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Three Colors: Blue, White, Red


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I'm resurrecting this thread since I just caught Blue last night for the first time in a couple of years, again reminding me why I love Kieslowski so much, and simultaneously causing me to wonder how I could have not come back to such fertile ground earlier.

:spoilers:

On this viewing, I found myself attentive to the "chance" meetings and experiences Julie has in her journey from life to death and back to life again. These include a variety of encounters with individuals, a gust of wind blowing her door shut, a man playing a tune on a flute, and Julie seeing her own picture on a television screen. With such a great degree of this so-called randomness, surely Kieslowski is highlighting these signpost moments on Julie's journey, thus revealing something to us about the way this world works - that in spite of the suffering it doles out, there's also a kind of benevolence that sits right along with it.

Yet I was struck that the benevolence only seems to come upon the scene once Julie makes her break from life as she used to know it. In seeking a descent into nothingness and forgetfulness (becoming her mother), she becomes nearly overrun with these chance encounters or moments. It's as if through the circumstances of life, Julie receives this benevolence or grace, which works to bring her back to life. I can't help but wonder if any of this would have happened had she covered her suffering over with the busyness and noise of normal life.

A couple of questions I am wondering about: What are the circumstances that give Julie ears to hear? Is it purely a work of benevolence from outside her? Does she engage in certain practices that help this process along, however unknowingly she does it?

Edited by John

All great art is pared down to the essential.
--Henri Langlois

 

Movies are not barium enemas, you're not supposed to get them over with as quickly as possible.

--James Gray

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Okay, I'll respond with my first film comment here. First, I herebye disinvest myself of any misconcieved "expertise" by others re movies. What I like I like, though, and...

And that is why I just had to throw a comment in about "Blue." I've seen all three of these. And liked all three, very much. In fact, I told my wife it is about time for us to (once again) rent them and do a triple-feature.

But blue is my favorite of the three. The story is beautifully told, the images... ah. The one that sticks in my head is there, I think, because it was filmed perfectly: that coffee cup, and the ultra-closeup of the pure white sugar cube as it is slowly lowered into the cofee and the first drop of dark brown is absorbed by the sugar... I have my own interpretations of what such an apparently meaningless image means. But I'm playing 'em close to the vest, because I'm in here with a bunch of MOVIE people.

Okay, now all you geniuses tell me why I liked that image so much. Maybe after I watch it again I'll be able to tell you.

Hehehe.

Blessings,

Jon

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Jon, thanks for chiming in here--Blue is also my favorite of the three. Maybe you liked that scene because it's not only a beautifully captured moment--one that would ordinarily be as mundane as anything--but the camera's focus and music and the emotional intensity of the film makes that moment almost iconic in regards to Julie's life of isolation. She's as focused on the act of putting sugar into her coffee as a doctor in surgery, blocking out everything else that surrounds her. It's a very powerful moment, and "life" seeps into hers and overwhelms it, dissolves it, just as her tragedy has overtaken her. And yet, ultimately, she's just putting sugar in her coffee; there's no grand symbolism or obvious reading, making the moment linger uncertainly and evocatively in our thoughts...and hers.

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And yet, ultimately, she's just putting sugar in her coffee; there's no grand symbolism or obvious reading, making the moment linger uncertainly and evocatively in our thoughts...and hers.

What matters is the Hitchcockian precision of the image, and thus of the moment. It's a psychological and emotional use of suspense. Suspense is a trick to increase our investment in these's figures of light on the screen. We are suddenly aware of time, seconds (callibrated precisely by Kieslowski by his search for the right cube) ticking away. The "bomb under the table" is Binoche.

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I wrote a chapter about Blue and The New World to serve as a sort of culminating chapter in my film book. In both films, a woman must find her way through pain, loss, and betrayal and determine how to approach future relationships, responsibilities, and risks. I chose these two because they've been as personally significant and rewarding as any films I've seen.

Examining Blue, I chose to focus closely on the sugar cube moment, although there are so many other moments that would have served just as well.

Does it suggest that eventually she will let the grief well up within her to the point that she'll surrender to it?

Does it suggest that the music she's listening to is filling her up, ministering to some deep need?

Or is it about absorbing the immediate moment, part of her attempt to attain "liberty" from her past, her pain, her responsibilities.

I also love the moment when the camera focuses on the cup and saucer and spoon. We cannot see Julie, but we can guess that this long shot means she is staying at her table for a long time, absorbed in the music. After all, we can tell by the shifting shadows that hours are passing. We can tell by the way nothing is disturbed that the waiter has not taken her dishes. But we can also see that she hasn't refilled her cup or touched her spoon. She is transfixed by the music floating in from the sidewalk outside.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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FWIW, ISTR reading (or seeing?) an interview with Kieslowski where he talked about how absolutely precise the timing of that sugarcube shot needed to be. Anybody here remember the reference?

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Jon, thanks for chiming in here--Blue is also my favorite of the three. Maybe you liked that scene because it's not only a beautifully captured moment--one that would ordinarily be as mundane as anything--but the camera's focus and music and the emotional intensity of the film makes that moment almost iconic in regards to Julie's life of isolation. She's as focused on the act of putting sugar into her coffee as a doctor in surgery, blocking out everything else that surrounds her. It's a very powerful moment, and "life" seeps into hers and overwhelms it, dissolves it, just as her tragedy has overtaken her. And yet, ultimately, she's just putting sugar in her coffee; there's no grand symbolism or obvious reading, making the moment linger uncertainly and evocatively in our thoughts...and hers.

I really need to watch it again! (I'm jonesing for the movie now). But as I recall it, it was seeing that cube, yes, as her own condition, or at least what she wanted it to be. Absolutely pure, crystalline, and formed in a perfectly symmetrical way. But the muddy, shapeless coffee invades the sugar's absolutes, transforming (and I suppose being transformed) by them.

Now did I really think all that right then? Nah. But I did later on. And Doug the coffee cup and spoon did also play into it. But it all went back for me to that cube and the coffee and the perfection of their intersection.

Okay, I'm done. Must go to bed.

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FWIW, ISTR reading (or seeing?) an interview with Kieslowski where he talked about how absolutely precise the timing of that sugarcube shot needed to be. Anybody here remember the reference?

Yes, Kieslowski discusses it in the "masterclass" included as one of the extras on the Region 2 DVD edition of Blue. He talks about the precise timing of the scene, and his search for a five-second sugar cube lol.

Regarding its meaning, he says this:

Why the obsession with close-ups in this film? Quite simply, we are trying to show how the heroine perceives the world. We are trying to show that she focuses on small things, on things which are close to her. She doesn't care about things which are further away from her. She is trying to limit her world, to limit it to herself and her immediate environment. There are several details like this in the film.

We show a close-up of a sugar cube soaking up coffee to show that she is not interested in anything outside: She is not interested in other people, their business, in the man who loves her and who has found her after a long search. She's not interested in anything at all. Just the sugar. She concentrates on it in order to be able to discard other things.

Edited by The Invisible Man

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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But as I recall it, it was seeing that cube, yes, as her own condition, or at least what she wanted it to be. Absolutely pure, crystalline, and formed in a perfectly symmetrical way. But the muddy, shapeless coffee invades the sugar's absolutes, transforming (and I suppose being transformed) by them.

Wow, I like that; it's taking the isolation/saturation metaphor even further.

But of course none of this is textual so while many of us wouldn't have articulated its poetic meaning the first time we saw the scene, I think most of us were aware of the moment's poignancy on a subliminal/intuitive level. Such is Kieslowski's artistry.

And GG, I love your comparison to Hitchcock and the odd suspense of the scene. It's as if we ask ourselves, "How much can Julie absorb and when will she utterly dissolve?"

Edited by Doug C
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  • 1 month later...

I have just finished watching Red again, and once more am completely blown away by Kieslowski's film-making.

I think I was even more struck than previously about the apparently random coincidentality of the world he creates. It's obvious in all three right from the start, of course, but there was a greater intensity of awareness of it this time.

Maybe it's because I've recently been writing a short section on the use of coincidence in films for my book. It struck me when I was writing it that there are two types of coincidence in fictional narratives. First, there are justified coincidences - occurences which have at least some measure of motivation from within the story. They may be unlikely events, but they are not impossible since they are the result of chains of cause and effect just as much as the non-coincidental events. However, we are either shown two chains of events coming together, or the preparatory causes are hidden from us yet we can tacitly accept that such an event could conceivably happen (perhaps because of 'fate'). Second, there are unjustified coincidences - genuinely random or utterly improbable events (infinite improbability drive). These are often a lot of fun, though they can be intensely annoying. I suspect that they reveal something significant about the writer's worldview. (Clearly the fact that these are invented occurences makes them entirely non-random at one level - they are deliberately created events, but you know what I mean by genuinely random).

:spoilers: Now with Three Colours, the coincidences all felt to be of the first type - until the very last scene in which KK ties together the three films. It seemed extraordinary to have this situation unfolding on the judge's television and I had to stop and remind myself that it is not at all unlikely that the couple from each film should be rescued in order from the same disaster. It feels exceedingly improbable because we've just sat and watched their stories. But those stories are only linked by the fact that they were in the same place at the same time. This time it seemed to be Kieslowski's way of underlining just what a profoundly important role coincidence has played.

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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  • 3 months later...
Pat Graham at the Chicago Reader Blog asks if Blue is "art" (or "aahhrrt") or "kitsch":

My own bete noire in this--well, obviously just one of many--is Krzysztof Kieslowski's Blue (playing at the Siskel Film Center this week), or at least the acclaim it conventionally enjoys, in which artful aspiration serves as more or less a cover for the class-bound attitudes that suffocate the tale.

Can't help wondering if the fact that these films were distributed by Miramax plays any part in this. :)

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 1 month later...

Steve Innes has written three articles for Culturewatch on the trilogy. The first two (on Blue and White) are available now, and the third will be published later this week. They're very insightful explorations into Kieslowski's masterpieces - in particular looking at the themes of grace and redemption.

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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I have just finished watching Red again, and once more am completely blown away by Kieslowski's film-making.

"Red" is the one that I really struggle with. I have moved beyond merely dismissing science fiction films as unchristian and have now started turning my nose up at anything that sniffs of postmodernism. ;)

Edited by The Invisible Man

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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"Red" is the one that I really struggle with. I have moved beyond merely dismissing science fiction films as unchristian and have now started turning my nose up at anything that sniffs of postmodernism. ;)

I'll be interested to see how you respond to the CultureWatch article when I publish it in the next day or two. It has made me look at it in a very different way.

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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I will be sure to check it out. My simplistic reasoning may be flawed so I am always open to persuasion. For what it's worth, I figure it like this:

1. Any film that contradicts a Christian worldview is unchristian (hence my dismissal of much science fiction).

2. "Red" presents chance and fate as universal forces.

3. Chance cannot exist in a Christian universe so "Red" is unchristian.

I also regard Kieslowski's "The Double Life of Veronique" as unchristian but for slightly different reasons.

We are part of the generation in which the image has triumphed over the word, when the visual is dominant over the verbal and where entertainment drowns out exposition. We may go so far as to claim that we live in an age of the image which is also the age of anti-word and potentially is the age of the lie. ~ Os Guiness

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Romans 10:17)

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Steve Innes's article on Red is now up on Culturewatch. Very thought-provoking though I imagine some people here will read it differently, which is, after all, part of the joy of Kieslowski. Here's one paragraph to whet your appetite:

Valentine

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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  • 2 years later...

Is the Three Colours trilogy getting a re-issue or something? I ask because I just found out that Blue will be coming to two local theatres -- one in downtown Vancouver and one out here in Surrey, of all things -- next week.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Is the Three Colours trilogy getting a re-issue or something? I ask because I just found out that Blue will be coming to two local theatres -- one in downtown Vancouver and one out here in Surrey, of all things -- next week.

That's interesting. I wonder if they got the "Blue" wrong, because this Blue is a current film at the Chicago International Film Festival.

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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Persona wrote:

: That's interesting. I wonder if they got the "Blue" wrong, because this Blue is a current film at the Chicago International Film Festival.

Hmmm. Maybe, but I dunno. I haven't heard of any press screenings for the new film, and the theatres in question HAVE been showing old classics like Batman and A Clockwork Orange lately -- but usually just on weekends at midnight and stuff like that, not for an entire week.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 9 months later...

I re-watched the trilogy this week, and aside from how much I missed in Red the first time around, like how it's secretly a Haneke film, one thing that stood out to me were the "stooped-over old people trying to put a bottle in the recycling bin" scenes. Each movie has one of these scenes; In Blue and Red, it's an old woman, and in White, it's a man. I don't think that was an arbitrary choice: the gender of the old person in the scenes corresponds to that of the protagonist in each film. Red, though, is the only one of the three in which someone helps them get the bottle in the slot. I'm wondering if the old people are visions of who the characters (Julie in Blue, Karol in White, Valentine in Red) will become if they continue down the paths they've been on, and that perhaps the reason Valentine helps her old lady is because she sees something of the Judge's dream about her in the woman.

Edited by Tyler

It's the side effects that save us.
--The National, "Graceless"
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  • 10 months later...

Nice coincidence to see this thread pop up. I only have four more films to check off the Top 100, so I've been playing with the idea of celebrating the completion of my trip through the list by reranking them, top-to-bottom, based on my own, totally subjective opinion: most to least favorite. The problem is films like Three Colors, which were so important to me when I first watched them but that I haven't revisited in a decade. I think I might rewatch a bunch of them.

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I re-watched the trilogy this week, and aside from how much I missed in Red the first time around, like how it's secretly a Haneke film, one thing that stood out to me were the "stooped-over old people trying to put a bottle in the recycling bin" scenes. Each movie has one of these scenes; In Blue and Red, it's an old woman, and in White, it's a man. I don't think that was an arbitrary choice: the gender of the old person in the scenes corresponds to that of the protagonist in each film. Red, though, is the only one of the three in which someone helps them get the bottle in the slot. I'm wondering if the old people are visions of who the characters (Julie in Blue, Karol in White, Valentine in Red) will become if they continue down the paths they've been on, and that perhaps the reason Valentine helps her old lady is because she sees something of the Judge's dream about her in the woman.

This is brilliant. Tyler, I know you wrote this a year ago but I wonder if you remember why you think that Red is secretly a Haneke film.

Edited by Persona

In an interstellar burst, I am back to save the Universe.

Filmsweep by Persona. 2013 Film Journal. IlPersona.

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