Three Colours: Red (1994)

D: Krzysztof Kieslowski
S: Irène Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant

The finale 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 a beautifully directed tale of intersecting lives and the sometimes hidden connections between people from disparate walks of life. A lonely Swiss fashion model (Irène Jacob), whose possessive boyfriend communicates with her only by phone while abroad, encounters an elderly retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who spends his days listening in to the phone conversations of his neighbours with special radio equipment. Meanwhile her neighbour, a legal student, undergoes a personal betrayal which causes him to speculate on the lack of communication between him and his girlfriend, herself known best as a disemodied voice on the phone providing personalised weather reports for anonymous callers. As the model and the judge get to know one another, tales of disillusionment and withdrawal draw parallels between the problems faced by all human beings in an increasingly disconnected and impersonal world.

By far more extroverted than Three Colours: Blue, if less entertaining than Three Colours: White, Three Colours: Red is the most socially affirmative of the three films. It is a fitting conclusion to the trilogy, which is here revealed to have been centrally concerned with the unifying principle that every person's life has a story behind it, and that all people interconnected. This is made clear by the playful coda where all of the main characters from the previous films are re-united as survivors of a disaster, but it is also the theme of the film itself, focusing, as it does, on a slightly larger palette of characters and a generally wider sense of the world beyond their internal motivations.

As before, the film is marked by Kieslowski's insistence on colour coding to remind the audience of the thematic bias toward 'fraternity'. The colour red is integrated throughout the production, from the canopy of a local restaurant to one character's car to the huge advertising banner featuring Jacob's face and the blankets used to wrap her and the other characters at the end. Kieslowski both gently and not-so-gently reminds us of the artifice of the work of art, and though we have sufficient warning and reason not to find fault with the dramatic contrivances (the scene where a storm rips through a theatre is really rather funny, acting as both a plot device and a foreshadowing of things to come in a very 'theatrical' way), there is, once again (as in Blue) a feeling that the film on the whole is too studied for genuine dramatic impact. White escaped this because of its humour, Red suffers less than Blue because of its pace and balance, but it is still a feature which may crucially affect your appreciation or enjoyment of it.

Kieslowski has featured a beautiful francophone actress prominently in all three of these films, which while pleasing to the eye and all deliver good performances, is again a little convenient and smacks of marketing and high production values rather than realism. The latest beauty, Jacob (playing a model: a mark of Kieslowski's awareness of how fetishised these women are?), is good, though her kindness and naivete are sometimes difficult to empathise with (especially after the hardened self-absorption of Juliet Binoche in Blue and the coldhearted determination of Julie Delpy in White). Jean-Louis Trintignant is very effective as the judge who may well be something of an on-screen stand-in for director Kieslowski, a man who judges and attempts to control the lives of people who have become merely figures in a drama instead of real people with real emotions. His gradual rebirth following his encounter with Jacob proves to be central to the film, and provides it with its final, affirmative shot of a smiling face (an image which also concluded Blue and White). It does successfully generate a feeling of closure, and of a concern with the essential humanity of human beings which speaks even above the contrivances and stylistic indulgences for which the films have been so widely recognised.

Though it makes perfect sense on its own and works perfectly well, the film is probably best appreciated as part of the trilogy, where it becomes the final movement towards social affirmation which seems now to have been at its heart. The three films move from being almost completely self-enclosed (Blue) to oscillating between selfishness and a sense of others (White) to this concluding and more definite assertion that people need other people to make their lives more human. As such, the 'Three Colours' trilogy has been a more focused and coherent meditation upon a theme than the legendary Dekalog, although it is also fair to observe that these immaculately produced, finely crafted movies lack a level of social critique and political penetration which the best episodes of Dekalog had. This won't dissuade those with a predisposition to this type of film in the first place, and it won't make it any more or less interesting to those who don't. Three Colours: Red is a well-made, emotionally engaging movie which is worth a look if you feel disposed towards it. It's not essential viewing on its own (though arguably the trilogy on the whole is), but it is rewarding and worthwhile for those eager to see the last work of one of the last great cineastes of twentieth century European cinema (Kieslowski died in 1996. This was his final film).

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2000.