours has been received by critics and audiences alike as a statement of faith in the regenerative possibilities of a traditional strain of European art-house cinema; but it is perhaps only the contingent circumstances of their international funding that truly makes them a statement about the current condition of Europe. ( White , indeed, could be seen as a sort of picaresque allegory of a Polish film-maker's attempt to find the right country in which to make good.) And the portentous fanfare for a unified Europe, written by Julie and her husband in Blue , invokes the spiritual importance of high culture in a way that verges on kitsch. It is in their evocation of banal daily hustling—not quite pop culture perhaps, but a more prosaic real—that the films are most affecting.

Time will tell whether Kieslowski will continue to be regarded on the "art cinema" circuit with the spurious reverence due to an austere metaphysician, or whether he will be given proper credit as the consummate manipulator and sleight-of-hand artist that Three Colours reveals him to be—a filmmaker who could make remarkably complex and evocative capital out of the contingent facts of his chosen "pretext."

—Jonathan Romney



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