Three Colours: White
d. Krzysztof Kieślowski /1994 / Poland/France/Switzerland / 88 mins
(note: these films were reviewed in chronological order, you may wish to read them as such, from Blue to White and finally, Red)
Whilst Three Colours: Blue was released in time for the Venice film festival, Three Colours: White premiered at its Berlin counterpart, a fitting schedule considering how the films acted as an expression of collective modern European identity. Continuing a more international theme, White was filmed almost entirely in Polish by Kieślowski and enabled him to make the primary location of the second in his trilogy, that of his homeland.
As with Blue, White opens with a death of sorts, though less literal. Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) has been spurned and divorced by his beautiful, young wife for not being able to satisfy her sexually. He is downtrodden by her callous behaviour and spends the remainder of the film orchestrating his revenge whilst maintaining his infatuation with her. The to and fro of their relationship, alongside Karol’s attempt to reverse his luck can be seen as fulfilling the second revolutionary ideal, “égalité” or equality.
If any of the three films were to be considered even remotely political then it would certainly be White. Kieślowski depicts an utterly unsentimental portrait of Poland’s tundra in the film’s omnipresent sheen of brilliant white. Kieślowski obviously holds much affection for his native country and one can’t help feeling that Karol’s financial struggles in France coupled with his tenacious attitude is intended to mirror Poland’s economical position in Europe.
Ironically for a film named White, it stands apart from both Blue and Three Colours: Red due to a heavy streak of black humour. Zamachowski’s Karol is modelled after Chaplin’s Tramp and the audience is allowed the respite of absurdity whilst watching the tragedy of his situation unfold. His clumsy, inept behaviour is overshadowed by his well meaning demeanour and as he begins to build his empire in the seedy underbelly of back-alley Poland, his intended revenge on his would be lover (Julie Delpy as Dominique Vidal) appears more motivated by concepts of justice (and for that matter, equality) than spite.
White is the most traditionally filmed and edited piece in Kieślowski’s trilogy and at the same time (although readily-accessible to an audience) possibly the weakest. That is not to say that the film is not provocative, the ambivalent end in particular (modelled after Blue’s) leaves an audience to ponder the nature of Karol and Dominique’s actions and what destiny has in store for them. As with Blue, hope lies on the horizon, in the form of a relationship rekindled and in some respects, justice served.
Although White could be considered the lesser of the three films, Zamachowski gives arguably the most difficult and nuanced performance of all three leads. His depiction of childish innocence and pathos is tempered by an undercurrent of extreme frustration that is a joy to watch in the film’s more confrontational scenes. It is a shame then, that the publicity for all three films focuses on images of Vidal (who admittedly, also gives a strong performance). Likewise, Karol himself is dominated by the image of the perfect feminine in through symbology that runs through all three films. In each part of the trilogy there is an artefact that denotes the hero’s refusal to let go of the past. In Blue it is a lamp decoration, in Red a fountain pen and in White, Karol clings to the perfectly white bust of a woman’s head, even once cracks have begun to appear. It is the image of the three female leads that are used to publicise the Three Colours trilogy more often than not, which seems to diminish somewhat the intimate nature with which the film’s focus specifically on three human beings’ experiences. Perhaps it suits Karol’s nature to take second billing to Dominique in the name of visual cohesion and uniformity throughout the three films, because the face of a beautiful woman can not only be used to capture a heart, but also, sell tickets.