Liberty. Equality. Fraternity.
They may be three ideals rooted in French political history, but in Krzystof Kieslowski’s seminal Three Colours trilogy, they couldn’t have been more removed from their theoretical conventions.
Like the wires depicted in the stunning opening to Red, the trilogy starts as three separate wires, independent, unique lives that converge over a single event in the last act. They’re from different walks of life – wealthy composers, hairdressers, models, judges – but something brings them together, the common pursuit for these virtues that will free them from the various forms of grief that plague their lives.
Julie is isolated, trapped in the solitary world she is trying to create unsuccessfully, but still removed enough from the world that she does not notice a woman struggling to put a bottle in a bin, grappling with her own freedom. The blue light that saturates the whole film doesn’t just create a melancholic atmosphere through a simple tone, it creates an unshakable blanket that clings to Julie, allowing her to never escape the past.
Karol is downtrodden, cast aside by the justice system and incredibly down on his luck. He is almost invisible, wearing a suit that camouflages with concrete, leading him to be treated like the rough, uninteresting ground that pigeons poo on. He doesn’t help an old man put a bottle into a recycling bin, continuing the cycle of inequality. Of course, there’s only so much of busking out of a suitcase in a train station, blending into the tiles one can take, and before long Karol has taken his bad luck and turned it around, only to use it to dispense inequality onto others.
White brings memories of both happiness and humiliation in Karol’s life, but regardless, it represents cruel reminders of his demise – the poo that runs down his shoulder, dropped out of the sky without warning represents a harsh reminder of what his life has become; like his memories of his wedding to Dominique, the joyful scenes including a snow white dress serving as a slap in the face, reminding him of his current situation and how far removed it is from the fairytale, dream like sequence.
Valentine and Kern both long for emotional connection to living things. They too have been discarded by the ones they love – Valentine trapped by a boyfriend that doesn’t match her passion but yet will not let her go, and Kern experiencing a tragedy. They satisfy their emptiness in different, but hesitant ways – Valentine through kindness and clutching at the strings of a relationship, while Kern anonymously inserts himself into others’. In any other film, they would satisfy their want for kinship through a romantic relationship with each other, teased through punctuating each film with the colour of passion, red. But this is not the kind of fraternity that Kieslowski strives for, instead he exhibits a life-changing, affirming friendship that offers companionship.
While Blue is the most traditionally dramatic, Red has a unique, more elaborate quality to it, much more so than the others. Arguably the most explicitly modern of the three films, bringing things full circle and looking to the future, Red serves as a fitting end to his career, fluidly typing up the ends of the wires laid out throughout the trilogy, creating the sense that the films had been working to the specific moment where the bottle finally gets thrown into the bin, and (later) where three stories collide, the entire time.
Taking three political ideals out of their usual setting, removing any possible jargon and alienation from what is occurring on screen, Kieslowski creates a trilogy that examines the human condition in three very different but resonant ways, in the near past (Blue), the present (White), and the near future (Red). Leaving such a lasting influence on the landscape, Kieslowski’s final three films are a must for any cinephile.
Trilogy rating: 4.5/5