Three Colours: Blue (1993)

D: Krzysztof Kieslowski
S: Juliette Binoche, Benoit Regent

A young woman faces a personal crisis when her composer husband and young daughter are killed in a car crash. On one hand, the tragedy means the loss of everything that she has been so far in life, but on another, it represents the possibility of change and even liberation. The first of Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski's acclaimed, French-produced "Three Colours" trilogy (named after the colours of the French flag, meaning, respectively "Liberty", "Equality", and "Fraternity") is intricately styled and given depth by a simple but effective musical score by Zbignew Preisner, but is ultimately self-involved and uninspiring unless you have a predisposition to this kind of introspective and low-key drama.

Juliette Binoche is given a choice role as the human centre of this cerebral cinematic meditation on the colour blue and its various emotional and political resonances. She registers a great deal of repressed feeling, though this does tend to manifest itself in relatively few facial expressions, resulting in a sustained and effective but one-note performance. In truth, everything within the film, including Binoche and Preisner's score, is merely another tool in the hands of a talented cineaste. Kieslowski explores ideas with images unlike any other contemporary director, and after his acclaimed 'Dekalog' series, it was probably inevitable that the French would adopt him as one of their own. But like the earlier and also French co-produced The Double Life of Veronique, there is something distant and studied about his work here, as if he has become more interested in ideas than what they might mean to an audience having been separated from the social and political environment in which his art flourished.

There are political undertones to the film, with constant references to the unification of Europe serving as a sub plot and a thematic elaboration on ideas of independence and liberty (national versus European identity), but it lacks a the kind of social commitment seen in the likes of A Short Film About Killing. It ultimately turns on an unconvincing personal reversal and climaxes with a somewhat pretentious dramatis personnaire which does not really make it any more emotionally involving. This is really more a film in which people and nations are merely objects within an aesthetic landscape which is, as the title implies, largely blue-toned. Kieslowski and cinematographer Slawomir Idziak (along with art designer Claude Lenoir) have terrific fun presenting the world as a series of blue objects and hues, from swimming pools and chandeliers to items of clothing and lighting schemes, all photographed through blue filters.

This is all very interesting, but it does not necessarily mean that the film is a greater work of art than other dramas dealing with grief, depression, and loss. Its small interest comes from the ambiguity represented by Binoche's posthumous battle with her husband (who, it turns out, was a front for her own composing talents and having an affair with a legal secretary) and the possibility of a significant revelation about herself offered by this forced liberty from career and marriage. It does not follow this through however, and seems indeed to lose interest in resolution in favour of mere reversal.

Three Colours: Blue is of most interest to fans of the director or star, and to students of European art-house cinema in general. It is recommended with caution as an interesting but not necessarily ground-breaking work of cinema from a film maker whose reputation is liable to outlast his films in terms of a contribution to the medium.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.