Three Colors: Blue (Trois Couleurs: Bleu) Reviews
The final sequence of this film is almost the exact opposite of the genius ending of Antonioni's L'Eclisse.
And that score. You know, the laughably invasive one that bulldozes you right before he cuts to black... only to reopen on the same scene? It's self serving enough to make John Williams blush. It doesn't take a genius to recognize that this trite score seems to swell during Julie's (Juliette Binoche) moments of specific introspection (get it? Because her husband's music/legacy/memory haunts her. How clever!), but I couldn't help but roll my eyes upon seeing Kieslowski go back to this well time and time again.
And that ending. It seems to start with Julie having sex in a glass box full of water (?), and ends with an overwrought roll call of all the film's characters looking deep in thought. What is this, a film school thesis project?
I've read countless articles that defend this film's abstract (i.e. meandering) nature by calling it "poetic cinema." Put Blue up against anything from Bunuel, Fellini or Jodorowsky's canon and it'll pale in comparison. The aforementioned directors deal in poetics as a means to tell a story, to explore a character. They don't need to trout out every single trick in a filmmaker's arsenal to cover up for shallow, half-baked ideas. If you're like me, and constantly feel compelled to defend art house foreign cinema from the mediocrity that dominates mainstream cinema, do not present Blue as evidence. It only reinforces every single stereotype.
I quite liked the usage of red color in 'Trois Couleurs: Rouge'. However, I didn't like the excessive usage of blue color here, despite of blue being my favorite color. Kinda seemed forced to me. I guess Neytiri (the character from 'Avatar' movie) ought to be the lead character for this movie. And why does Lucille (the whore) bring white flowers when she goes to thank Julie? Weren't blue flowers available anywhere? For fuck's sake, I mean.
Not sure if I'll go for 'Three Colors: White', the only one I've yet to see of this trilogy.
Like many times before, Kubrick was spot on, and Three Colours -- Blue is proof of it. For while it is not the strongest of Kieslowski's films, nor the best instalment of the Three Colours trilogy, it is a deeply intelligent and subtle film which rewards and flatters its audience while inviting them to do the intellectual legwork. It manages to take a relatively simple story about bereavement, and preserve its beautiful simplicity while expanding upon the greater themes present in and around such events.
The most obvious feature of Blue is its beautiful cinematography. Slawomir Idziak captures a wonderful range of blue shades which reflect the underlying theme and tone of melancholy. As in Red, the titular colour is everywhere to show how the corresponding emotion permeates everything -- for just as the red brotherly love surrounds and ultimately prevails in society, so the blue sadness is everywhere in life.
There are very few shots in which something blue does not feature, as Kieslowski shows how one tragic event can contaminate everything and alter our perception of reality in the unhealthiest ways. The colours range from the faded blue folders containing the compositions to the glaring ultraviolet of the swimming pool. Even the score itself is shot in an inky blue, with some interesting lens work which illuminates individual notes as the camera scrolls along.
Other visual tropes, however, do not work quite so well. There is a running motif of 'blackouts' throughout the film, in which Juliette Binoche's bereaved wife remembers life before the car crash: her husband's music starts up, the screen goes to black for a few seconds, and then returns. It's an interesting device, hinting perhaps at the concept of synaesthesia (the confusion of senses, such as seeing colours when you hear music). But ultimately this is used too often and too close together to seem genuinely effective. Likewise there seems little purpose in the 'worm's eye view' of the car which opens the film, since it isn't referenced or repeated later like so much in Kieslowski's work.
Running in tandem to the visual theme of melancholy, we have the central narrative theme of liberty, or more specifically emotional liberty. The film focuses more on negative freedom (the freedom from something) than on positive freedom (the freedom to be or do something), although the film suggests towards the end that the two are irrevocably intertwined.
The theme of negative liberty is mainly communicated through the distance of the central character. Julie has positive freedom, insofar as she is able to do whatever she likes. But she takes no pleasure in this freedom, and her bereavement causes her to disconnect from the life she had before. She throws her husband's most recent compositions in a skip, puts the family home up for sale, reverts to her maiden name when finding a new apartment, and tells the man she has just slept with that he will not miss her. Binoche gives a powerful performance, showing just how traumatised and distant this woman is, and in turn just how life-changing grief can be.
There is a comparison between Three Colours -- Blue and Pink Floyd -- The Wall, since both are visually powerful statements about self-imposed isolation, caused by deep psychological trauma. But where Pink Floyd -- The Wall is terrifyingly upfront about its psychosis, with much of its content being played for shock value, Three Colours -- Blue is much more internalised and minimalist. It invites you into the character's pain, up to a certain point, and never loses sight of the all-important humanity at the heart of the story. Where Alan Parker plays on the distance to show how degenerate a man come become, Kieslowski maintains a level of intimacy: we are rebuffed by Binoche, but we never feel disrespected.
As with Pink, Julie de Courcy's isolation is steadily tested both by chance encounters and the lasting power of her late husband and his friends. There is a fleeting undercurrent in the film surrounding the relationship between freedom and chance. At the beginning of the film a boy is trying to get a ball onto a stick, failing miserably with each passing attempt. He then accomplishes the trick just before the car crash happens. Similarly, Julie's one-time lover, who is attempting to finish her husband's final work, admits that he found her by change as much as perseverance.
The first test which Julie undergoes is the man being beaten up in the street: she could intervene and stop it, but she reasons that it is none of her business and therefore she does nothing. In this instance her inaction would appear to damage his chances, but later on her inaction brings her friendship: in refusing to sign the landlady's petition, the prostitute living on the floor below befriends her and looks out for her interests. Kieslowski is being deliberately equivocal with us, arguing that while the freedom to do nothing is still a big part of liberty, it is not for that reason to be readily condoned.
As the film wears on, it becomes increasingly clear that Binoche's character is finding it hard to let go of her past. The biggest clue to this is the fact that she keeps her blue beads hanging in the new flat. The glass beads are like vessels in which the sadness and memories have become permanently trapped, but rather than being repulsive they are so much a part of her that she cannot bring herself to throw them away. Similarly, when she visits the strip club to unwittingly help her new-found friend, she begins to open up a little more, acknowledging that some good can come from her current circumstances.
So many foreign films pride themselves on being unnecessarily complex; in an attempt to part from clichés and genre conventions, they tie themselves in knots and lose their audience along the way. While it is therefore obtuse to complain about Blue being too simple, when compared to the whole trilogy this is slightly problematic. We get all the quality we associate with Kieslowski, including the ambiguous ending which fits with the remit of it being an anti-tragedy. But because its story is so stripped-down, Blue has none of the mystery which Red has, either in its story or its style, and even when it veers close to Red in its conclusion, it doesn't pack quite the same punch.
Despite these little niggles, Three Colours -- Blue is a sumptuous and stylish film, and a fine beginning to Kieslowski's trilogy. Binoche's performance is very impressive, matching Red's Irène Jacob for both intrigue and charisma. Kieslowski's direction is masterful, the film is beautiful to behold and the central themes are conveyed with artful subtlety. Most of all, the film is a reminder to all of us of the need for love and the freedom that it brings. To echo its final lines, if were have not love, we are but hollow brass.
Stars: Juliette Binoche, Benoît Régent, Florence Pernel and Charlotte Véry
Genre: Drama, Art House
First of a trilogy of films dealing with contemporary French society concerns how a composer deals with the death of her husband and child
Review coming soon....
The writing (or lack thereof) is Blue's only weakness - the film looks gorgeous, sounds astonishing and Juliette Binoche gives a virtuoso performance as a woman in crisis. But her character is so undefined, a freeform wisp that an actress of a lesser caliber would have completely massacred. The whole movie slowly chips away at her armor, showing us the nature of a good woman, but following a blank-slate protagonist for 100 minutes can feel a little unrewarding.
Slow in every sense of the word, Blue is not for everyone. If you can forgive it its dull plot and lethargic pacing, then you will surely find plenty to appreciate here.
An intimate portrait on a woman coping with an impossible tragedy, not through human interaction, but through isolation which doubles as a subtle social commentary, this film's story is minimalist, and its telling is so thin that it's difficult to get invested even in its potential, but the potential is there, promising intriguing dramatic and thematic value for Krzysztof Kieślowski to betray and do justice as director. Kieślowski meditative directorial style tends to be tedious, when it's not simply bland, as it's not justified by accessible material, although, when there is material for Kieślowski to draw upon, while it's never particularly effective, there ought to be some arousal to one's emotions, intelligence and, of course, aesthetic side. Kieślowski at least keeps consistent in working well with the film's style, and even then, there's only so much flare to the visual style, and only so much music at all, but when Zbigniew Preisner's genuine classical score is played up, it's powerful its own right and complimentary to the emotive aspects of this drama, and when Sławomir Idziak's cinematography is really allowed to flesh out its - you guessed it - blue palette in the context of hauntingly spare lighting, a sense of near-dreamy intimacy is biting. The style is primarily effective on its own, and that's impressive enough, considering just how outstanding the film's score and cinematography get to be, but it does do a fine job of complimenting what resonance there is to this cold affair. The lovely Juliette Binoche helps, though not as much as they, as she is earning praise for a performance which has hardly any material to work with, but is still asked to project a sense of distance and gloom as a woman faced with tragedy. The leading Julie de Courcy character does nothing but mope, never even having a major emotional breakthrough, but Binoche's subtlety and grace humanizes such a thin role enough to reflect worthy inspiration in a film which generally aspires to be nothing more than tedious in its subtlety. There is enough effective dramatic and aesthetic value to save the final product, but just barely, as the film is so aggravating in its misguidance, something that a minimalist story concept cannot afford to be faced with.
I've given my praise to the dramatic and thematic value of this story concept as an intimate character study and social allegory, but this narrative might be too intimate for its own good, being minimalist in scope and potential, as surely as it is lacking in originality. This story isn't especially new, or, if it is, then the uniqueness is obscured a good bit by an execution which is very formulaic, as confusing as that sounds, given the storytelling has an artistically offbeat approach to subject matter which is minimalist enough in concept. This is yet another abstractly structured French drama which is too wrapped up in its realism to pick up momentum, and although that's not where the excess ends in this focally uneven and repetitious plot, the ostensibly thematic meditations on meanderings are too monotonous to sell the allegorical which are themselves too subtle, and the dramatic elements which are themselves too thin, not unlike the characterization which is supposed to drive the dramatics. The supporting characters feel like inconsequential supplements to the story of a lead who, despite being faced with particularly rough times, is nothing extraordinary, and is hardly nuanced, being well-portrayed by Juliette Binoche, but thinly drawn by the inexplicably sizable writing team of Krzysztof Kieślowski and Piesiewicz, Agnieszka Holland, and Edward Żebrowski. As effective as Binoche is, that is, with pathetically thin material, I never could get invested in a lead too uninteresting and problematic on paper to be sold without extensive characterization, thus, this intimate character study loses a lot of dramatic intrigue that it cannot afford to part with, no when Kieślowski, as director, takes such a subdued approach. The limply meditative storytelling structure goes accompanied by a limply meditative directorial atmosphere which has its moments, but, as you can imagine, primarily has hardly any material to draw upon with thoughtfulness, resulting in dull spells which are not occasional, or even recurrent, but all but consistent throughout this occasionally effective drama, drying out the atmosphere and trying your patience with enough tedium to frustrate. At the same time, there is plenty of simple dryness to meet the tedious moments, thus, the final product is too bland to be contemptible, but, make no mistake, it isn't exactly enjoyable, having its moments, but losing a lot of resonance through abstractionism, obviously never to be redeemed through entertainment value, whose absence secures the final product as totally inconsequential.
Overall, there is some potential intrigue to this story concept which is done some justice when Krzysztof Kieślowski, as director, finds realization in his utilizing thoughtfulness, haunting musical and visual style, and a solid performance by Juliette Binoche to establish highlights in effectiveness which save the film from contempt, yet are seriously rare, or at least feel as though they are, for there are enough natural shortcomings to the intimate narrative, conventions to an already problematically monotonous meditative storytelling structure, thinness to the characterization, - even of an uninteresting lead - and tedium to a punishingly subdued atmosphere to make "Three Colors: Blue" something of a weak squandering of time, and only the beginning (Gulp... down some coffee, because there's two more to go).
2/5 - Weak