Judge Clark Douglas plans to make a color-based film series of his own. He's currently in pre-production on Magenta.
Our review of Three Colors Trilogy, published December 14th, 2004, is also available.
A benchmark of contemporary cinema.
"I feel something important is happening around me. And it scares me."
Facts of the Case
Three Colors: Blue tells the story of Julie (Juliette Binoche, Summer Hours), the widow of an esteemed French composer. As Julie struggles to cope with her husband's death, she makes an attempt to rid herself of all the baggage of her former life and start over anew. However, that process proves more challenging (and less refreshing) than she anticipated.
Three Colors: White tells the story of a humble Polish hairdresser named Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski, The Pianist) who is framed for arson and divorced by his greedy, sexually frustrated wife Dominique (Julie Delpy, Before Sunset). Embittered by this turn of events yet still hopelessly in love, Karol begins plotting his elaborate revenge.
Three Colors: Red tells the story of fashion model Valentine (Irene Jacob, The Double Life of Veronique), who strikes up an unlikely relationship with a retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant, My Night at Maude's) after she accidentally runs over his dog. Their relationship is initially quite antagonistic, as Valentine is immensely bothered by the judge's illegal habit of eavesdropping on his neighbor's phone calls. However, the two eventually develop a close friendship, which takes them both to rather unexpected places.
Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors trilogy is comprised of three terrific films, all of which could be regarded as superb works on their own terms. However, they are collectively greater than any individual effort, as Kieslowski subtly weaves connective tissue and thematic ideas throughout the three films until they all collide together in dazzling, moving fashion during the saga's closing moments. The three colors are representative of the three colors of the French flag, which in turn embody the ideals of the French revolution: blue is liberty, white is equality, and red is fraternity. It's a neat idea, but it's also merely a clever gimmick the director uses to launch into another examination of the mysteries of humanity. This is very similar to the manner in which he used The Ten Commandments as a springboard for his ten-part masterwork The Decalogue. To be sure, these three films do offer respective explorations of liberty, equality, and fraternity, but of a considerably more intimate (and yet more universal) nature than the variations the French flag suggests.
Three Colors: Blue is the most somber of the three films, but also the most breathtakingly operatic. It's a film built on bruised emotions and is delivered in precise, intense strokes of overwhelming feeling (signified by bursts of color and music which drown out everything else). Juliette Binoche is immensely effective as a woman attempting to find freedom from her own grief and painful memories, but Kieslowski makes the atypically thoughtful observation that simply shutting out the past is its own kind of prison, while a more confining attempt to work with what you have can offer its own kind of liberation. Of the three films, Three Colors: Blue is closest in spirit to the director's aching, enigmatic The Double Life of Veronique in the way it relies far more on visual symbolism and searing music than more conventional forms of storytelling to get its message across. To be sure, the other two films also use symbolism and music to prominent effect, but the movies become increasingly comfortable with allowing the characters to openly discuss the themes of the series (and thus sharpening the focus on those themes) as the trilogy builds to its climax.
Three Colors: White proves a perfect change of pace after the elegant, emotionally exhausting first installment, as it delivers a playful dark comedy of sorts despite containing much of the grimmest, grittiest content of the trilogy. Kieslowski looks at the uglier side of the notion of "equality" in caustically funny fashion; delivering a present-day fable of sorts that reminds us that working towards equality can also mean one unhappy person working to ensure that another is equally unhappy. It feels like the slightest picture of the bunch, but that's certainly not an insult: this is a smart, nuanced flick reminiscent of top-shelf Coen Brothers. Additionally, it works particularly well when viewed as part of a marathon viewing of all three films, as it brings some welcome humor to the proceedings and explores ideas which take on greater significance in retrospect.
Finally, we have Three Colors: Red, which concludes both this trilogy and Kieslowski's career. Though the director was taken from us much earlier than expected, at least he was able to complete this magnificent film, which has the all the power and resonance one would expect from a great director's intentionally conclusive contribution to the medium. Three Colors: Red is the film which is going to define this trilogy for most viewers, as it heads into either thrillingly bold or exasperatingly contrived territory (I'm firmly in the former camp) with its go-for-broke final act. The tender relationship between Valentine and the judge (played with such sublime delicacy by Jacob and Trintignant) is handled in such involving and touching fashion; there's a profound thrill as they begin dealing with the unshakeable feeling that they're a small part of something much bigger. Kieslowski tantalizes us with the possibility of what may be responsible for the contrivances of the conclusion—God, fate, coincidence or maybe just an omniscient director—but never attempts to provide a conclusive answer. The thrill is that these things happened to these characters, and the eternal mystery of the reason remains for other storytellers to explore. Kieslowski was a director who possessed an uncommon degree of wisdom, thoughtfulness, curiosity and empathy, and his ability to successfully translate these aspects of himself to film only grew stronger as his brief yet tremendously fruitful career progressed.
Three Colors Trilogy (Blu-ray) grants each of these films a very attractive 1080p/1.85:1 transfer. The previous Miramax DVD box set offered a generous supply of supplemental material, but was rather lacking in the transfer department. Fortunately, everything looks terrific in hi-def. Three Colors: Red is the best-looking of the bunch, offering eye-popping color and sublime detail throughout. It's the most visually intoxicating film of the series and is the one which will really grab your attention. Three Colors: Blue comes a close second, though there's a slightly heavier measure of grain at times. Blacks are particularly rich and inky, which is a benefit considering the film's more overcast palette. Meanwhile, Three Colors: White is intentionally the most drab, "plain-looking" film of the bunch and looks considerably grainer than the other two. Even so, that has everything to do with Kieslowski's intent and nothing to do with Criterion's work on the film. In terms of color palettes, all three films rely very heavily on their respective title colors, which gives each of the films a unique visual vibe (the actual significance of the use of color beyond that is up for debate, which I'll touch on in just a moment). The films all receive excellent DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio tracks which offer clean dialogue and well-captured sound design. Zbigniew Preisner's music is definitely a dominant factor in all three films (particularly Three Colors: Blue), and thankfully is given precedence whenever it happens to appear. So many films allow music to suffocate at the hands of sound design, but that's certainly not the case in this trilogy.
As you might expect, this three-disc set comes jam-packed with bonus features—some old, some new. The best new supplements are the visual essays (running about 20 minutes each) that accompany the films. Annette Insdorf covers Three Colors: Blue, Tony Rayns tackles Three Covers: White, and Dennis Lim handles Three Colors: Red. All three are thoughtful and insightful, even though they contradict each other at times. Rayns suggests that Kieslowski used the colors of blue, white, and red so predominantly in the films as a sort of playful gesture, hoping that earnest cinephiles would scratch their heads in an attempt to discern The Meaning. Meanwhile, Lim proceeds to attempt to discern The Meaning, granting endless symbolic significance to the colors used in the films. Rayns' argument seems a little more persuasive since he seems to have taken it from actual statements Kieslowski made, but both make interesting points. Additionally, there are numerous new video interviews scattered across the three discs: you'll hear from composer Zbigniew Preisner (22 minutes), actors Zbigniew Zamachowski and Julie Delpy (19 minutes), cowriter Krzystof Piesiewicz (22 minutes), actress Irene Jacob (17 minutes), and editor Jaques Witta (13 minutes).
But wait, there's plenty of previously released supplemental material. You'll be treated to some classy making-of featurettes: "Kieslowski's Early Years" (15 minutes), "Reflections on Blue" (25 minutes), "The Making of White" (17 minutes), "Behind the Scenes of Red" (24 minutes) and "Kieslowski at Cannes" (15 minutes). You also get a student film by Kieslowski ("The Tram") and a different student film starring Kieslowski ("The Face"), two short documentary films from early in the director's career ("Seven Women of Different Ages" and "Talking Heads"), the 56-minute documentary "Krzystof Kieslowski: I am so-so…," an archival interview with producer Marin Karmitz, a scene-specific audio commentary with Juliette Binoche on Three Colors: Blue, two brief-but-fascinating "cinema lessons" from Kieslowski, trailers for all three films and a 80-page booklet featuring interviews with Kieslowski and assorted crew members plus essays by Colin MacCabe, Nick James, Stuart Klawans and Georgina Evans. Suffice it to say, there's plenty of great stuff to dig through.
Three Colors is one of the great cinematic achievements of the 20th Century, a series every serious movie buff needs to experience at some point. Thankfully, Criterion's new box set gives Kieslowski's grand endeavor the treatment it deserves. This is one of the year's finest Blu-ray releases.
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Scales of Justice, Three Colors: Red
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