Admiration for the Polish master also comes from his difficult childhood in Poland with his permanently ill father, an environment not exactly conducive to a creative mind but where the director resided in his final days in the late 1990s.
With his essential style, pure and genuine, as documentaries of strange social experiments, he still did not disdain great care in elegant and refined aesthetics, where he explored his thousand characters’ emotions, fears, and desires.
An atmosphere that was always dense with a latent narrative tension, almost like an unexploded war device, in which the director dealt with the themes dearest to him, such as the inescapable mocking fate, the desire for freedom beyond the limited standards of modern society and the false fairness of ordinary morality, artfully weaving the meanings of these simple axioms with the gentle mastery with which he told his stories.
After his untimely death at just 50, contemporary cinema lost a unique and irreplaceable voice, even as new talents emerge daily and new and increasingly complex filmmaking techniques develop.
Still, nevertheless, there seems to be a void, an absence of the simple and direct conceptual richness that Kieślowski was so adept at capturing.
However, we should not experience his absence as an endless mourning (he probably would not have wanted that) but rather as a challenge to new generations of aspiring filmmakers to find their voice and make it resonate loud and clear, just as Krzysztof Kieślowski did (perhaps at his best) in his celebrated “Three Colors” movies.
Table of contents
The sublime trilogy of Pathos
We often talk about “Pathos,” when a movie manages to strike the right chords with the right rhythm to find that perfect sound to make his voice echo and even so, it would be an oversimplified reduction of the impact of Krzysztof Kieślowski‘s “Three Colors” on the hearts and minds of every film lover.
The three colors are not only here to chromatically symbolize the shades of the French flag but also to pay homage to the three concepts underlying the glorious revolution: Liberty, Equality, and Brotherhood.
Kieślowski paints not just three but a thousand different colors through the many ambiguous nuances of the human soul, as we traverse the small personal stories of these few but essential characters.
Three voices, each in their own way, sing in the loneliness of need and the search for something missing, an existential emptiness that no one can fill and a pain that nothing can cure.
But do not think for a moment that these movies are a river of tears with over-dramatic scenes and people who despair scratching the walls.
On the contrary, coming out of the tunnel of despair, these stories are full of optimism and romance, without denying the simple irony of ordinary people and even some little thrills of eroticism and adventure.
So let us look one by one at the three diamonds in this director’s cinematic crown, trying to grasp the essence of his philosophy that binds like an invisible thread in this precious sampling of human specimens.
Three Colors: Blue (1993)
The first movie is practically a bravura solo by the superb Juliette Binoche, destroyed from the beginning of a car accident, losing her entire family.
Emerging unharmed, she holds on and, indeed, does not shed a tear, locking herself in a shell of impenetrable loneliness, getting rid of everything that reminds her of her son and husband.
So she removes the house, the bank account, and even her husband’s music sheet. This famous composer was soon to preside over one of the most important concerts in Europe.
Freedom suffered, but she starts anew by moving to a less-than-elegant and quiet neighborhood frequented by thugs and prostitutes who make a mess late into the night and often assault each other.
Yet in that degradation, the woman slowly finds herself again, reconnects with others, and even forgives her husband’s lover, even happily welcoming the news that she is expecting his child.
Of Krzysztof Kieślowski‘s three colors, blue is undoubtedly the most austere and lonely movie, living off the resounding performance of an actress like Binoche, omnipresent in every single scene of a drama where, paradoxically, we rarely see anything theatrical.
That is why almost all the other characters are surprised when the woman does not react as one would expect to mourn: from the maid who never sees her cry to the lawyer who does not understand why she should give up her house and money, as well as finally to the friend, musician and then lover who suspects her to be the real mastermind behind her husband’s success.
In short, it is a film about total freedom because “everything is a trap,” as Binoche says, who refuses to be locked into the stereotypes of the inconsolable widow and deals with loss in her own way, whatever it takes.
Three Colors: White (1994)
The second episode is very different, starring the humble barber Karol Karol, a Polish immigrant who divorces his beautiful wife, Dominique.
In one sentence, the man is jobless and penniless because his account was closed, and the clerk cut off his credit card in front of his eyes.
Desperate, Karol returns to the store he used to run with his wife, where she rejects him again and even sets fire to everything, denouncing him as the culprit.
So now the man is also wanted by the police, until while bumming around the station, whistling a tune from his native country, he finds unexpected help in a Polish compatriot, Mikolaj.
Mikolaj quickly understands his situation and offers him a job opportunity that is as well paid as it is inconvenient: to kill a man who no longer has anything to live for.
So Karol clandestinely returns to Poland, to his brother’s workshop, where he tries to get back on his feet while devising a long and complicated plan to take revenge on his beloved/hated Dominique.
Krzysztof Kieślowski transports us from Paris to Warsaw in a strange adventure, using ironic, almost pulp-like movie in some criminal situations bordering on the absurd, for the brightest of the three colors in his trilogy.
Absolutely perfect is the unknown actor Zbigniew Zamachowski, the embodiment of misfortune, who gives up his moral principles to finally be equal to others, especially in the eyes of his beautiful wife.
A strange woman reciprocated by a sensual and twisted performance by the beautiful Julie Delpy, unforgettable star of the Before Trilogy, an immortal hymn to love at first sight, and the charismatic Ethan Hawke.
In short, it is an ode to equality that, paradoxically, is precisely the least equal movie in the usual style of this strange director’s filmography.
Three Colors: Red (1994)
Once again, the protagonist of this story is the exact opposite of the previous unfortunate, miserable barber: the delightful, very young model Valentine Dussaut.
Yet, despite the ease of a comfortable and convenient life, she too does not escape the trap of loneliness, perpetually scrambling after a boyfriend who teases her by lying to her on the phone, always finding any excuse not to be with her.
But everything changes when Valentine runs over a dog in the street one day, triggering an event that lands her directly at the door of Joseph Kern, a retired old man who was once a celebrated and respected judge.
He, too, is a withdrawn and reclusive man, but he never lacks company: in fact, using some of the eavesdropping equipment he has had from the police in the past, he continually follows the many lives of his neighbors.
Initially scandalized by that shameful violation of these strangers’ private lives, Valentine keeps the secret quiet and establishes a strange relationship of trust and conspiracy with the old judge.
Krzysztof Kieślowski gracefully and stylishly closes his trilogy with the most ardent of the three colors for the best movie and, unfortunately, the last of his excellent directing career.
A story built around the delicate but also sensual and provocative features of the very young Irène Jacob, the object of desire for every man she meets except, paradoxically, her very boyfriend, who seems to enjoy leaving her alone and tormenting her on the phone more than actually being with her.
Out of this lack comes a platonic relationship with the judge, the sullen Jean-Louis Trintignant, as old and wise as he is, cold and implacable, unafraid of anyone’s judgment yet also hiding his miserable tragedy of love and shame that has never been forgotten.