Saturday, February 08, 2014

Three Colors: Blue

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski and written by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Trois Couleurs: Bleu (Three Colors: Blue) is the first of a trilogy of films based on the symbols of three colors of the French flag. The first film explores the theme of liberty where a woman loses her husband and child in a car accident as she detaches herself from her past and everything else in her life while discovering about the other life of her composer husband. Starring Juliette Binoche, Benoit Regent, Helene Vincent, Florence Pernel, Charlotte Very, and Emmanuelle Riva. Trois Couleurs: Bleu is an evocative yet ravishing film from Krzysztof Kieslowski.

The film is about a woman dealing with grief and the loss she endured in a tragic accident where she decides to cut herself out of that life and into a new one on her own and away from her past. Yet, the journey would prove to be far more difficult as the grief that Julie (Juliette Binoche) carries as well as the presence of her friend Olivier (Benoit Regent) would make things difficult for her to move on since he wants to finish a musical composition her husband had been working on. Adding to that troubled journey is the news that her composer husband had an affair with another woman in Sandrine (Florence Pernel) who carries something that would complicate everything that Julie is trying to run away from. Since the film’s theme is about liberty, it is about a woman liberating herself from her past as she has the money and will to do that. Yet, there’s some things that people couldn’t detach themselves.

The film’s screenplay by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz not only explores that idea of detachment and isolation but also Julie’s struggles to be alone and not connect with other people including Olivier who had always pined for her. The people that Julie would meet such as an exotic dancer named Lucille (Charlotte Very) as well as Olivier eventually as he asks for her help. There’s also her mother (Emmanuelle Riva) that Julie goes to despite the fact that her mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. The presence of Sandrine would complicate things as it would force Julie to either walk away or to confront the past as well as the death of her family.

Kieslowski’s direction is very entrancing in not just the images he conveys but also the attention to detail in the little things that he presents whether it’s a blue candy wrapper or bruises on Julie’s hand after she had dragged against a stone wall. It’s among the many aspects of the film that adds to the splendor of Kieslowski’s vision as well as using blue as a visual motif where sparks of it would be crucial to the film’s story as well as Julie’s own exploration of her grief and detachment from the world. In many respects, the film has Kieslowski not just play with the idea of tragedy but also turn into something more as the film’s third act would have crucial elements that would play into Julie’s own return to the world as she would find a sense of true liberation.

Much of the compositions Kieslowski creates are very intimate in its close-ups and medium shots while not going for some wide shots except in certain scenes. Most notably one sequence where it would link Julie’s story with two other characters in the next film of the trilogy. Most of the camera-work is controlled with some tracking shots and some hand-held work but Kieslowski keeps the camera intact towards Julie’s surroundings and the world she’s in. Especially where the camera becomes much tighter to play into the decisions she would make for herself and the people who had been affected by the loss of her husband and child. The framing becomes much more evident as the film progresses where it does loosen up a bit but still hovers over everything that Julie is trying to go through in her grief. Overall, Kieslowski creates a very evocative yet haunting film about grief and isolation.

Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak does phenomenal work with the film‘s gorgeous photography with its use of blue in some of the shots such as the chandelier and swimming pool as well as much of the coloring in some of the film‘s exterior settings along with some unique lighting for some of the film‘s interior scenes. Editor Jacques Witta does excellent work with the editing in terms of not emphasizing too much on style while creating some effective rhythms for the film‘s intense dramatic moments. Production designer Claude Lenoir does fantastic work with the set pieces such as the mansion that Julie lived in to the apartment she chooses to live in seclusion along with the chandelier of blue crystals. Costume designers Virginie Viard and Naima Lagrange do superb work with the costumes as much of it is casual to play into the sense of grief looming over Julie.

Hair and makeup work by Valerie Tranier and Jean-Pierre Caminade is terrific for the understated look of Julie as well as the bruises and scars on her face as well as the look of her mother and the character of Sandrine. The sound work of Jean-Claude Laureux and the sound mixing by William Flageollet is brilliant for the atmosphere it conveys from the film‘s opening sequence to scenes set in the city as well as some of the quieter yet disconcerting moments at Julie‘s mansion. The film’s music by Zbigniew Preisner is magnificent for its orchestral-driven score that is filled with all sorts of string and choir arrangements to play into the sense of grief and emotion with some flute-based pieces as well as serene string arrangements as the music is one of the film’s major highlights.

The casting by Margot Capelier is amazing for the ensemble that is created as it includes cameo appearances from Julie Delpy and Zbigniew Zamachowski as the roles they would play in Trois Couleurs: Blanc as well as other small roles from Pierre Forget as the gardener in the house, Isabelle Sadoyan as the maid, Jacek Ostazewski as the street musician, Philippe Volter as a real estate agent who helps Julie find a new apartment, Florence Vignon as a music copyist, Yann Tregouet as the young man Antoine who witnessed the crash, and Hugues Quester as Julie’s late husband Patrice. Helene Vincent is terrific as the journalist that wants to talk to Julie while Emmanuelle Riva is wonderful as Julie’s Alzheimer-stricken mother who watches TV in an attempt to re-connect with the world.

Charlotte Very is excellent as the young prostitute Lucille that Julie befriends and helps out. Florence Pernel is brilliant as Sandrine as the woman who is revealed to be Patrice’s mistress as her meeting with Julie showcases a woman who isn’t just grieving but also pities Julie whom she had always admired. Benoit Regent is superb as Olivier as a longtime family friend of Julie who is also in love with her as he tries to finish Patrice’s music piece as well as reach out to Julie. Finally, there’s Juliette Binoche in a performance for the ages as Julie where Binoche brings a sense of restraint and coldness to her role as a woman trying to detach herself from her grief. It’s a performance that has Binoche display an air of radiance to her role as well as making Julie such a complex character as it’s definitely one of Binoche’s finest performances.

The 2003 Region 1 DVD for Trois Couleurs: Bleu from Miramax as part of a box-set for the entire trilogy presents the film in its 1:85:1 theatrical aspect ratio on widescreen as it was enhanced for 16x9 televisions in its original French language track with English subtitles. The DVD includes many special features relating to the film that is led by the 17 ½ minute documentary Reflections on Bleu where Juliette Binoche, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, editor Jacques Witta, collaborator Agnieska Holland, film critic Geoff Andrews, and Kieslowski historian Annette Insdorf talk about the film and how much it means to them. Notably as they all talk about the film’s importance as Binoche recalls her feelings about the film as she admits to being very emotional about it.

The 15-minute Kieslowski: The Early Years is largely led by Insdorf and Andrews about Kieslowski’s early years as well as being part of that movement in Polish cinema that was emerging in the 1950s and 1960s as it would also include commentaries by Slawomir Idziak, Agnieska Holland, and actress Irene Jacob. The DVD release also includes a feature-length audio commentary by Insdorf as she discusses a lot about the film as well as some of its technical points and some of the psychological aspects of the story. The twenty-four-and-a-half minute selected scenes commentary section from Juliette Binoche has the actress talking about scenes in the film as she also revealed that she was in consideration for The Double Life of Veronique and turned down Jurassic Park to do Bleu.

The 14-minute, 37-second interview/commentary from editor Jacques Witta has him providing a technical view of the film in terms of its editing as well as some technical tidbits. Especially as he stepped aside from editing Blanc so he can do Rouge because Kieslowski didn’t want to overwhelm him. Binoche’s eight-minute interview has her talking about the film as she also said some things that she already had mentioned her commentary piece. Producer Marin Karmitz’s 17-minute interview has him talking about the film and his relationship with Kieslowski despite the fact that Karmitz didn’t speak Polish and Kieslowski didn’t speak French yet managed to make a conversation through whiskey. The seven-and-a-half minute cinema lesson from Kieslowski has him talking about the sugar cube scene where he revealed the difficulty in finding the right sugar cube he needed for a five-second shot as he feels it was important for that shot.

The DVD would also include a 15-minute student short film called Concert of Requests that is a simple story about a group of students camping so they can attend a concert as it showcases the documentary style that Kieslowski would later adopt into his work as a documentary filmmaker. The DVD also includes a filmography of Kieslowski’s work as well as trailers for the other two films in the trilogy plus the 2002 film Heaven that Kieslowski co-wrote with Krzysztof Piesiewicz.

The 2011 remastered edition as part of the Region 1 four-disc DVD/Region A three-disc Blu-Ray from the Criterion Collection presents the film in a brand new high-definition digital transfer as the colors are much richer while the sound is remixed in a 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround Sound. The original theatrical aspect ratio is still intact while there are new English subtitles that improves the 2003 DVD release. Several features from that 2003 DVD release such as the cinema lesson, Juliette Binoche’s selected-scenes commentary, and the Reflections on Bleu documentary are on the DVD while the Blu-Ray includes the Kieslowski: The Early Years documentary, the film’s original theatrical trailer and two short films that appeared in the 2003 DVD release for Blanc.

Added to the DVD/Blu-Ray set for its special features are two new interviews with Kieslowski historian Annette Insdorf and music composer Zbigniew Preisner. The 21-minute video essay with Insdorf narrating the essay has her talking about the film and many of its images and themes as well as how it relates to the rest of the films of the trilogy. Notably as Insdorf discusses the themes and the irony of the film in which Julie tries to liberate herself from the past as it’s a very compelling piece in the DVD. The twenty-one minute and-thirty-three second interview with Preisner has the composer not just talking about his collaboration and friendship with Kieslowski but also how they approached in making the music for the films. Notably as Preisner would make much of the music during pre-production and film instead of doing the music during post-production. Preisner talks about certain pieces in the scores he made for all three films as well as the character of Van de Budenmeyer who is a fictional composer and Kieslowski created.

The DVD/Blu-Ray box set also includes a 78-page booklet that features a lot of essays and text relating to the trilogy. For the subject of Bleu, there’s two pieces of text that relates to that film in an essay by Sight & Sound editor Nick James and an interview with cinematographer Slawomir Idziak. James’ essay entitled Blue: Bare Necessities has the writer talk about the film and Kieslowski’s approach to storytelling as well as Binoche’s performance. James also discusses much of the film’s themes and some of its ambiguities that remain questionable as James also regard the film as one of the best films ever made. Idziak’s interview comes from a 1993 article for the French magazine Telerama in which Idziak talks to Vincent Remy about shooting Bleu as well as his collaboration with Kieslowski where he reveals their approach to shooting and how things are different in working in Europe and in the U.S.

Trois Couleurs: Bleu is a magnificent film from Krzysztof Kieslowski that features a towering performance from Juliette Binoche. Along with a great supporting cast, some dazzling technical work from its crew, and Zbigniew Preisner’s exhilarating score. It’s truly a masterwork in the art of cinema as well as one of three films that creates one of cinema’s most revered trilogies. In the end, Trois Couleurs: Bleu is an outstanding film from Krzysztof Kieslowski.

Krzysztof Kieslowski Films: (Personal) - (The Scar) - (Camera Buff) - (The Calm) - (Short Working Day) - Blind Chance - (No End) - (A Short Film About Killing) - (A Short Film About Love) - The Decalogue - The Double Life of Veronique - Trois Couleurs-Blanc - Trois Couleurs-Rouge

© thevoid99 2014


ruth said...

This is one of those *essential* trilogy films I still need to see. I figure it'd be a great intro to the work of Kieslowski. Great writeup Steven.

thevoid99 said...

This film was my introduction to Kieslowski as I'm revisiting the entire trilogy as well as write new reviews of those three films as I'm doing more trilogies in the course of the year.

Unknown said...

A magical film in so many ways. Juliette is simply amazing, and Priesner's score is arguably one of the greatest in all of cinema.

thevoid99 said...

@Bonjour-It's my favorite film of the trilogy though as a whole, it's probably the best film trilogy ever. I've got 2 more to re-watch in the course of the year as well as cover other trilogies in probably make a list of the definitive trilogies in cinema.