The All-Time Favourites #1: The Three Colours Trilogy

Last week I told you guys that I’d be starting up the All-Time Favourites Series. To read more about what that is, go here.

Welcome to the All-Time Favourites Series. This series examines 25 of the greatest films I’ve ever seen, looking at them in depth with analyses of what makes them great, and cutting down to the most basic level, looking at plot, cinematography, writing, direction, acting and other things, to see what makes these great films tick. Today, we’re going to be examining the first of our 25, the Three Colours trilogy.

Krzysztof Kieslowski. If you said this name to a group of film lovers, you would probably get half of them giving you puzzled glances, and the other smiling knowingly. I am unashamedly a member of the latter group. He is my all-time favourite director. Of all the filmmakers in existence, Kieslowski is my number one favourite, by far and away, winner by a landslide. And the Three Colours trilogy is probably his most well-known achievement.

They were the last three films he ever made before his untimely death in 1996, at the too-young age of 55. The trilogy is not his best work (that would be The Decalogue, my favourite film of all time), but it is pretty damn close to being the best thing ever made in cinema. The trilogy, like The Decalogue, encompasses what it feels like to be alive in modern France. It captures all the sounds, sights, and emotions of the country, as well as the meaning of the three colours on its flag.

The first colour is Blue. The film stars Juliette Binoche as a widowed woman discovering the truth about her husband and herself after he and her child die in a horrific accident. Many have made the comparison between this film and Kieslowski’s 1985 work, No End, which are very similar in plot but structurally different in execution. While both films are among Kieslowski’s best, Blue succeeds as a far better and more important film, focusing on one woman’s grief and the way she carries it. Binoche is fantastic here. She plays her role with dignity, passion, and silent beauty. Kieslowski’s camera captures her perfectly in the frame, and also manages to encompass the beauty of the colour blue, which appears in almost every shot, sometimes very subtly and other times overwhelmingly clearly. The blue part of the French flag stands for liberty; how does this apply to the film? Well, one could say that after the death of her husband and child, Binoche is liberated; not necessarily in a positive way, but just liberated; set out to be free and make her own discoveries, things she would not have discovered had she been confined to a family.

The second colour is White, and Kieslowski has more humour this time. White is a delightful romantic drama starring Zbigniew Zamachowski and Julie Delpy. Both are stellar in their roles. Many say this is the sour film, the odd-one-out of the trilogy, but I disagree. I think it is a fantastic, integral part of the series, as brilliant as the two that bookend it. It tells the story of a man whose wife divorces him because of his sexual disability, so he vows to get revenge on her for her selfish act: he quite literally sends himself to his home country of Poland, fakes his death, and then surprises her with a visit in his hotel room after the funeral. However, the film is not as light as it may sound. Along the way, Zamachowski meets a desperately unhappy man who asks him to help him with a saddening task, and even after the two of them meet again at the end, the happiness they share in one brief moment is ruined quickly. White stands for equality on the flag. So how does that apply here? It could be interpreted any number of ways, but I think the film is trying to subtly hint at the revenge plot Zamachowski uses against his wife; after she shuns him, he sees a revenge scheme as a way of putting them on equal ground, despite the differences they see in each other, one being Polish and the other French.

The third colour is Red, and it is here that the trilogy comes full circle. Red is my second favourite film of all time, and I see in it more mystical revelation about the nature of life and our place in the universe than any single human could ever imagine. No, the film is not one of those arty, spiritual films. It’s actually very accessible. But the more I see it, the more I fall in love with it. Could it be the surreal beauty of Irene Jacob? Or the mystical wisdom of Jean-Louis Trintignant? Yes, but not wholly. These are just two of the things that make it amazing. It tells the unforgettable story of a model who meets a retired judge after accidentally running over his dog. The judge is bitter, and secretly listens to the phone calls of his neighbours. At first the two hate each other, but eventually a kinship grows and the two become friends; two of the most memorable friends in movie history. This is paralleled by the story of a young law student who is betrayed by his girlfriend; at first the student seems to have no relation to the plot, but in the end his place is revealed, and it is one of two incredibly brilliant twists at the end of the film that you won’t see coming. But forget about twists. Forget about friends. Forget about fraternity, the meaning of the colour red on the flag. Forget about all of that, and just listen to the dialogue. The conversations between the model and judge contain such amazing words. I think I’ll close my individual review of this film with a line that still haunts me, a line that gives me chills, and one I’ll never forget. It doesn’t sound anywhere near as good in writing as it does in the film, but I’ll say it anyway: “I feel something important is happening around me. And it scares me.”

So that’s some individual thoughts on the films. But I must stress that they work much better as a whole. I don’t often like to say to people “You need to see this film,” as I find it somewhat of an opinionated and unsuitable statement, but I feel comfortable using it here. Perhaps one day someone else can experience the indescribable feeling I did when I reached the last few seconds of the trilogy. The knowledge that this would be the last thing such a fantastic genius would ever make was sad enough to make me want to weep.

You know the drill by now. If you’ve seen these movies, or even if you haven’t, leave a comment below, and stick around for next week’s All-Time Favourites post, which will be looking at Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander.


Posted on November 14, 2011, in All-Time Favourites, Movie Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 33 Comments.

  1. I haven’t seen any of these, but i will try to see if i can track them down.

  2. These films were amazing…I don’t know what else I could say. The first was so chilling and haunting; the second was delightfully funny but sad at the same time; and the last…wow, that was just everything.

    Do you know if these are available to buy in NZ? I don’t think that I saw them when I was at JB Hi-Fi the other day. I must have them in my collection.

    • Glad you liked them! Well, it sounds like you loved them, which is even better.

      Ironically, Criterion is releasing the DVDs in a box set TOMORROW! I have pre-ordered my copy. But other than that, I’m unaware of a Region 4 New Zealand copy. If Fatso have one to send to you, then it must be available in NZ somewhere, but other than that the Criterion would make a great Christmas present if you need something to add to your wish list.

  3. I always see these mentioned by you tyler, and others, but I haven’t got around to seeing them yet….Naughty Scott!!

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. We’ve discussed these films before, and my feelings have not changed one bit. I absolutely LOVE these films! I need to find time to see them again.

    Well done Tyler!

  5. Tyler, please add yourself to my Guestbook in Kieslowski’s World and feel free to have a go at Chris’s question about the possible link between Kieslowski’s Dekalog 4 and White in the Forum, if you get a chance. The more comments and points we can add to the Forum, the more we can make a good reference site for others to explore and enjoy concerning the films of Kieslowski. Many thanks in advance and have a very good evening. Don’t forget to add your website address in your Guestbook. I’ve added a link to Southern Vision in my Links page. A bientot!

  6. Sorry, it should have said: ‘Don’t forget to add your website address to my Guestbook!’

  7. Christian Hallbeck

    Blue is the most beautiful of the colors, “Red” artistically the most beautiful of the three films.

    My guess is that Kieslowski copied the scene in “Blue” where Juliette Binoche walks around her blue “crystal lamp”, from a scene in Bo Widerberg’s film “Barnvagnen (“The Pram”).

    Outside Sweden hardly no one has seen this film. I have seen it once – about 20 years ago. Still I have a distinct memory of the herione, or another person, walking around a crystal lamp similar to the one in “Blue”.

    And after reading that Kieslowski chose “Barnvagnen” as one of the ten films that had affected him the most, the theory seems plausible.

    I may of course be wrong.

  8. Christian Hallbeck

    …and as I began to reflect on the subject, I found one more similarity between the two films: the strong sunlight in Juliette Binoche’s face when she’s sitting on the park bench, and the repeated reflections of blue light in her face throughout the film – vs. the reflections of the sun in the heroine’s face in “Barnvagnen”, when she is out walking her baby in the final scene. (This scene can be viewed on Youtube.)

  9. This is the greatest film trilogy of all time, so good so see it among another’s favorites. Yes, Blue shares some similarities to No End, but I think they are very different films, especially in their conclusions. White does get an unfair rap. I think it’s beautifully funny and tragic at the same time. I do think there is some spiritualism to Red, but I think that of all Kieslowski’s films. It’s a fantastic end to a great trilogy.

    • I agree that it’s the greatest trilogy of all time. Kieslowski is a genius. NO END is another one that just barely missed the cut for my Top 100 favorite films. Interestingly, my girlfriend prefers it to BLUE.

  10. Rarely has my jaw dropped in stupefied amazement as far as it did during Red’s final scene. Kieslowski was a master. Or I should say “is,” considering his films live on and on.

    Really looking forward to your write-ups for this series.

    • My jaw dropped too in that scene, and I almost cried, knowing it was the last scene Kieslowski ever directed, in a film so indescribably beautiful. He is a legend.

  11. Great concept and looking forward to the future articles under this section. I haven’t seen Three Colours yet but someday when I do I will comment better. I do like how you used the new Criterion cover since they do have some amazing cover art for movies.

    I know the trilogy is one of those must see films and my friend actually has it but I also think one has to be in the “right” mood for it and I never am 😦

    Someday soon…

  12. I know you already recommended these to me before, but still have not come around to them. At least I should already order them I guess, would make the step easier to actually see them!

  13. I revisited them this year for a Kieslowski DOTM. Absolutely loved them. All of them. I remember Blanc being the weakest, but I think it does get an unfair rap because it’s fantastic also. My personal favourite is Rouge (because of the ideas of chance and fate – like Veronique) and yes, I almost cried in that final shot too. Great write-up Tyler!

  14. Hmmm I keep hearing incredible things about this series, but have never actually gotten around to seeing them.

    Nice post and great blog!

  15. I was thrilled to finally get this on Criterion Blu-ray. Red is my favourite, but all three are superb. I like the little connections and the one huge connection between the three films. I wish we had seen Kieslowski and Jacob work together for another ten years.

  16. The Blu-Ray is stunning. BLUE especially looks vibrant and flooring, as does WHITE and RED.

  17. The work of Krzysztof Kieslowski its so powerfull and brilliant. So faultless. And i have to say that that quote from Red is also my favorite quote.

  18. Life-changing movies, Tyler. Life-changing…

    There are no words to describe how important to me these three (and other K.K.) films are.

  1. Pingback: The All-Time Favourites #8: Napoleon (1927) « Southern Vision

  2. Pingback: Introducing… The ALL-TIME FAVOURITES SERIES! « Southern Vision

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