Krzysztof Kieslowski was one of the more interesting filmmakers of the last quarter century. The centerpiece of his claim to greatness is the film trilogy that he directed and co-wrote with Krzysztof Piesiewicz in the early to mid-1990s: Three Colors: Blue, Three Colors: White, and Three Colors: Red. Representing the colors of the French flag, Blue, White, and Red also symbolize the virtues of liberty, equality, and fraternity, respectively.
Blue is the first film in the series. Besides its association with the concept of liberty, the color also resonates for its associations with depression and coldness, two moods well depicted in Kieslowski's film.
Krzysztof Kieslowski: Wise choices
Krzysztof Kieslowski made a wise choice to depoliticize his Three Colors films, for the freedom that Blue deals with is not political but personal – a hoped-for freedom from memories, instead of the cheap sort that Hollywood would foist, such as a woman running away from an abusive boyfriend. If only more artists (think Latin American writers) could learn that political statements can be made slyly and subtly, and thus wield far more power than overt preaching.
Another wise move Kieslowski made was to cast Blue as a “picaresque” whose main character is delineated in small strokes, with scenes that do not drive plot or character development, but that stand alone and apart as merely defining the protagonist's state of mind.
And finally, Kieslowski wisely offers scenes not directly tied to the lead character's dilemma, but which link Blue to the other films in the Three Colors trilogy. For instance, the shot of the old lady trying to deposit a bottle in a recycling bin, whose opening is too high for her to reach. This is pure symbolism, but it's so slickly and subtly inserted that it's easy to miss. In fact, Juliette Binoche's character misses the whole thing play out near her because she is daydreaming in a park.
'Blue': Key plot elements
Blue starts with an automobile accident that kills composer Patrice de Courcy and his five-year-old daughter Anna. The only survivor is his wife, Julie (Juliette Binoche). Fortunately, the crash occurs off camera, not in the melodramatic style a Hollywood film would drool over.
Julie recovers, and eventually decides to abandon her country estate and set out for an anonymous life in Paris. She refuses to deal with her emotions in the obvious ways, but this does not mean she lacks them. Part of this involves seducing her husband's writing partner Olivier Benoît (Benoît Régent), so she can delude herself that she is cold and perhaps deserving of her loss.
As Blue progresses, Julie strives to deal with her husband's unfinished composition, “Song for the Unification of Europe” (actually written by Blue composer Zbigniew Preisner); her mentally ill mother (Emmanuelle Riva), who is constantly shown in the reflections of glass that surround her; and her attempts at a new life.
Later on, two other key female characters emerge: the stripper Lucille (Charlotte Véry), who befriends Julie after she refuses to sign a petition to boot the stripper out; and Sandrine (Florence Pernel), her dead husband's mistress who is pregnant with his child.
It is a mark of the filmmaker's intelligence that Blue does not opt out for the cheap American way of resolving conflicts. Both Julie and Sandrine act in mature ways. There is no catfighting, much less some sort of “erotic” attraction that develops between the two women. Instead, they simply deal with the situation as most people would.
Blue offers many exquisite moments of visual poesy, such as the expected use of the color blue, but also in scenes of Julie swimming while hearing her husband's music in her mind; at one time, for instance, she curls up into a fetal ball and floats. Also, Kieslowski uses blackouts not at the end of a scene, but as dramatic breaths in time between stressful moments whenever Julie needs to steel herself for life's rough patches.
Juliette Binoche: 'Dominating' performance
In Blue, Juliette Binoche gives one of those performances that is dominating because it is both total and reserved. There is no scenery-chewing here. At one point, when Julie tries to deal with her rage, instead of screaming she starts crunching a lollipop – a devastating scene that conveys restrained but intense violence.
Also worth noting, apart from the main musical composition within the film, Zbigniew Preisner's score is rarely too much, while Slawomir Idziak's cinematography is incandescent. Idziak fully deserved winning the Best Cinematography Award at the Venice Film Festival, for color has rarely been used as effectively, even though some have absurdly attacked the film for its “unrealistic color palette.” After all, Blue makes no pretense in trying to conform to reality, whether in its use of color, narrative ellipses, blackouts, or any other techniques.
'Blue' movie DVD
The Blue DVD, part of Miramax's Three Colors boxed set, features several featurettes on Krzysztof Kieslowski; Kieslowski's student film Concert of Wishes; an interview with Juliette Binoche and other Blue participants; and an audio commentary by Kieslowski expert Annette Insdorf – one of the worst I've ever heard.
As an example, Insdorf speaks of the blackout moments only coming to Kieslowski in the editing stages of the film – an interesting observation; but then she goes into no greater depth as to their significance, or how their provenance has any relation to the moments themselves. Worst of all is when she repeatedly claims that Julie is not dealing with her past. This is demonstrably false. It is there with her all the time, and is the very raison d'être for the film.
Nonetheless, this detraction is only in regards to the Blue DVD extras, not the brilliant film itself, though Miramax should have offered dubbed versions of the films, for film is a visual medium and reading subtitles always detracts from a first viewing.
Krzysztof Kieslowski: 'Great' filmmaker
I started this review by stating that Krzysztof Kieslowski was one of the more interesting filmmakers of the last quarter century. The only thing Three Colors: Blue will add to that claim is to append the term “great,” for the film is a flat-out masterpiece. It is as mysterious as a work by Michelangelo Antonioni, as symbolic as a work by Ingmar Bergman, as humane as a work by Federico Fellini, and as precise as a work by Stanley Kubrick. That's good company to keep, and Blue fully earns such companionship.
© Dan Schneider
Note: This review of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors: Blue is a condensed / revised version of Dan Schneider's text, which can be read in its original form here. The views expressed in this Blue review are those of Mr. Schneider, and they may not reflect the views of Alt Film Guide.
Three Colors: Blue / Trois couleurs: Bleu (1993). Dir.: Krzysztof Kieslowski. Scr.: Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Cast: Juliette Binoche, Benoît Régent, Emmanuelle Riva, Florence Pernel, Charlotte Véry, Hélène Vincent, and a cameo by Julie Delpy.
Juliette Binoche Three Colors: Blue movie image: Miramax.