Three Colours: White (1994)

D: Krzysztof Kieslowski
S: Zbiginew Zamachowski, Julie Delpy, Janusz Gajos

A polish hairdresser is divorced by his beautiful French wife when he fails to consummate their marriage. She leaves him with no money, no resources, and wanted by the police. A chance encounter with a fellow Polish national on the Paris Metro leads him home to Warsaw, where he begins to rebuild his life and plan an elaborate turnabout which will equal the score between them. The second 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 much better than the first (Blue). It is involving, entertaining and thoughtful, and this time the colour-coded cinematography and design are an interesting and effective symbolic backdrop to the human drama.

Centred on a touching and often funny performance from Zbiginew Zamachowski as the beleaguered hairdresser, the film is quick to establish sympathetic, believable characters in an interesting environment and the story which follows moves neatly between drama and comedy. Unlike its immediate predecessor, the film also raises some political questions with unobtrusive ease as Zamachowski finds his homeland a changed place from what he remembers (money now buys anything, including a corpse). Kieslowski is clearly more comfortable in Polish surroundings than French ones, and the film benefits enormously from various satirical digs at contemporary social and political problems.

It is also a provocative mediation on gender issues, with the playing field between men and women being levelled, as the colour code implies (equality). It is an ironic equality, of course, with hatred and love in equal doses at the root of the problem. It ends on a melancholy note of bittersweet revenge, and the constant movement towards a resolution in which our hero triumphs is undercut by an awareness that though justice has been served, perhaps its human cost is tragic.

Zamachowski is the undoubted centre of the action, but he is matched by a lovely performance from Janusz Gajos as the fellow countryman who becomes a friend and ally. Julie Delpy is ravishingly beautiful as the ice-cold ex-wife, but is really more a cipher (deliberately made-up to look more white than is quite natural) than a fully fledged character. Smaller roles are filled effectively, with almost every minor character occupying a perfect place in the overall drama, from the Polish loan shark for whom Zamachowski briefly works to the elderly farmer who dreams of keeping his wealth in a jar.

Funny, touching, believable and involving, this is a film well worth a look even for non fans of he director and the genre, perhaps especially so.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1999.