‘White’ movie review: Krzysztof Kieslowski’s weakest ‘Three Color’s film is ‘exceptional’ when compared to Hollywood comedies
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s middle film 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 trio of films. This is true, though given the high quality of the tercet, White is still an excellent film. In fact, compared with the mind-numbing comedies that Hollywood regularly cranks out, White is exceptional. And at a mere hour and a half, it never drags.
One of the major misconceptions about White and its hero, Karol Karol – literally, Charley Charley – 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 the 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 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 – another difficult task, especially since her character could easily have become that of the symbolic goddess in Karol’s life.
‘White’: Plot-driven film
Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, 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 music score is every bit as comically effective as his classical music 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.)
Death and rebirth play manifest symbolic roles in White, but not too heavily. Yet, the film does feature other symbolic moments, 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) 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, where 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, both silhouetted against the night.
‘White’ movie DVD
The White DVD is part of a Three Colors set released by Miramax. The film is subtitled in English, but one would have hoped that dubbed versions of the films could have been added to the DVD three-pack. Extras include the featurette “A Look at Blanc,” a film on Krzysztof Kieslowski’s later years, another on working with Kieslowski, a cinema lesson by Kieslowski on White‘s opening scenes, and a few other interviews and behind-the-scenes featurettes. Most notably, there is an interview with Julie Delpy, and her commenting on several selected scenes. There are also three interesting student films that Kieslowski made: Trolley, The Office, and The Face.
And finally, the White DVD features an audio commentary by Kieslowski scholar Annette Insdorf, seen in many of the interview segments throughout the DVD three-pack. In this film she’s not nearly as pedantic, condescending, and flat-out annoying as in her commentary for Blue. This is probably because White is a comedy, therefore lighter and less symbolic and artistic.
‘White’: ‘Delightful if flawed comedy’
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’ formulae, 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?
© Dan Schneider
Note: This review of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: White is a condensed / revised version of Dan Schneider’s text, which can be read in its original form here. The views expressed in this White review are those of Mr. Schneider, and they may not reflect the views of Alt Film Guide.
Three Colors: White / Trois couleurs: Blanc (1994). Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski. Screenplay: Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, with collaborations by Agnieszka Holland, Edward Zebrowski, and Edward Klosinski. Cast: Julie Delpy, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Stuhr, and cameo by Juliette Binoche.
Julie Delpy Three Colors: White image: Miramax Films.