Three Colours Blue Review

Noel Megahey has reviewed the UK Region 2 release of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours Blue. The first of a trilogy of outstanding films, each with an impressive collection of extras.

After the success of several of his Polish films at Cannes (Blind Chance, A Short Film About Killing), Krzysztof Kieslowski was wooed by a number of French producers. By the time Marin Karmitz signed Kieslowski up to make the Three Colours Trilogy, he had already established a team and a method in the French/Polish co-production, the haunting and lyrical La Double Vie de Véronique (1991), that he would bring to the first film in the trilogy, Three Colours Blue. The director took the French revolutionary ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité (freedom, equality and brotherhood) as a framework for a trilogy of films that would be named after the colours of the French flag. While the concept may sound intimidating, Kieslowski chose to examine these ideals through small-scale individual situations, thereby illuminating and commenting on universal themes in a fashion typical of the director of the Dekalog series.

Three Colours Blue was the first film in the trilogy, taking ‘freedom’ as its theme. Faced with the loss of her husband, a famous composer, and her daughter in a car crash, Julie (Juliette Binoche) tries to deal with her loss by leaving everything and everyone in her life behind her and disappears. Seeking absolute liberté from her previous life, she finds an apartment in Paris to start anew. The character played by Binoche is a complex one, trying to contain any demonstration of emotion or feeling and avoiding emotional involvement with people she meets, but she is unable to escape herself or her creativity, which breaks through her froideur in bursts of sorrowful music. She only achieves her personal freedom when she stops resisting who she is and lets her life begin again.

There are a number of parallels with earlier Kieslowski films, particularly La Double Vie de Véronique, with its strong musical score by Zbigniew Preisner that helps define a complex main character in a way that pure exposition alone could never achieve. Also working on that film were editor Jacques Witta and director of photography Slawomir Idziak (who also photographed A Short Film About Killing) and the use of filters and beautiful composition give this film a visual presence and character that is appropriate for this film and sets it apart from the others in the trilogy. The film is however more closely related to Kieslowski’s 1984 film No End, where Ulla (Grazyna Szapolowski), also tries to come to terms with her sexuality and expression of her own freedom after the death of her lawyer husband in Poland under Martial Law. That film also carries much of the mood and darkness re-created in Blue, although tellingly, the director’s outlook is more optimistic here than in his Polish film.

It’s easy to underrate Blue because it is somewhat eclipsed by the much more accessible films that follow it in the trilogy. Watching it again after a number of years, I was surprised that it was a much better film than I remembered. The overall impression that remained with me was that it was a cold, bleak and rather downbeat film – an impression enforced by the lugubrious soundtrack that lingers in the mind, but Blue actually ends on a very optimistic and hopeful, if rather reflective note. There is a lot to absorb in Blue and its style by necessity alienates the viewer in many ways, but it’s a film of great depth and meaning that stands as one of the most accomplished films made by Kieslowski.

PictureArtificial Eye have been able to get the DVD masters of the film from MK2, the French company owned by Marin Karmitz, the producer of the Three Colours Trilogy, so the print is of a superb quality, as would be expected. Blue is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic and looks perhaps better than the other films in the trilogy, which is good news because it has the most beautiful and carefully framed photography of all three films. There are practically no marks on the print whatsoever, colours are faithfully represented and there is only a little grain visible at times. The menus are the standard MK2 menus rather than standard Artificial Eye menus, and are clear and functional and accompanied by the beautiful music from the film.

SoundAlthough the case states that the film has a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, it is in fact 5.0, losing the sub-woofer channel, which is hardly required for the film in any case. The remastered soundtrack remains faithful to the original stereo soundtrack, using the surrounds mainly for the musical score which punctuates scenes at intervals throughout the film to great effect.

ExtrasWhile there are no traditional commentary (Kieslowski died in 1996) or Making Of features on the disk, MK2 have nevertheless provided Artificial Eye with an impressive and worthwhile set of extras for this DVD release.

TrailersThere are three trailers – one each for Blue, White and Red. These are presented non-anamorphically at 1.85:1.

Extracts from the Original SoundtrackThree pieces of medium length from Zbigniew Preisner’s superb score, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0. This is a particularly welcome extra as we tend only to hear snatches of the soundtrack throughout the film.

InterviewsThe interviews with Juliette Binoche, Jacques Witta (editor) and Marin Karmitz (producer) are all of substantial length and are genuinely interesting – full of anecdotes about Kieslowski and insights into his working methods. The interviews are divided into chapters, which I found useful, although a continuous play option would have been nice. The Binoche and Witta interviews also double as a mini commentary on key scenes from the film. Curiously, I noticed a better picture quality on the Binoche commentary, clearly showing less grain than the main feature.

Krzysztof Kieslowski MasterclassThis extra comes in the form of short 7.30 minute feature, where the director takes us through a single scene from the film. With an in-depth analysis of one simple scene of a sugar cube soaking up coffee, Kieslowski brilliantly manages to illuminate the whole film. This is absolutely superb. The knowledge of his craft and the ability to convey his ideas as a director are clearly evident in this feature.

OverallThree Colours Blue is a film of great beauty – in image, in coherence of concept and in brilliance of execution. It is the work of a true and undisputed master of the cinema.


Updated: Nov 12, 2001

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