Saturday, August 28, 2010

Krzysztof Kieslowski's Trois Couleurs

Originally Written & Posted on 4/6/05 at

 Throughout the history of cinema, there have been films that been marketed into franchises but then, there are other films that were made into three-part stories. The most of famous of them had been blockbusters like Star Wars, The Matrix, and more recently, Lord of the Rings. Some directors chose to make their own trilogy like American cinema bad boy Gregg Araki and his teen angst trilogy of Totally F*cked Up, The Doom Generation, and Nowhere from 1993-1997 and Danish enfant terrible Lars von Trier has made a career with his own trilogies that ranges from subjects of European socialism, women, weird hospitals, and more recently, America. In 1993-1994, a Polish director not only created one of the greatest film trilogies ever made but it would become a fond farewell to his illustrious career. His name was Krzysztof Kieslowski and his trilogy was known as Trois Couleurs (Three Colors).

Kieslowski started out as a documentary filmmaker in the 1960s before seriously going into feature films. After getting a breakthrough in the 1980s with his Polish drama No End in 1984, Kieslowski embarked on ambitious projects that no international filmmaker would touch. In 1988, he created The Decalogue, a ten-part series of short films relating to the Ten Commandments and when it became successful, he became part of the international film elite. After Poland's break from communism, Kieslowski moved to France as he shot The Double Life of Veronique that was released in 1991 to great acclaim. Then, he embarked on another ambitious project that represented the three colors of the French flag. Blue for liberty, white for equality, and red for fraternity for its central themes of each part of the trilogy that he wrote with longtime writing partner Krzysztof Piesiewicz. There, Trois Couleurs was born as it stood to be one of the 90s greatest cinematic achievements as the director would later die in 1996 of heart failure.

The first of the three films starring Juliette Binoche in the leading role as Julie, Bleu (Blue) is a harrowing, dark psychological drama about a woman who is trying to liberate herself from everything from her life after the death of her husband and daughter in a car accident. The first theme for liberty that represents the color blue of the French flag, the movie is about human liberation in which Binoche gives an understated, complex performance as a woman trying not to connect with anything or anyone while trying to see if she can live life without memory, without pain, or without love. The film features some of Kieslowski's finest work as a director from its blurry subjective shots and sequences from Jacques Witta's fluid editing, Slawomir Idziak's evocative cinematography, and the haunting score of Zbigniew Priesner.

On the DVD supplements of Bleu, the film includes several features that are a must for any fan of the film or the entire trilogy itself. The feature documentary entitled Reflections On Bleu includes interviews with the film's cinematographer Slawomir Idziak and editor Jacques Witta along with film critic Geoff Andrews, Kieslowski historian Annette Insdorf, Kieslowski friend and collaborator Agnieska Holland, and Juliette Binoche. Each person discusses the brilliance of the film and what certain scenes mean to themselves. Binoche has a feature to herself about the making of the film and her memory of working with Kieslowski where she remembers attending his funeral where she nearly cries since some parts of the film would eerily reflect what would happen later on at his funeral.

Another documentary feature short is also featured on Kieslowski's early years in his life discussed by Andrews, Holland, Idziak, Insdorf, and Rouge actress Irene Jacob. Insdorf and Andrews discuss Kieslowski's childhood where he often moved along with his determination into joining a prestigious film school where Roman Polanski learned his craft as a filmmaker. Kieslowski stumbled into filmmaking accidentally early in his life till he went to that prestigious film school where by 1968, he became cynical towards politics and tried to explore the world of humanity through several of his documentary features and feature films later on where he gained friends and collaborators in Holland and Idziak. Insdorf also does an insightful, psychological feature-length commentary on the movie where she gives details on certain camera angles and shots sequences along with the in-depth study of its characters and their motivation. Insdorf provides a lot of views and ideas really help understand the film much easier while giving out some trivia on the film and Kieslowski's life while praising Binoche for her performance.

Other commentary comes on selected scenes where Binoche has her own commentary track on selected scenes entirely in French but with subtitles as she talks about the film and the scenes she liked. She also admitted that she was up for The Double Life of Veronique but turned it down almost regrettably only to see that Irene Jacob did a wonderful job. She almost turned Bleu down in favor of Jurassic Park because she wanted to work with Steven Spielberg. She also talks about certain inspirations for her character where she quoted lines of the book The Black Angel since it was one of the sources for her to play Julie. Editor Jacques Witta provides some nice, technical commentary on selected scenes in the film including how he came up with the fade-out shots and musical sequences with help from Kieslowski's notes. Witta gives ideas on how the film was edited and how Kieslowski worked since Witta wasn't used for Blanc because Kieslowski wanted a different editor so Witta could take a break and prepare for Rouge.

Producer Marin Kramitz is interviewed in the DVD about his relationship with Kieslowski and how the filmmaking process went while each film was presented in the scope of a year where Bleu premiered at the 1993 Venice Film Festival where it won several awards including the Best Actress prize for Binoche and the Golden Lion film prize for Kieslowski and Kramitz where though Kieslowski didn't speak French and Kramitz didn't know Polish, the two understood each through their ramblings while drinking whiskey. Kieslowski offers his first film lesson in a 1994 interview where he discusses a scene for Bleu about a timing sequence when Binoche's character puts a sugar cube on the coffee where it's soaked for nearly five seconds. Kieslowski discusses how he needed a certain brand of sugar cube for that scene since he didn't want to go to long or too short.

Also featured on the Bleu DVD is a short student film from Kieslowski back in 1967 called Concert of Wishes about a rag tag group of students camping in the country side as they try to go to a concert. Though its technical choices of sound, soundtracks, and black-and-white photography are impressive, the story is a bit simplistic but enjoyable since it's entertaining and thoughtful.

The second part of the trilogy, Blanc (White) starring Zbigniew Zamachowski and Julie Delpy is the more comical and probably the most accessible film of the trilogy. Set partially in Paris and mostly in Kieslowski's homeland of Warsaw, Poland, Blanc is about a man whose life has been destroyed by his ex-wife as he is humiliated and defeated to return back home to Warsaw where he plans a scheme of revenge against his French ex-wife. Set in the theme of equality, the film is partially a black comedy with a sense of irony and is filled with symbolic images and references that suggests a lot of the stranger things in life. Using a different cinematographer and editor for Blanc, Kieslowski delivers a different look and feel to Blanc as opposed to Bleu it remains connected in its trilogy thanks to Kieslowski's script with longtime collaborator Krzysztof Piesiewicz and composer Zbigniew Preisner who gives the film a plaintive, upbeat score than the melancholia of Bleu.

The DVD features in Blanc includes some of the similar features in Bleu which includes an intelligent audio commentary from Kieslowski historian Annette Insdorf who looks at the film's irony from the way it began and end along with a lot of the references and actors who have appeared in the previous work of Kieslowski. For the feature A Look at Blanc that included previous interviewees like Andrews, Insdorf, Holland, Witta, and Julie Delpy. They talked about the symbolism of the film along with its comparison of old Poland and the new Poland in circa-1993 where it had become a capitalist nation of sorts.

The discussion on Kieslowski's later work that included the 10-part segment The Decalogue and 1991's The Double Life of Veronique with Irene Jacob, many of the people interviewed in Kieslowski's life including his collaborators and friends along with Binoche, Jacob, cinematographers Slawomir Idziak and Piotr Jaxa and Kieslowski actor Phillippe Volter. They talked about Kieslowski's energy and work and how it nearly destroyed him in the end, even after he had announced his retirement. After his 1994 retirement, he and Piesiewicz were working on another trilogy on Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory for younger filmmakers to direct that never got finished when Kieslowski died in 1996. The 18-minute feature that discusses the working relationship of Kieslowski with his collaborators that includes all the interviewees plus sound mixer William Flageolett where Kieslowski often comes to his crew for their opinion on how the story should be told. Treating them as equals though he remains the director while they discuss how he works and plays with time, notably The Double Life of Veronique as they discussed the scene where Irene Jacob's title character meets her twin in one scene.

The conversation with Julie Delpy is a five-minute featurette where the actress talks about working with Kieslowski as a director, her approach to her own character and how she liked to get the story going. In her selected commentary scenes feature, she talked about some of the comedic aspects including a scene where she drove a car where in truth, she didn't knew how to drive a car while doing the entire commentary in French. Delpy also talks about her scene in the bedroom and the ending and the re-shooting where the actress gives some technical pointers on the scene. The cinema lesson Kieslowski offers is on two scenes, the film's opening scene that involved Zamachowski in the courtroom where a bird defecated on him and how Kieslowski wanted to see details for timing and everything and the scene where Zamachowski returns to Poland about the approach to comedy.

Producer Marin Kramitz's interview is on two things. One, he reads the production notes on how Kieslowski wanted White to be like and two, he reads a letter on Kieslowski's intentions for the film. The behind the scenes featurette on White shows Kieslowski discussing the film as a complex comedy of sorts along with scenes being made and the difficulties of shooting in the awful weather conditions in Warsaw. The three student films Kieslowski shows are all made in 1966. First is a simple love story called The Trolley about a man who tries to get on a trolley as he meets a young girl. The second is a thriller of sorts called The Face about a man who is haunted by a face he keeps seeing in his paintings. The third and most important is a documentary-like short called The Office about the problems of Poles trying to get jobs in its Communist regime. While The Trolley doesn't feature any sound, The Face works in its music but it's The Office that is the one to watch.

The third and final part of the trilogy, Rouge (Red) is a multi-layered film about a model/student in Geneva who meets a judge. Starring Irene Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant, the film revolves around the coincidences and chances people meet where Jacob's character of Valentine meets a cynical old judge after accidentally hitting her dog. Learning that he's been eavesdropping his neighbors, her behavior towards him gives him a sense of change in his behavior and a love that he hadn't felt in years. Based on the theme of fraternity, Rouge was nominated three Oscars including Best Director for Kieslowski, Original Screenplay for Kieslowski and Piesiewicz, and Cinematography for Piotr Sobocinski. By far Kieslowski's best work in script and directing along with its colorful cinematography, Jacques Witta's solid editing style, sound work, and Bolero-driven score of Zbigniew Preisner, Rouge is a brilliant, masterful film from Kieslowski as sadly, this would ultimately be his final film.

The DVD features that includes the same specifications like the previous parts along with filmography section on Kieslowski features less material than the previous two but enough to satisfy fans of the film and its trilogy. Annette Insdorf's insightful commentary on Rouge is wonderfully informative to Kieslowski's work but also the work of Jean-Louis Trintignant and Irene Jacob plus some of the abstract details about the film including the idea of the ending and one of its survivors. The featurette Insights Into Trois Couleurs-Rouge is near-30 minute feature about Rouge and the trilogy with interviews from Witta, Insdorf, Jacob, Flageolett, Jaxa, Holland, and critic Geoff Andrews. They talk about the film's theme and Kieslowski's approach to the film and how it almost paralleled to Kieslowski's own life and upcoming demise. The cinema lesson Kieslowski provide that was shot in late 1994 shows the scene of the dog Rita running into the church with Jacob chasing after her only to return to find Rita at the home of the judge. There, Kieslowski shows the idea of plot-point and what to show and what not to show in a scene.

Irene Jacob has two features for herself on Rouge where one is a conversation scene about Kieslowski. Jacob discusses how she wanted to work with Kieslowski after watching a segment from The Decalogue and got the part for 1991's The Double Life of Veronique despite her shyness. She talked about how she loved with working with Kieslowski so much that she signed on for Rouge even before it was ready to go into fruitions. She talked about working with Trintignant and his experience as an actor and her own interpretation of the film's ending that involved all the main characters of the trilogy. In her own selected commentary scenes, Jacob talks about a few scenes in the film during an interview in French. Jacob talks about where the name Valentine came from plus the final runway scene that took a few takes to do and scenes with Trintignant that she admitted were hard because she couldn't be compassionate and she had to be a bit confrontational. She also talks about the ending and her own view on what happens while admitting that Rouge is harsh film on indifference but it works and is proud of her performance no matter how difficult it was.

Producer Marin Kramitz discusses the film crew where Kieslowski wanted Jacques Witta as his editor and Sobocinski since he shot a segment of The Decalogue while they talked about the look of the film where they didn't build any sets and borrowed an old woman's apartment and the bowling scene and its importance. Kramitz also talked about the 1994 Cannes Film Festival where Rouge lost the Palme D'or to Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction though Tarantino felt Rouge should've won. They also talked about how Rouge lost out all the awards at the Cesars and how it almost didn’t get nominated for an Oscar because it was a Polish-Swiss-French film and the American press and filmmakers protested the Academy for not having Rouge to be recognized where the result was 3 Oscar nominations. Kieslowski and Kramitz were happy to be at the Oscars even though they didn't win but were excited to sit between Jodie Foster and Sylvester Stallone.

Editor Jacques Witta provides some technical pointers into the film, notably the role of being an editor where his job was to tell the director how the story should flow and to re-read all the material and with Kieslowski, it was easy because Kieslowski always asked him to see what could go wrong. Witta also discusses seven deleted scenes from the film that were cut due to pacing, notably a scene where Jean-Pierre Lorit's Auguste leaves his dog at a sign pole in anger. What wasn't shown that was a mystery for many, especially towards the ending is what Auguste does so a mystery is solved. Scenes that includes Valentine's brother reading about what happens in the end, a scene of another moment of synchronicity where Valentine Auguste are in the same frame but don't see each other and extended sequences that were cut because they weren't needed. Witta talks why Kieslowski chose to quit for good at the press conference for Rouge at the Cannes Film Festival because after seeing the film several time, Witta said that Kieslowski had nothing else to prove anymore and he was tired. Of all the films he's done, Rouge was the one he felt for the most.

The Behind the Scenes of Rouge featurette with Kieslowski is a 24-minute segment with several scenes of the theater scenes, in and out being rehearsed along with how the cameras entered the window where we first meet Valentine. There, the featurette shows how Kieslowski works with his actors while creating some great whether sequences including a scene during its final moments where Kieslowski holds a branch. The final featurette is a 15-minute piece of Rouge premiering at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival with interviews with Kieslowski, Irene Jacob, Zbigniew Preisner, and Jean-Louis Trintignant. Jacob, Preisner, and Trintignant talk about working with Kieslowski on the boats and restaurant while Jacob and Trintignant takes promotional pictures with Kieslowski as he is interviewed himself where they ask him about spirituality and all sorts of question. While there are clips of films cut with the featurette, the featurette also a clip of Kieslowski's infamous press conference where he announces his retirement.

The box set released in 2003, Trois Couleurs is a must-have for any fan of any of those films or Kieslowski himself. While one of the films could be a favorite for anyone, as a whole, Trois Couleurs is an outstanding set filled with great DVD features that any film student should have. It's a bit pricey and a bit hard to find but it's one box set that every fan of foreign films must own. With loads of interviews and features, this box set shows the brilliance of Trois Couleurs and its creator, Krzysztof Kieslowski.

Krzysztof Kieslowski Films: (The Scar) - (Camera Buff) - (Blind Chance) - (No End) - (A Short Film About Killing) - (A Short Film About Love) - (The Decalogue) - The Double Life of Veronique

(C) thevoid99 2010


Chris said...

I was taking a look to see if you'd written anything about The Decalogue, alas...

Love the Trois Couleurs trilogy, all three are great.

Trilogies...I quoted an interview in my Dancer in the Dark review why Lars von Trier makes trilogies, whether he is being truthful there or a prankster I couldn't say! :)

thevoid99 said...

This is definitely one of my favorite trilogies although I'm unsure if it's the best one I've seen.

The Decalogue is something I hope to do next year as I want to watch the rest of Kieslowski's films for a future Auteurs profile.