Three Colours: Blue
d. Krzysztof Kieślowski /1993 / France/Poland/Switzerland / 99 mins
Krzysztof Kieślowski co wrote and directed his Three Colours trilogy shortly after The Double Life of Véronique, his first film to be produced outside of his native Poland. Three Colours: Blue, Three Colours: White and Three Colours: Red would become a worthy successor to his other film series, The Decalogue and act as not only his final completed project but also be emblematic of his relationship with France.
Each film is modelled after one element of France’s national, revolutionary motto, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” or liberty, equality, fraternity. The films though, have a life of their own and have much more in common with greater European ideals than they do with those of one nation’s (Blue especially, chronicles in part, the production of a piece of music to represent unified Europe). Kieślowski would later remark that his decision to link the films under a trilogy of French motifs was based on the fact that it was French financing that funded the pictures. Although the themes present in the motto (Blue, being the first, a tale of emotional liberation) are explored in detail (as are the commandments in The Decalogue), if there was one theme that connected this sweeping trilogy it would be that of love, human connections and their ability to bring forth hope.
Three Colours: Blue stars Juliette Binoche as Julie de Courcy, survivor of a crash that sees her lose not only her husband, but also her young daughter. Julie withdraws from her life and retreats to Paris for a new existence of emotional distance, only emerging from her isolation to ensure the work of her husband (a great composer) is never heard. Bionche’s portrayal of bottled grief is (quite literally in some scenes) enough to take one’s breath away. Rarely do we see performances blend physical and emotional devotion with intelligence and restraint so well. Kieślowski may be at his most abstract in the way he uses colours and music to paint impressions of loss and yearning, yet he still manages to find a deep emotional connection with his characters. Many sequences take place in fantastically minute and perfectly lit reflections within eyes and screens, maintaining the tone of emotional distance with unprecedented intimacy.
As Julie’s bereavement leads her to retreat from those around her, her focus is pulled (as is the camera’s) to the minutiae of everyday life. These images are so perfectly shot and choreographed, that after watching the film, they reclaim their presence on the mind, as an assortment of disjointed memories. This is where the film manages to go beyond the themes of tragedy and embrace those of cinema itself. The editing is performed in such a way to cut individual moments short, leaving them suspended in time, punctuated by the music that drifts throughout the film. Much like Antonioni’s Blow Up, we are invited to use film as a medium to appreciate perspective and how its focus can be seen as allegorical. Julie has distanced herself considerably from the exterior world but through her, we see not only the obvious limitations but also the beauty of sight through a lens. One of the most memorable scenes is that of an elderly lady depositing bottles in a recycling bank. This image acts as a reference point for all three films but in the case of Blue, is used as just one example of the apparent liberation Julie’s detachment has allowed her. Many may accuse the film of pretension but there is nothing vulgarly intellectual about the film, its imagery being based in cutting to an emotional simplicity.
Each of the films end with great ambiguity in the face of adversity. Julie is left to weep openly for the first time but with her ability to connect to another human intact once again, we are allowed to feel hope for her. Critics and audiences have been undecided on which is Three Colours’ weakest and strongest element but it is Blue that deals with the tools of its medium with most proficiency and I would argue as well, that it is Blue that (although the most abstract) deals with the most base and powerful of human needs.