The Three Colours Trilogy Review
Krzysztof Kieslowski was not a director afraid to tackle major themes and weighty concepts. He had already completed Dekalog (1988), a series of 10 short films for Polish television based on the 10 Commandments, expanding two of these pieces into the films A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love, two of the most eloquent and deeply moving films ever made. Shortly before his death in 1996 he completed an equally thematically challenging trilogy of films for French producer Marin Karmitz, based appropriately on the ideals symbolised by the colours of the French flag – liberté, égalité, fraternité (freedom, equality and brotherhood).
For some who had already seen Kieslowski’s Polish films – although at that time few had been seen extensively in western Europe – the Three Colours Trilogy were regarded as a kind of “greatest hits” of his Polish films, revisiting many of the themes the director had explored in films such as No End, Blind Chance and of course, the Dekalog series – which similarly had characters from one film make walk-on appearances in others. But the three films are much more than a retread of old themes and much more than an accumulation of tricks and techniques. In The Three Colours Trilogy Krzysztof Kieslowski brought all his skills and experience to bear on a series of films that were more personal to himself and more accessible to viewers, while at the same time losing none of the intellectual rigour and attention to detail of his earlier work
Three Colours Blue
Three Colours Blue is the first film in the trilogy, taking 'freedom' as its theme. Unable to deal emotionally with the loss of her husband and her daughter in a car crash, and wishing to distance herself from the practicalities of the fact that her husband, a famous composer, has left a nation in mourning, Julie (Juliette Binoche) tries to deal with her bereavement by leaving everything and everyone in her life behind her, seeking the most absolute kind of freedom – freedom from the world around her and from the memories in her mind.
Blue is a complex film, by necessity entering into a mind that is trying to shut itself down, however it is also much more optimistic in outlook than it may first appear. External events, the necessity of relating to other people and her own internal creative urges, eventually bring Julie back into the world.
Three Colours White
In contrast to the reflective meditation of Blue, Three Colours White, with the theme of ‘equality’ is a much more light-hearted film, a quite funny black comedy that sets it apart from the other two films in the trilogy. Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is a Polish hairdresser who is thrown-out by his French wife Dominique (Julie Delpy). Divorced, homeless, penniless and humiliated he is left on the streets with a single suitcase. Returning by unlikely methods to his hometown in Poland, Karol is determined to get back on his feet and win back the wife he is still in love with.
In the documentary on the fourth disc in this set, I’m So-So, Kieslowski talks about his equanimity in dealing with the bad times in life – the world may be in crisis, but things will get better – it’s part of the cycle of life and in this as in death, which is also a theme of the film, all human beings are equal. That is the simple theme Kieslowski brings to White – the human capacity for resilience in the face of adversity embodied in the unlikely character of Karol Karol. It may not be the best film in the Three Colours Trilogy, but humour is an essential element in Kieslowski’s work and one of the characteristics the director wants to bring out of the overarching trilogy.
Three Colours Red
Although it appears to be the most accessible film in the trilogy, having few of the stylistic complexities of Blue, Three Colours Red dealing with the theme of ‘brotherhood’ or ‘friendship’, is actually the most difficult film in the trilogy to pin down. On the surface, it appears simple enough – Irène Jacob is Valentine, a model who, after her car accidentally hits a dog, strikes up an unlikely relationship with its owner, a retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Despite their differences, a friendship develops between them and they find they both have something to learn about life and people from each other. If we look deeper however, there are many other levels and meanings that can be drawn from the film, which is awash with Kieslowskian themes of fate, chance, and communication. The director exercises a sense of control of the characters and situations that goes beyond authorial influence into almost divine intervention and at times Red appears to overreach in its ambition. Certainly one of the director’s most personal films, Red is nonetheless a beautiful, warm and deeply humane film.
Krzysztof Kieslowski: I’m So-So
The fourth bonus disc in The Three Colours Trilogy set is an excellent, but short, 55 minute documentary by Krzysztof Wierbicki. Setting out at the start by getting the opinions of a graphologist, a clairvoyant, a physician, a psychotherapist, a policeman and a priest, the aim is to delve deep into the character of a rather private and complex individual. The best way to do this is from examining the Kieslowski’s films themselves and putting questions about them to the director. It does this by looking at some of the Kieslowski’s key films – Talking Heads, The Calm, Camera Buff, Blind Chance, The Decalogue and Three Colours Red. The interviews were made in May 1995 while Kieslowski was in retirement from film-making, shortly before his untimely death, at only 52 years of age, the following year. It’s an interesting documentary that in a small way shows the director’s concerns, personality, his ideas and thoughts, much as he resists speaking about personal events in his life.
All three films have been released previously by Artificial Eye and the same releases with the same extensive extra features are included in this collected set. The fourth disc containing the documentary Krzysztof Kieslowski: I’m So-So is released for the first time and is currently only available as part of the collected set.
Each of the films are presented anamorphically at 1.85:1 and are pretty much flawless as far as print quality is concerned, showing barely a mark, scratch or dust spot and very little grain. Each of the film’s has their own distinctive tone, generally colour-coded to match with the individual film’s title and subject matter - Blue with Slawomir Idziak’s stunning cinematography, looks the best of the three, - White looks a little light in places, but that could be intentional - Red looks a little too soft and red-tinted. Check the DVDTimes reviews for more details and screenshots of each individual film – Three Colours Blue, Three Colours White, Three Colours Red.
Only White retains the original Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack, Blue and Red are remixed to Dolby Digital 5.0, losing the sub-woofer channel. The remastered soundtracks remain faithful to the original stereo soundtrack, using the surrounds only occasionally and generally for the musical score. Special note should be made here of the exceptional scores composed for each film by regular Kieslowski collaborator, Zbigniew Preisner.
English subtitles are optional for all films and are available on all extra material.
In addition to the fourth disc in the set, each film comes with a strong selection of quality extra features. The Krzysztof Kieslowski Masterclass are the most fascinating – the director talking thought a short scene from each film, providing a unique insight into his working methods and techniques. These are an intriguing taster for what to look out for in the films. There are extensive Interviews with each of the lead actresses, with key film crew and producer Marin Karmitz. Making Of features are included for White and Red as well as footage from Red’s Presentation at Cannes. Each film also includes Soundtrack Excerpts and Theatrical trailers. Full details of the extra features are available on the individual reviews – Three Colours Blue, Three Colours White, Three Colours Red.
The Three Colours Trilogy is a strong and ambitious set of films from a brilliant, experienced director, aware of his capabilities, who had refined his techniques down to an astonishing level of precision. With a technical awareness of the effect every single shot would have on the viewer and a strong humanistic interest, Kieslowski created three exceptional films that operate on many different levels, have a deep personal connection to the director himself and his outlook on life, and represent the finest levels of human characteristics and values.