By Marty Mulrooney
The Three Colours Trilogy is the collective title of three multi award-winning films – two made in French, one made primarily in Polish – directed by Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski. Available for the first time in the UK on Blu-ray, the films – co-written by Kieślowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz – explore the French Revolutionary ideals of freedom (Bleu), equality (Blanc) and brotherhood (Rouge).
Three Colours: Blue (1993)
Three Colours: Blue (Trois Couleurs: Bleu) is the first film of the trilogy. It tells the story of Julie (Juliette Binoche), whose husband – famous composer Patrice de Courcy – and daughter are killed in a tragic car accident. The subject of the film is liberty (liberté) and Three Colours: Blue has been interpreted by many as an anti-tragedy.
After a failed suicide attempt, Julie seeks emotional liberty from all the ties she has left in her life. After attempting to numb the pain of her unspeakable loss by sleeping with friend and composer Olivier (Benoît Régent) – which predictably doesn’t help – she abandons her family home and moves to a small apartment in Paris without telling anyone where she is going.
Although she does manage to cut herself off from life and emotion with limited success, she is soon drawn irrevocably back towards the bonds she once knew, in part due to her inherent compassion and undeniable longing for human connection. What’s more, it is strongly hinted at that her husband’s compositions where not entirely his own – Julie is secretly a musical genius and snatches of her incredible music bleed to the fore throughout the film, haunting both her and the viewer.
Juliette Binoche is stunning as Julie, a beautiful woman dealing with an unspeakable sense of loss by quickly tearing herself down and slowly building herself back up again. No matter how hard she tries to become cold and detached, she always ends up embracing the warmer side of human nature – one such moment sees her offering moral support to her neighbour, an exotic dancer, who everyone else has turned their backs on. Even when she finds out her husband had a mistress, she fully explores the situation and deals with it in a compassionate, human manner.
Three Colours: Blue isn’t always an easy watch, but despite the depressing subject matter it remains an uplifting, ultimately hopeful film. Beautifully filmed and featuring a stunning central performance by Juliette Binoche, this is a contemplative experience, music to the ears and a feast for the eyes.
9 OUT OF 10
Three Colours: White (1994)
The Colours White (Trois Couleurs: Blanc) is the second film of the trilogy. It tells the story of Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), a quiet Polish man who loses everything when his French wife spectacularly and embarrassingly leaves him in a Paris divorce court, on the grounds that he was unable to consummate their marriage. Dominique (Julie Delpy) is shown to be an unbridled and cruel bitch, destroying Karol to such an extent that he ends up as a street beggar, on the run from the police. A successful hairdresser back home, he is now reduced to making music with a comb for loose change – although this series of events is cruel, the irony is wonderful.
If Three Colours: Blue was an anti-tragedy, Three Colours: White is an anti-comedy. Indeed, although there are moments of dark comedy throughout, the plot itself comes almost entirely out of left field – this is actually a story of revenge. After returning to Poland in a suitcase with the help of fellow Pole and newfound friend Mikołaj (played with warmth and charm by Janusz Gajos), Karol seems to come alive with renewed vigour.
The subject of the film is equality (égalité) and, via an ingenious harebrained scheme, he manages to become wealthier than he could ever have imagined in his wildest dreams. Yet the money doesn’t matter – Karol’s unsettling mental derangement is hinted at more than once. All he cares about is making things even – achieving equality with his venomous ex-wife whatever the cost.
After the hard-hitting tragedy of the previous film, Three Colours: White can seem a little bit pale by compassion. The story isn’t quite as compelling – the friendship between Karol and Mikołaj is actually far more interesting than the drama that unfolds between Karol and his ex-wife. A subplot dealing with a man who wants Karol to end his life steals the entire film with a heart-stopping moment that sears through the heart and soul. The weakest film of The Three Colours Trilogy is still a great film with an ending that offers plenty of food for thought.
8 OUT OF 10
Three Colours: Red (1994)
Three Colours: Red (Trois Couleurs: Rouge) is the third and final film of the trilogy. It tells the story of Valentine Dusot (Irene Jacob), a university student and part-time model. When Valentine accidentally runs over a German Shepherd, she tracks down the dog’s owner, a reclusive retired judge by the name of Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant).
Joseph seems indifferent to Valentine’s arrival, telling her to take the dog home, which she does. When the dog (named Rita) later runs away back to its original owner, Valentine returns to the judge’s house to discover that he is eavesdropping on his neighbours’ phone calls. Although she tells him that she is disgusted by his behaviour – and means it – the pair begin to slowly build a friendship throughout the course of the film that is unexpected and unusual, yet always feels strangely right.
Described as an anti-romance, the subject of the film is brotherhood (fraternity) and the relationship between Valentine and Joseph reflects this notion – there is a powerful connection between them that makes their age gap a true tragedy. If only the judge had been born forty years later, or vice versa. Instead, one cradles a broken heart, the other, a needy and controlling boyfriend who only communicates via telephone.
Running parallel to the story of Valentine and the judge – and entirely unbeknownst to them – we are shown the story of a young man named Auguste Bruner (Jean-Pierre Lorit) who is training to be a judge whilst loving blindly in a relationship doomed to failure. These moments initially seem incidental, but gradually they integrate into the main plot and begin to raise big questions regarding true love, fate and second chances.
Irene Jacob is memorising as Valentine and her acting opposite Jean-Louis Trintignant as the judge is a masterclass in heartfelt, natural character acting. Juliette Binoche’s turn in Three Colours: Blue would be hard to beat, but Jacob certainly equals her performance, even if their characters are at total opposite ends of the spectrum. Zbigniew Preisner composed the musical scores for all three films, but it is with the soundtrack for Three Colours: Red that he truly soars. The end credits music, when combined with the haunting and iconic final image of Valentine – echoing an earlier image she shot for a huge bubblegum advert – creates a truly unforgettable moment. All three films work well as standalone motion pictures, but together they are incredible. How fitting that the trilogy ends with a masterpiece.
10 OUT OF 10
The Three Colours Trilogy on Blu-ray is an Artificial Eye release. The picture quality is incredible (16:9 1080p), high definition giving these visually stunning films the visual treatment they deserve. Each film also enjoys DTS Master Audio 5.1, allowing Zbigniew Preisner’s musical scores to be enjoyed at their very best. With a wealth of special features also included, this boxset comes highly recommended. European cinema at its finest.
10 OUT OF 10