- Three Colors: White (1994) movie review: Though the most lightweight and least memorable entry in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy, this biting comedy is still much better than most Hollywood fare.
White movie review: Kieslowski’s least effective Three Colors entry is ‘exceptional’ when compared to Hollywood comedies
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s middle entry in his Polish-French trilogy – Three Colors: Blue, Three Colors: White, and Three Colors: Red – is a black comedy that also happens to be generally considered the weakest of the films.
This is true, though given the high quality of the tercet, White is still an excellent production. In fact, compared with the mind-numbing comedies that Hollywood regularly cranks out, Kieslowski’s movie, co-written by the filmmaker and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, is exceptional.
And at a mere hour and a half, it never drags.
Karol Karol misconception
One of the major misconceptions about White and its hero, Karol Karol – literally, Charles Charles – is that he is a Chaplinesque figure.
I believe that the many critics who use this term intend it as a high compliment, as they reference Charles Chaplin, the greatest of the silent era screen stars, and his Little Tramp. But in doing so, they show how little they understand both Karol Karol and its portrayer, Zbigniew Zamachowski.
Karol, for instance, is a far darker character than the Little Tramp. Right from the start, there is something “off” about him; in a Hollywood movie, Karol might have ended up a serial killer or a child molester.
As the color white symbolizes equality in the French flag, champion hairdresser Karol spends the bulk of Kieslowski’s film plotting revenge upon his beautiful French hairdresser ex-wife Dominique Vidal (Julie Delpy). In short, equality to him means getting even.
The acting in White is first rate.
Supporting actor Janusz Gajos has one of those faces that can “act” with a twitch or the gleam of an eye. Zbigniew Zamachowski and Julie Delpy are almost as good in their roles; he as the clownish rogue and she as the bitch with the angelic mien.
One never senses, however, that Karol is the Chaplinesque innocent he pretends to be; so his turn to the dark side at film’s end is in perfect tune with his character. His is a difficult role for any actor to do.
Julie Delpy’s role is smaller and easier, but it is satisfying all the same. Delpy retains an identifiable vulnerability, which is another difficult task, especially since her character could easily have become that of the symbolic goddess in Karol’s life.
Types of symbolism
Death and rebirth play manifest symbolic roles in White, but not too heavily. The film does feature other types of symbolism as well, such as an old lady trying to stuff a bottle into a recycling bin – just as in Blue. Karol smiles at her struggles, while in Blue Julie (Juliette Binoche, who has a cameo in White) is oblivious to them.
And whereas Blue makes use of literal blackouts whenever Julie is confronting her past, White features several whiteouts, including one during Dominique’s orgasm – which is far more realistic than Meg Ryan’s more famed fake in When Harry Met Sally….
More importantly, White has a few flash forwards – or flashbacks? – to scenes of Karol and Dominique exiting a church after they are married. Whether these represent memory or fantasy is never made clear.
Also, while Julie takes a blue mobile as the only memento from her estate’s home in Blue, Karol takes only his alabaster bust with him from France to Poland. The bust provides some wonderful moments, such as the scene in which Karol kisses it, with both silhouetted against the night.
‘Delightful if flawed’
Admittedly, White lacks much of the visual poesy of the other two Three Colors films; simply put, Edward Klosinski’s cinematography is pedestrian when compared to Slawomir Idziak’s in Blue. But this is forgivable since White is a plot-driven – instead of a character- or mood-based – effort.
That said, Zbigniew Preisner’s tango score is every bit as comically effective as his classical score for Blue was dramatically apropos. That the tango is a dance in which the male leads is very slyly worked into this tale where the male comes out ahead. (The other two Three Colors films are female oriented.)
In fact, overall White is a delightful if flawed comedy. Had it been a Hollywood film, it would probably rank much higher in critical opinion worldwide.
It’s merely because American minds have been so cauterized by bad art that a film like this has to be judged against its superior European counterparts and its own siblings in the Three Colors trilogy, rather than the minor leagues that American cinema represents. Were it judged against the standard fart comedy mindset or that of the tired “romantic comedy” formula, White would be seen in a far greater light.
Regardless, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s film is well worth watching and a good way to spend an evening. When was the last romantic comedy from America for which such a claim could be made?
Three Colors: White / Trois couleurs: Blanc (1994)
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Screenplay: Krzysztof Kieslowski & Krzysztof Piesiewicz.
Screenplay collaborators: Agnieszka Holland, Edward Zebrowski, and Edward Klosinski.
Cast: Julie Delpy. Zbigniew Zamachowski. Janusz Gajos. Jerzy Stuhr. Aleksander Bardini.
Cameo: Juliette Binoche.
“White Movie: Weakest Three Colors Entry Superior to Hollywood Comedies” review text © Dan Schneider; excerpt, image captions, bullet point introduction, and notes/endnotes © Alt Film Guide.
“White Movie: Weakest Three Colors Entry Superior to Hollywood Comedies” is a condensed/revised version of Dan Schneider’s text currently found in its original form here.
“White Movie (2004) Review” endnotes
Julie Delpy White movie image: Miramax Films.
“White Movie: Weakest Three Colors Entry Superior to Hollywood Comedies” last updated in September 2021.