Three Colors: Red

Poster
1994
Krzysztof Kieślowski

9/10 (must sit through the mediocre “Blue” and worse “White” to fully appreciate)

With his “Three Colors” trilogy, Krzysztof Kieslowski took the medium of film and used it to create esoteric concept art. The three colors in question are those of the French flag — blue, white and red — and Kieslowski thus used each film as a platform to explore the French revolutionary ideals of freedom, equality and brotherhood.

In watching the trilogy in order, you might be put off by the ponderous first entry, “Blue,” starring Juliette Binoche as a woman taking the death of her family as an opportunity to set herself completely free from all of her worldly connections and obligations. It is a pretty movie but so slow and esoteric that it’s difficult to appreciate it above a cold, intellectual level. It has been interpreted as an “anti-tragedy” (I give it a 7/10).

If you’re like me, you’ll be further disappointed by the confounding “White,” which though beginning as a somewhat standard jilted-lover story turns into an unbelievable revenge tale, all in the name of “equality.” It doesn’t help that it fails in its attempt to be funny, being called the “anti-comedy” of the trilogy (5/10).

So I wasn’t very excited for “Red.” It was more of a completion task, taken up in much the same spirit as I eat a spinach salad. I could eat something a lot tastier, but it’s probably better in the long run to sit down to a blander meal for the time being. But I was very happily surprised by the resulting movie, the “anti-romance” of the trilogy. It was actually rather magnificent.

It’s a very loose narrative about a woman, Valentine (Irene Jacob), who runs over a dog and consequently gets involved with a retired judge with a penchant for eavesdropping. There is a long-distance lover involved and another couple, but the plot is pretty secondary to the fascinating moral, ethical, political and philosophical ponderings that take up a large part of the rest of the movie.

“Red” is anchored by the acting, the direction/script, and the cinematography, the latter which is simultaneously electric and fluid. I can’t help but feel that having Piotr Sobocinski handle the camera on the first two parts of the trilogy would have made them 100% better.

The way he glides through a scene, pulling the camera back and tracking it over seemingly-insignificant objects appears almost nonchalant. But every image displayed has a subtle importance which you alternately pick up on or miss, depending on how close you’re paying attention. The entire script is filled with these clues, not only references to the narrative but also to the rest of the trilogy. They make careful viewing a very rewarding experience.

The two lead actors, Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant (the judge), give impressively understated performances as a pair who probably would have fallen for each other had either of them skipped a generation. As it is, they share a platonic bond that never risks the audience’s comfort with an unreciprocated advance. Their chemistry makes the characters not only credible but compelling. Their roundabout debates are not only thought-provoking but poetic.

As “Blue” took an uncommon look at the idea of liberty and “White” positively twisted the concept of equality, it was interesting to see Kieslowski’s treatment of fraternity in this last chapter. The idea of helping those around you and solidarity are constantly toyed with, in the process often leading you to arrive at differing conclusions. It’s a fun ride with a wholly satisfying ending.

The relationship between the two principals is only the most obvious example. You also have Judge Kern’s relationship with his neighbors (one of surveillance), Valentine’s urge to divulge his misdeeds, and various other convoluted interactions between major and minor characters that leave you a week’s worth of thought-fodder. I haven’t fully processed it all, but at the same time this is one of the first movies in a long time that I am eager to re-watch.

If you have 4 hours to waste, you’d probably appreciate “Red” more by watching the other not-so-good installments in the trilogy beforehand. Hey, they’ve both received rave reviews, so maybe you’ll even like them.

If you’re just wanting to see what all the fuss is about in relation to this trilogy and only want to devote time to one of the films, make it “Red.” Not only is it a great watch, it’s unique and important filmmaking.

14 January 2011

Other Reviews for “Red”

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