by Marty Demarest

Don't watch the Three Colors Trilogy with blind American patriotic hopes stirring your imagination. The three films - Blue, White, and Red, by the late Polish director Krystof Kieslowski - are meant to form a trilogy based on the French flag, indicating liberty, equality, and fraternity. While those qualities might be ones to which Americans aspire, the characters and settings are decidedly continental European. And some of the impossibly beautiful actresses are even - gasp - French.

Two of the films are dramas, although not particularly difficult or harrowing pieces. The central movie, White, is the comedy of the group, but it's not particularly hilarious. What happens in each film is a seemingly haphazard exploration of the situations that people encounter during the courses of their lives, and the opportunities that can be found there. Blue's liberty is conveyed through the story of a composer's widow (Juliet Binoche) who languorously eats coffee and ice cream while waiting for her soul to catch up with the rest of her, shockingly liberated from marriage by a car accident. We find White's equality in the tale of a man's outrageous attempts to get even with his ex-wife. And in Red, which is easily the greatest film Kieslowski ever made, fraternity is located in the relationship of a fashion model and an old man, and a graceful union of all three films.

Performances really shouldn't be this good, and I have to suspect that none of the actresses involved - as talented and beautiful as they are - would have been capable of them without the hypnotic touch of the retiring Kieslowski. Several times in the trilogies, we see the contents of the characters' purses, and among the cosmetics and tissues we find portraits of the characters that transcend the work that any actor could accomplish. It takes talent to direct a human being; it takes a master to coax such revealing performances from inanimate objects like handbags. And through many of the films, even the live actors remain as unmoving as possible, letting Kieslowski's pacing and visual arrangement tell us more than we can easily comprehend in one viewing. Fortunately, the DVDs contain an abundance of extra material, including Kieslowski's students' films and plenty of commentaries and analysis, so viewers can do what these films demand: live with the movies, witnessing them each time from a new perspective.

Publication date: 04/03/03

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