4. trois couleurs (Krysztof Kieslowski, 1992/4/5)  

There is no doubt (and no point in arguing the case) that the Three Colours trilogy is an astonishing artistic achievement. Firmly in the tradition of contemplative, elliptical European film-making, much has been written by scholars (not all of whom are film scholars) about the way in which these three apparently unconnected stories of modern women and their complex relationships represent the ideological tenets of, respectively, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.  Outwardly, Three Colours have all the ingredients most filmgoers associate with European Cinema - verbosity, pretentiousness and insufferable longeurs. The critical response has merely reinforced this prejudice. But what particularly interests orsonwelles.co.uk is the way in which the Three Colours films blur the distinctions between the literary, "arthouse" world and the accessible, "middlebrow" film-making of the likes of Anthony Mingella's The English Patient (1995) and James Ivory's The Remains of the Day (1993). Whilst on its face, the Three Colours trilogy is demanding viewing (there are subtitles and a good deal of symbolism) they ought to be seen by anyone who likes nothing better in the movies than affairs of the heart.  Left:Juliette Binoche (Bleu)

Polish director Krysztof Kieslowski (right) had established himself as an arthouse favourite worldwide in the late 80s with the release of his Dekalog (1987) and in particular the western releases of two of its most notable instalments, A Short Film About Killing (1987) and A Short Film About Love (1988).

In the Three Colours films, he picks up on the theme of womanhood explored in La Double Vie de Veronique (1991) and places three separate women into films of three distinct tones, almost three distinct genres: Bleu is a romantic drama wherein a young widow liberates herself from the grief of her bereavement, Blanc is a black comedy in which a wife is confronted by her impotent husband who is desperate to prove her equal, and Rouge is a thriller wherein a young woman strikes up a fraternal relationship with a retired judge who spies on his neighbours.

Colour of course, and music (the sumptuous scores by Zbigniew Preisner) play an enormous part and if not characters in themselves (certainly Bleu plays like a piece of music in itself, apparently written side by side with its score) provide a powerful backdrop to the emotional cadences of the characters. But whilst technique of this kind is fascinating for film students and buffs, Kieslowski's films live through the cohesion and maturity of their scripts, not the virtuosity of the director. These are not actually films for critics. If avid readers of Mills and Boon novels could be persuaded to watch Three Colours they would almost certainly respond, because notwithstanding cinematic artifice, raw human emotions, on condition that their treatment at script level is exactly right, can be the most powerful weapons in a film-maker's armoury (think of Chaplin's The Kid or Mike Leigh's Secrets and Lies).

Unlike other trilogies or portmanteau films, where there is a general consensus about the best chapter, it is more likely that your favourite film says a lot about the viewer and the type of story to which he/she most relates, rather than the merit of the film as against the other two (it may, for some, be which of Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy and Irene Jacob you prefer gazing at for 90 minutes). Having said that, Blanc is a film apart from the others, because colour plays no part and the principal character is a man (Karol, played with great gusto and originality by Polish actor Zbigniew Zamachoski), and some may feel this detracts from the cohesion of the trilogy. Left: Frederique Feder and Irene Jacob (Rouge)

But the message must be that romantic films do not need the comfort zone of Hollywood production design or BBC period costumes to reach out and touch an audience. Far more rewarding than a classic novel unoriginally "brought to life" is an original story infused with human truth. Right: Julie Delpy (Blanc) 

In Bleu, Juliette Binoche searches for an escape from her grief and gradually, hesitantly, finds it in an unexpected place. In Rouge, Jean-Louis Trintignant becomes friends with Irene Jacob despite there being apparently no earthly reason why they should. What is being played out is indeed Liberty, Equality and Fraternity but translated into purely human, individualistic struggles, not political ideals, so in many respects the apparent pomposity of the project is misleading. The film closest to the overall impact of the trilogy is David Lean and Noel Coward's Brief Encounter (1946), another classic human drama that may invite, but ultimately defies, traditional critical analysis.  

Trois Couleurs: Bleu 100 minutes  Director Krysztof Kieslowski  Writers Agnieszka Holland  Krysztof Kieslowski  Actors Juliette Binoche  Benoit Regent  Florence Pernel  Charlotte Very  Photography Slawomir Idziak  Score Zbigniew Preisner

Trois Couleurs: Blanc 91 minutes  Director Krysztof Kieslowski  Writers Krysztof Kieslowski  Krysztof Piesiewicz  Actors Julie Delpy  Zbigniew Zamachoski  Janusz Gajos  Jerzy Stuhr  Photography Edward Klosinski  Score Zbigniew Preisner

Trois Couleurs: Rouge 100 minutes  Director Krysztof Kieslowski  Writers Krysztof Kieslowski  Krysztof Piesiewicz  Actors Irene Jacob  Jean-Louis Trintignant  Frederique Feder  Samuel Le Bihan  Photography Piotr Sobocinski  Score Zbigniew Preisner

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