An Appreciation – The Three Colors Trilogy
Of all three films, White best demonstrates a world that is still learning to find itself. It’s important to note that Poland (at this time) was only recently released from Communist rule, and as a result, we find a country that is still trying to stabilize. Organized crime and social uncertainty were common, and as Karol makes his way back home (by hilariously transporting himself inside of a suitcase), he uses these alleyways to his own benefit. Despite what we first learn of him, Karol is a slick operator who knows how to pull the right strings even while appearing weak and feeble. From working at his old salon, to being a bodyguard for some local wise guys, to eventually becoming a successful businessman, Karol climbs the economic ladder step by step to be a man of wealth and respect.
But the entire time he makes these strategic maneuvers toward a higher social status, his mind constantly returns to Dominique. It’s clear that Karol loves her, and his public humiliation for not having the ability to satisfy her cut him deeply. Was his determination to succeed all a part of a master plan to show her that he’s worth more than she thought? That may play a part, but it’s not the whole story. Sure, Karol develops a wicked design to get back at Dominique, to prove to her that he can please her (both economically and physically), and finally frame her for a crime she did not commit, just as she did to him. But their relationship is more complicated than that. This film would not have worked if Kieslowski had not included the closing scene. Those final moments Karol and Dominique share, with no dialogue and only a few bits of sign language, show us that the love they share may very well overcome their initial resentment. If this were a simple story of revenge, it would have fallen apart, but because they are now both “equals,” there appears to be a chance they can move forward together.
If Blue and White express their themes fairly clearly, Red challenges us to look beyond what is simply put on screen. It is the most curious of the trilogy, the most penetrating, asking questions it may not provide answers to. “Fraternity” is handled as “Friendship,” mainly between two people who have very little in common. The connection between the young French model Valentine (Irene Jacob) and the bitter old judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) spans beyond their gender and age difference. It is not about sex, although if they were the same age that may have been different. She is kind and generous; he locks himself at home—cynical over the kind of life he’s been given. When she accidentally hits his dog with her car and brings it to him, she is representative of the outside world trying to reach out and touch him. He refuses at first, content on listening in on his neighbors’ telephone calls and passing out his judgment as if he was still working. But her determination to understand this man, and his eventually release of personal and emotional barriers, play out as two souls coming into balance. Valentine has her own issues, as well, dealing with lovers and family members who live far away (the movie is set in Geneva). She is drawn to the judge because their lives are similar: their most personal interactions are through telephone calls.
And what of the parallel story, involving the young law student/newly turned judge Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit) and his lover Karin (Frederique Feder)? Auguste has his whole career ahead of him, and yet we focus on his failing relationship with Karin. One scene has him visiting her at her apartment, only to find her having sex with another man. He then sees her on a dinner date, but when she comes out of the restaurant to confront him, he disappears. Is August actually the young version of the bitter judge? Are we experiencing the events that shaped the judge into the hermit he has become? The assumption is reasonable, but Kieslowski is much more clever than that. Because we see these two different stories taking place in the lives of two very different people, there is a kind of cycle taking place. Resentment of the past can only lead to more darkness, and if Valentine was never able to connect with the judge, we can guess that the cycle would only continue on. Perhaps the judge senses this, and feels that Valentine is on that pathway as well. If her kindness and generosity is not returned from him, she could very well end up somewhere similar to the judge herself.
Each of the three films can stand on its own, and Kieslowski made it a point for them to have their own identity. He even used three separate cinematographers so that the look would be different in each. And yet, the true power of the trilogy can only be felt if they were watched together, in the correct order. Just like the characters inhabit different stories in the same world, the films are connected by some unspoken bond. Some characters even show up in other films (Julie makes a cameo appearance in White). This culminates in the final moments of Red, where all of the main characters we have seen end up surviving a ferry accident together. Why are they all here? Did they ever know each other? It doesn’t really matter; what’s important is that we (the audience) know who they are, where they come from, and what kind of desires and fears each of them have. This suggests that the random faces we walk by everyday have some special story just waiting (maybe even eagerly) to be shared. It’s as though Kieslowski is saying each and every life is special, and if we only take a moment to examine even one, we could find something beautiful.
It’s the humanity of the Three Colors Trilogy that makes it so lasting—its ability to care about these people as they struggle through the hardships of life. The connections and relationships between others is something that cannot be taken for granted, and Kieslowski expressed this in every frame of these films. Perhaps the most important character of all is the one we only see, but never hear from. The old woman who appears in all three films for only a scene, hunched over and struggling to put a bottle in a recycling bin. Notice the progression made each time her scene comes up. In Blue, Julie doesn’t notice her. In White, Karol sees her but doesn’t assist. And in Red, Valentine helps her put the bottle all the way into the container. We never learn the woman’s name, and for some strange reason she appears even though each story take place between Paris and Geneva. This person is a complete mystery. I’d like to think that the way we see this character is how Kieslowski saw the world.