R Dir: Krzysztof Kieslowski | Criterion | 1h 39min
Plot: What’s it about?
Krysztof Kieslowski had already wowed international audiences with his beautifully realized The Double Life of Veronique, when he embarked on an a more ambitious project. His goal was to create a trilogy of films based on the three colors of the French flag: Blue, White, and Red. Each film would focus on a different theme- those themes being liberty, equality, and fraternity- and use a different cinematographer from his previous projects. To Kieslowski this feat should have seemed relatively simple considering his last great Polish work was The Decalogue, a series of ten films focusing on the themes of the Ten Commandments. Kieslowski succeeded in creating a work that took the art world by storm internationally. Unfortunately, the trilogy would be his last completed works. He died in open heart surgery before he could begin another project.
Blue is essentially a film about grief. The opening of the film begins by following a car’s wheels as a car goes through a tunnel. The next shot shows a little girl looking out the back of the car. We then see the girl holding a blue candy wrapper out the car window. As a teenage boy stands near a field a car crash is heard. The car is crashed into a tree and a scream is heard as the boy runs toward the car crash. The main character, Julie Vignon (Juliette Binoche) awakens in the hospital to a doctor letting her know that her husband, a famous composer, and child are both dead. Her initial response is suicide, but she can not bring herself to do it. To complicate things, her husband had been working on composing a piece to be played upon the event of the European Union. Her husband’s confidante tries his best to have her help complete the composition, while revealing he is in love with her. Julie responds by trying to disappear from public view.
Blue is a film about grief, but it manages to not be overwhelming. As we watch Julie try to escape from her previous life, as an audience we know that it is inescapable. Juliette Binoche does an excellent job in the main role. Kieslowski continues to focus on small details that emotionally impact the viewer. The score by his composer Zgibiew Preisner is spot on. One of my favorite aspects of Kieslowski’s films is his use of color. As you might guess, for each of the colors in the trilogy he makes common use of the color the film is named for. In this case the blue is used on a candy wrapper and a little girl’s room decoration, but also shows up as a lens filter quite often. It is a clever way of reminding us of the spiritual angst of the main character. The liberty is shown in her beginning to take control of her own life.
The second film, White, is the most fun loving and comedic of the three films. The plot revolves around a Polish immigrant named Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) who is summoned to a court house in Paris to be divorced by his wife played by Julie Delpy. For some reason or other, he has not been able to consummate the marriage. Karol finds himself without a penny, without a passport, wanted by authorities, and somehow he is tricked into hearing her make live to another man. In a subway Karol meets a man named Mikolaj. Mikolaj offers to give him money if he will carry out a hit. Karol agrees as long as Mikolaj will smuggle him back into Poland. From here the film continues to build on some strange comic themes.
As heavy as the previous paragraph may sound, it is all played for laughs. White is a joy to watch, and just as you would expect from a Kieslowski film still develops some beautifully revealing scenes that will go much deeper than you would expect. The acting and cinematography are top notch with Edward Klosinski taking the helm of cinematographer on this film. The deeper political themes revolving around Poland at that time will also be obvious to the viewers. The theme of White is equality, and that is what Karol seeks after his wife has made him a cuckold. It’s great.
The final film in the trilogy, Red, revolves around an aspiring model named Valentine, played by Irene Jacob. Valentine’s long distance relationship to her boyfriend is unraveling. At the same time the camera will also occasionally follow one of her neighbors from across the street, who unbeknownst to her will experience relationship trauma as well. As her relationship unfolds, she accidentally hits a dog with her car. She finds the owner, a cynical retired judge played by Jean Louis-Trintignant. The owner makes no claim for the dog, but the dog returns to him one day anyway. At this point the judge is revealed to be a bit of a voyeur, using technology to listen to the going one of his neighbors’ phone calls. This feeds into his distrust of human kind. Somehow Valentine feels drawn to him despite his shortcomings, and they enter a truly unique friendship.
Red is my personal favorite of the Kieslowski films that I have seen. The theme of Fraternity is applied to the sweet and rewarding relationship between Valentine and the judge. The film making involved is at once rewarding, innovative, and natural. It is also a joy to watch Jean Louis-Trintignant, one of the greatest French film actors of all time (You may know him from Bertolucci’s The Conformist.) I particularly enjoyed the fantastic cinematography from Piotr Sobocinski, the best of the series in my humble opinion. The themes of barely missed chances at love, and friendship are deep and rarely expressed so artistically. To top it all off, Red ties together all of the films in its final moments in a wholly unique way.
Three Colors is easily one of the greatest achievement in modern film. Technically the films are pure heart filling perfection, with a director that knew what he was doing in each shot. There is not a wasted frame. Of the three, Red is my personal favorite, but each one is worth your time. There is a reason why he was Kubrick’s favorite living director at the time.
Video: How’s it look?
These are mostly excellent transfers from Criterion. The films retain a good amount of detail and looks absolutely stunning for the most part. The movies also retain a very filmic grainy quality and consistently please visually. My only gripe is that some of the scenes through out the films can become a bit oversaturated, but this is very infrequent(seen most in nighttime in White). People can rest assured that this is easily the best these films have ever looked. Slawimir Idziak’s cinematography is almost as wonderful as his work on The Double Life of Veronique and shines in Blue. The naturally lit and beautiful cinematography of Edward Kosinski in White truly shines on Blu-ray. Visually, my favorite of the presentations comes from Red with the stunning cinematography of Piotr Sobocinski. Fans of the films should rejoice!
Audio: How’s it sound?
Similar to the video, these French 2.0 tracks are very high quality. There is nothing bad to report whatsoever in this department although dynamic range is limited as you would expect. Dialogue is incredibly clear and crisp and Zgibniew Priesner’s haunting score sounds wonderful. The 2.0 surround is used well and the orchestral parts in particular sound fantastic on Blue. I just wish Kieslowski could have lived long enough to use 5.0 surround!
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Trailer – the original theatrical trailer for Blue. In French, with optional English subtitles. (2 min, 1080p).
- On Blue – Annette Insdorf, author of Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema Krzysztof Kieslowski, discusses Blue in this video essay. Pretty good and informational. With clips and stills from the Polish director’s films. In English, not subtitled. (21 min, 1080p).
- Kieslowski’s Cinema Lesson – in this segment from 1994, Krzysztof Kieslowski discusses how he shot the sugar cube scene in Blue. I LOVED this feature. In Polish, with imposed French subtitles and optional English subtitles. (8 min, 1080i).
- Juliette Binoche – Juliette comments on specific scenes from the film, with some good in depth discussion of Kieslowski’s process. (The comments are part of an audio commentary recorded in 2004). In French, with optional English subtitles. (25 min, 1080i).
- Zbigniew Preisner – a new interview with composer Zbigniew Preisner. This is a great counterpart to the interview given for The Double Life of Veronique. The interview was recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2011. In Polish, with optional English subtitles. (22 min, 1080p).
- Reflections on “Blue” – Mainly worth watching for cinematographer Slawomir Idziak’s recollections of working on the film. In English, not subtitled. (18 min, 1080i).
- Kieslowski: The Early Years – Once again, my main interest was in Slawomir Idziak. In English, not subtitled. (15 min, 1080i).
- Two Student Films – two student films. The Tram is directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski and the other stars Kieslowski. Neither one is that great.
- –The Tram (1966). B&W. Silent. (6 min, 1080p).
- –The Face (1966). B&W. Music only. With optional English subtitles. (7 min, 1080p).Overall scores
- Trailer – the original theatrical trailer for White. In Polish and French, with optional English subtitles. (2 min, 1080p).
- On White – a video essay by film critic Tony Rayns. I really enjoyed his perspective on the film and its place in Kieslowski’s canon.In English, not subtitled. (22 min, 1080p).
- Kieslowski’s Cinema Lesson – in this segment from 1994, the Polish director discusses the editing of the opening to White. These segments are invaluable to anybody who wants to make film. In Polish, with imposed French subtitles and optional English subtitles. (11 min, 1080i).
- Zamachowski and Delpy – in this new video interview, Zbigniew Zamachowski and Julie Delpy discuss working with Krzysztof Kieslowski on White. I enjoyed this segment. The interview was recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2011. In Polish and English, with optional English subtitles where necessary. (19 min, 1080p).
- Krzysztof Piesiewicz – in this new video interview, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, the trusted cowriter of Kieslowski’s films is interviewed. This was my favorite segment out of all the supplements. The discussions of their working relationship were incredible. WATCH THIS FEATURE. The interview was recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2011. In Polish, with optional English subtitles. (22 min, 1080p).
- The Making of “White” – in this behind-the-scenes featurette, director Krzysztof Kieslowski discusses the process of creating White. Worth watching. In Polish, with imposed French subtitles and optional English subtitles. (17 min, 1080i).
- Two Documentaries – two documentary films by Krzysztof Kieslowski. The first focuses on a group of ballerinas, the second asks people of various ages a few key questions. I have watched some of Kieslowski’s other documentaries on The Double Life of Veronique Blu-ray, but I think I enjoyed these a bit more. He had honed his craft a little but more. In Polish, with optional English subtitles.
- –Seven Women of Different Ages (1979). (17 min, 1080i).
- –Talking Heads (1980). (15 min, 1080i).
- Trailer – the original theatrical trailer for Red. In French, with optional English subtitles. (2 min, 1080p).
- On Red – a video essay written and narrated by film writer Dennis Lim. This was my favorite of the essays on the trilogy and a solid way to tie the trilogy in a bow. In English, not subtitled. (22 min, 1080p).
- Kieslowski’s Cinema Lesson – the least interesting of the cinema lessons. Still good to have. In Polish, with optional English subtitles. (9 min, 1080i).
- Irene Jacob – a very enjoyable interview with the beautiful actress from Red and The Double Life of Veronique. The interview was recorded exclusively for Criterion in 2011. In English, not subtitled. (17 min, 1080p).
- Marin Karmitz – a great interview with the producer of the trilogy. Definitely worthy of your time. The interview was recorded in 2001. In French, with optional English subtitles. (11 min, 1080i).
- Jacques Witta – a VERY interesting interview with the editor of Red and Blue. This is good stuff. The interview was recorded in 2001. In French, with optional English subtitles. (13 min, 1080i).
- Behind the Scenes of Red – raw footage from the shooting of Red. As this is raw footage, it is a bit dry. In French and English, with optional English subtitles where necessary. (24 min, 1080i).
- Kieslowski Cannes 1994 – a short documentary shot surrounding Red‘s premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. The documentary features interviews with actors Irene Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant and director Krzysztof Kieslowski. This is one of the must see features in this set, capturing the moment that Kieslowski announced his retirement from directing. In Polish and French, with optional English subtitles. (16 min, 1080i).
- Krzysztof Kieslowski: I am so-so… – A very revealing and intimate documentary based off of an extensive interview with Kieslowski. A great way to finish out the box set. Excellent. In Polish, with optional English subtitles. (56 min, 1080i).
- Booklet – an 80-page illustrated booklet
The Bottom Line
If you are new to Kieslowski, get off your ass and start watching his films. There is no better time than now and Criterion has released these films with a staggering amount of excellent supplements that are almost as rewarding as the films themselves. Any budding young filmmaker would be good to use these films as homework. There are so many ways of interpreting these films that I guarantee that they will be discussed in film classes for the next fifty years. I can not recommend this set highly enough. If I could give it over a 100% I absolutely would. This is a must own purchase and I would say that this is the Criterion box set to beat.
Note: If you want to check out. The films in the set before you purchase them, go ahead and watch them on Hulu Plus. All three films are available!