An Analysis – Kieslowski, The Past and 3D

Blue Movie PosterI recently watched Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours: Blue (1993), the first film in his Three Colours trilogy. His style felt like something I’d never seen before: it struck me as daringly paced and elegantly shot with a confident manipulation of color that didn’t feel forced.

But suddenly, at the start of a sequence in which Julie (Juliette Binoche) drags her clenched fist against a rough stone wall, I realized I had already seen it. I’ve been haunted by that shot for years, but have always been unsure where it came from. I knew I had been half-watching something when I was much younger, but questioning the people I was watching it with provided no answers: the sequence immediately came to their minds too, but the film’s title remained unknown. It was quite a thrilling experience: to rediscover something I thought was long lost, to be suddenly connected very immediately with the (relatively) distant past. In a moment, the film and the experience of watching it changed.

After this latest viewing, the moment is joined by another in my head. In a short sequence, Julie is alone, gazing at a light fixture made of countless pieces of blue glass. She rests in a close shot to the left of this blue mass and dimples of blue light shimmer on her face. After a pause, she walks towards frame right, behind the light. Her face is now fragmented: separated and atomized by chunks of blue glass. The film cuts after a moment: the camera moves to a set-up perpendicular to the original position. Julie and the blue glass are suddenly disentangled: in a slightly tighter frame, she is, once again, to the left of the light.

For some reason, the interaction between Julie’s face and the glass made me think about 3D. The effect of fragmentation comes about, in part, because we’re watching shapes interact on a two-dimensional surface. The fleshy colored oval really is broken into pieces, studded by variously shaped and sized areas of blue. Of course, we are also aware of the spatial relationship that existed between the objects as they were filmed, that this particular oval is a human head and that it’s connected to a woman who stands behind a light. The result is a tension between what we actually see and what we understand is being depicted.

Blue 1

I think I mean something similar to what Tom Lubbock says when he suggests, “Painting remakes its world from scratch.” Though it sounds obvious, the product of artistic creation is not the same as the reality that inspired it. This suggestion is as true for photography as it is for painting. While reviewing a pair of the late art critic’s books, Julian Bell develops the sentiment: “The stuff of painting is not like the stuff of that other 3D world, even when painting pretends to be realistic.” I suppose we can rephrase, saying that the stuff of film is not like the stuff of that other 3D world, even when film appears to be realistic.

So, though I’m not sure the Three Colours trilogy is high up on any production companies’ lists for a 3D rerelease, let’s wonder for a moment what the effect would be if this sequence appeared in three dimensions. Rendered in 3D, the stuff of Blue moves closer to the stuff of that other 3D world, the set constructed to tell the story. We would see—through plastic glasses—a woman walking behind a light, and she would remain behind that light until the film cut. If the spatial relationships are actually played out before us, at the expense of the play of shapes on a single plane, then the sense of atomization is weakened. What means of cinematic expression are lost, if we add another dimension?


When he isn't busy writing about film, for his own blog as well as for the MacGuffin, Mark is currently studying English literature at Oxford University.

You can reach Mark via email, he doesn't have time for Twitter.

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