Three Colours: Red
d. Krzysztof Kieślowski /1994 / France/Poland/Switzerland / 99 mins
Three Colours: Red would prove to be Kieślowski’s last film and perhaps his most personal, certainly his masterpiece. Up until his death he had been working on a new trilogy, each film to be based around either Heaven, Purgatory or Hell. It’s certainly a tragedy for cinema goers everywhere that these films were never completed (at least not by Kieślowski) but it is doubtful that he would have been able to summarise the character of his films better than he does in Red.
Tarantino himself stated that Red should have won the Palme d’Or instead of Pulp Fiction when it premiered at Cannes. Red somehow blends the themes of loss and dependency evident in both Three Colours: Blue and Three Colours: White to create a story about unlikely companions, loves and the spirit of “fraternité”. The film returns to the more abstract film making style of Blue but does not do so to highlight the emotional state of one individual, but the issues that arise from the ethics and legality of communication that arise when those individuals interact. Kieślowski’s ability to tell his story through a multitude of perspectives whilst still maintaining such a warm and human tale through the life of the heroine (Iréne Jacob as Valentine) is nothing short of astonishing. His usual minute attention to detail and bold use of colours, mise-en-scene and sound contribute to what is the warmest film conceptually and visually of the trilogy.
An active audience is able to follow the web of social dramas unfolding around Valentine as they mover ever closer, building to a dramatic conclusion. In the centre of this web is a retired judge with little respect for the privacy of others, Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant). When Valentine returns a dog that she has inadvertently run over, she is horrified to learn he has been listening in on his neighbour’s phone calls, yet over time realises she cannot deny her fascination with either Kern nor the voices he listens to. The outlook appears bleak, the judge watches on as the lives around him begin to fall into disarray, unable (or unwilling) to intervene.
For all intensive purposes Valentine’s is the most ordinary life of Kieślowski’s heroes. Julie (Blue) is widow to a famous conductor and has access to a life of great luxury (although she chooses to spurn it) and Karol (White) leaps between the two extremes of social standing, from the streets to great success. Yet although Valentine is perhaps the most identifiable of the three, her life itself is a haze of surreal experiences, those close to her, a brother, boyfriend and mother are in reality as emotionally and geographically distant as can be. Her friendship with the judge is not only inexplicably unexpected, but also her most grounding experience.
The judge is an obvious comparison for Kieślowski, his odd behaviour brought forth by a fascination with human interaction and the lives of others, a man of great compassion. We are able to understand him better as the film goes on, our expectations of him and other characters are played upon through a clever use of parallel lives.
Not much should be said of the plot as it really should be experienced individually but what must surely be addressed in any review of Red (or the trilogy for that matter) is Kieślowski’s extreme generosity towards his characters. Hope is always afforded and not once are the simple archetypes of antagonist/protagonist employed to side the audience with or against a character. Every single one of the film’s inhabitants is a labour of love and is in possession of great depth. Throughout all three films, characters have the ability to surprise and actions that at first seem reprehensible are humanised through Kieślowski’s lens. His generosity is no more evident than within the conclusion of Red, yet still unashamedly unsentimental.
Red, White and Blue are lean films, they are the product of great consideration and even greater affection. I had the pleasure of watching them within a short space of time, making it clear how each showcases so differently what is undeniably, a phenomenal talent. I strongly recommend you do the same.