I recently watched each of the three films in Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy. I've been meaning to write about them, but haven't been able to focus my thoughts. (I get like that when I'm stressed. Which is why I never get much writing done when I'm unemployed, despite having so much time. Too worried about running out of money.)
At any rate - I'm sitting down to make my attempt.
Usually, before I write about a film, I read up on it and listen to the commentary. I didn't listen to the commentary on these, because I wanted to simply experience them - all three - as a whole. Eventually I'll buy them and listen to all the commentaries, but for now I'm just going on my own impressions. I have read a little about them, did before watching them. I'd originally heard of them through the commentary on Heaven, which was written by Kieslowski as part of another trilogy, but not made until after his death. It was directed by Twyker, and I found it after watching Twyker's The Princess and the Warrior, which was a wonderful portrayal of the differences in the way men and women communicate and relate to others. I watched Heaven, knowing nothing about its history, which was only alluded to briefly in the commentary.
So I looked up the Three Colors, and found that many people believe Blue is among the most finely crafted, perfect films ever made. When approaching movies these days, I try to learn very little about them in advance. I find that I am more likely to enjoy them if I go in without many expectations of what they should be... and sometimes I end up disliking a film that others I respect are saying is brilliant.
Well, in this case I am in accordance with those who think that Three Colors are brilliant.
I am glad I decided to watch all three films within a few days of each other. Though the stories are not a trilogy in the sense of being three parts of the same story with the same characters, no "part II & III" here, they are thematically related, and there is a definite emotional and spiritual progression across all three.
The theme of Red, the third film, is in fact the theme of all three - though it approaches it more directly: the human need for connection.
Each film uses color thematically, though Kieslowski employs it in different ways in each.
In Blue, it represents her grief. Some people have said it represents her moments of peace, but I think that's wrong. It's her most intense moments of feeling, when she immerses herself in the grief. And in some of those moments she finds a kind of peace. The color is tied to the memories and feelings she's trying to cast away. Ultimately, she's unable to disconnect herself, and it's only through accepting her connections, and through immersing herself in memories that she is able to move forward. The completion of her husband's final work, a piece about unification, is the act by which she
a) remembers her husband on a personal level
b) memorializes him in the public sphere
c) channels her emotions into a creative work
d) uses her connection and memory to move forward into the future and establish herself as her own person
Blue is almost meditative. Powerful and intense, the protagonist spends so much time alone that there is very little dialogue, and the music and the images (including Binoche's superbly subtle acting) tell the story.
Grief is difficult to portray. It can become melodrama so easily. This film, however, perfectly captured something quite close to my own experience of it. Even for those who do not go to such extremes to leave their old life behind, you do feel very much alone. You feel like your grief separates you from the world, from everyone around you (ironic, since it's a universal experience - the loss of loved ones.)
I must confess - as much as I was appreciative of the film and recognize its genius (a word I don't use casually), as much as I love the poetry of its images and deftness of the acting... I did not love Blue. I found it too difficult to watch, too unnerving, too uncomfortable. All of which simply underscore the brilliance, but it was simply too close to home for me.
One of the three screenplays I'm working on now centers around a young widow who is afraid of being touched and who must decide whether to memorialize her husband's legacy as an artist, or to let it go and move on with her life. And it does so, because that is my own story. My own process. And it's one which still continues and is still quite sharp and painful (even after ten years.) So, no - I was not able to really enjoy Blue as much as it deserved.
White uses the thematic color to represent an man's idealized vision of his wife. She is blonde and pale, and he has a bust which reminds him of her white skin. He remembers, over and over, her in her wedding dress. It's a little harder to spot the use of color in white. It doesn't saturate the way that Blue and Red do, but it's still a frequent presence.
Of the three, White has the most external story. It's funny - and makes light of dark subjects. The protagonist spends the film trying to get back home, make himself a "better" man, and re-capture the love of his cruel but beautiful wife. If this were an American film, we'd spend the movie psychoanalyzing why he would want to win back such a bitch, but Kieslowski never bothers to ask - because the answer is obvious. What man doesn't want the love of a beautiful woman? To impress her with his success and make her belong to him?
Her cruelty and capriciousness is no different from the cruelty of the world itself. She is a force of nature, an ideal which he strives for. She doesn't ever become quite real, and this is exactly how she is meant to be.
Whereas the protagonist in Blue goes to great lengths to run away from her connection with others, the protagonist in White goes to great (even absurd) lengths to assert his connection to one specific other...but his path to her ends up creating and strengthening his connections to the rest of the people in his life.
In Red, there's no mistaking the presence of the color. It's there in almost every shot, sometimes a spot of color, an accent, and often in great washes of red that take up most of the screen.
I found myself puzzling over the specific thematic correlation. In the other films, the titular color was used in very specific ways, to represent the emotion at the core of the story. In Red, it's so pervasive, I wasn't able to find any common thread. But by the end of the movie, I realized that was precisely the point.
Red is about connections. Chance, or purposeful. The ways that we brush up against one another, and suddenly find ourselves looking into another person's eyes and really seeing them, listening to another person's words and really hearing them. It's almost a shock when it happens, and yet it has a pleasant warmth - much like the color red.
Of the three, though I can recognize Blue as more finely crafted, I personally enjoyed Red the most. It is a story driven by chance. The characters seem buffeted about by fate or some other mysterious force. They do not make their most meaningful connections by choice... but it is by their choices that they are taken to them, and by choice that they recognize and nurture them.
All three films employ chance in a way that could easily ruin a story in lesser hands. Coincidence is tricky. It usually feels too convenient, too pat. It feels forced. Three Colors, however, are a study of what happens to people in the face of the random (or is it) whims of fate. It is through random chance that we find our most meaningful moments. The protagonist in Red seems to embrace this fully, and in the end is led to the possibility of love.
I could go on more about the symbolism in this last film... the seven puppies, the seven stones, the seven survivors. Several specific instances of chance, the similarity to Amelie... but I just noticed it's 3:55am. I really ought to go to bed.
Perhaps I'll further amend this in the future, but not likely.
One more word, though... I found Red to be one of the most romantic movies I've ever seen, and I'm such a sucker for that.