#46 & #47 Three Colours: Blue & Red

(1993-4, Krzysztof Kieslowski)

“If only I could help”
“You can. Be.”

(Trois Couleurs: Bleu, 1993)

(Trois Couleurs: Rouge, 1994)

The Three Colours trilogy was a concept trilogy created by Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski based around the three ideals in the French motto – liberty, equality, solidarity – and named after each of the colours of the French flag. Only Blue and Red were placed into the 1024 movies I’m now working from, but I’ll still reference White in some way due to the way the whole trilogy links together.

The first film is Blue, which follows Julie (Juliette Binoche), the widow of famous composer Patrice De Courcy. Following the car accident that killed her husband and daughter, she tries everything she can to cut herself off from the world and remove all memory of her family life from her mind. She sells off their old house, destroys many of their possessions and even tries to wipe out all record of her husband’s compositions. However, as the film progresses, she finds herself unable to fully shake off the memory of her husband and slowly discovers the importance of connecting with other human beings.

Of the three, this movie was definitely the one that felt the most “arty” and enjoyment of the film relies entirely on how well you react to that. Kieslowski makes some unique choices in how to present this movie, from unusual shots of seemingly unimportant items to the clever use of music to represent Julie’s memories of her husband. Quite often, usually when Julie is forced to confront her own emotions, the screen will fade to black and play excerpts from her former husband’s unfinished score. Initially, it seems like an odd choice, but as the movie progresses, it begins to make a lot of sense, and a very effective way of tying the score into the plot.

Kieslowski also kept things very minimal and subtle, with small visual cues and character actions helping to tell the story rather than overblown set pieces or overtly emotional outbursts. It felt very much like a movie that rewards repeat viewings, since it seems to hide many little clues to things everywhere. Adding to this rewarding experience is Binoche’s performance. Largely carrying the movie on her own, and spending most of that time having to express Julie’s inner turmoil could have been disastrous, but Binoche pulls it off perfectly. For the entire movie I felt I could sense what was going on in her head simply through the subtle body language in her performance.

If anything bugged me about Blue, it was the bizarre subplot of Julie finding a mouse in her apartment. In the grand scheme of the movie, it felt largely unnecessary, serving only to add filler to conversations later in the movie. What’s worse, it’s a subplot that doesn’t even get resolved. The last we see of it is when Julie leaves a cat in the apartment, just adding to the feeling of pointlessness.

The second movie in the trilogy is White, which we won’t be spending much time with. The anomaly of the three, it’s more comedic than the other two, features less of the subtleties that make the others so compelling and features a male protagonist. It’s also largely in Polish rather than French. Definitely the weakest of the three, I failed to get drawn into the story as much as I did with the others, and I can see exactly why it was left out of the Movies You Must See list.

So let’s move onto Red; in my opinion, the best of the three movies. It stars Irene Jacob as Valentine, a model living in Geneva. When she accidentally runs over a dog, she tries to return it to its owner, a retired judge named Kern (Jean-Louis Trintingnant), who doesn’t want it back. After discussing the nature of his hobby of listening in on his neighbours’ phone conversations, he eventually warms to her, and they develop a small friendship.

This film left me with an incredibly warm feeling, and really tied up the entire series (and not just because its final scene featured the main characters from all three movies). The chemistry between Valentine and Kern is superb, and the two are constantly believable as reluctant friends. It helps that Valentine is an incredibly likeable character thanks to Jacob’s performance, and I found myself instantly warmed to her almost as soon as she first appeared.

It’s also stylistically a bridge between the previous two. While Blue was very arty and White was a lot more conventional, Red sits nicely between the two. Much of the unusual editing choices Kieslowski applied in Blue are here (most noticeable when the camera pans over an entire bowling alley just to show us a broken pint glass) but also, once the actors gets talking to each other, he tends to just leave them to it, and is all the better for it. It’s very easy to get sucked into their discussions, and even feel quite cosy in them, a fact I particularly noticed when the calm serenity of one scene is literally shattered when someone breaks a window.

The only issue I had with Red was a subplot with a different character that seemed to have nothing to do with the story at large. However, this subplot redeemed itself later when it seemed to parallel Kern’s younger life, turning it from rambling filler to an incredible artistic choice.

Overall, the trilogy was fascinating and held my interest. The subtle connections between the three (most notably a brief crossover scene between Blue and White) were very effective at bringing the three different stories together. It does have a strong feel of French art cinema at times though, so your ability to like the movies depends entirely on your open-mindedness when it comes to arty films.

Certainly, Red is the best of the bunch, with Blue a close second, but the entire trilogy really needs to be viewed as a whole, which is why it’s a slight disappointment White was excluded from the list.

Trois Couleurs: Bleu starring Juliette Binoche
Trois Couleurs: Rouge starring Irene Jacob & Jean-Louis Trintingnant
Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski & Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Produced by Marin Karmitz
Music score by Zbigniew Preisner
Cinematography by Slawomir Idziak & Piotr Sobocinski
Edited by Jacques Witta

Favourite Scene (Blue): Loved the inventive use of music when Julie attempts to destroy her former husband’s music.
Scene That Bugged Me (Blue): The whole mouse subplot. Felt a little too much like filler.

Favourite Scene (Red): Following his admittance of his questionable hobby to his neighbours, the judge and Valentine have a discussion in his home. The whole scene feels very cosy and intimate.
Scene That Bugged Me (Red): Was there really any need for the camera panning over the bowling alley to show a random broken glass? Even with its supposed symbolic meaning, it feels pointless.

Watch them if: You appreciate subtlety
Avoid them if: The mere idea of an “arty” movie freaks you out


Posted on April 12, 2012, in 1990s, Drama, France. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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