I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – you can’t help but be impressed by audacity. Whether it’s the guts to project one’s work on an IMAX screen, or the patience to dedicate twelve years to filming a project, there’s something inspiring and awesome about seeing an artist attempt something grand. This is true of trilogies as well.
Mention a trilogy to a film fan and they’ll likely think of their favorite action series, or even once-wonderful trios marred by unnecessary additional sequels. But trilogies can be about more than just cashing in; they can be a way to explore different sides of the same damaged human condition. They can evoke the classic visual art triptych, where three works would come together to form one whole. And they can allow for films to stand on their own artistically, while providing the audience a spiritual connection with other films in a series.
For the first time in this writing series, I attempted to pull not just a film, but an entire trilogy out of my blindspot. Now in the afterglow of my first experience with Krzysztof Kieślowski Trois Couleuers Trilogy, I say to you again: You can’t help but be impressed by audacity.
Trois Couleurs is made up of three films that are loosely connected: BLUE, WHITE, and RED (or BLEU, BLANC, and ROUGE if we want to stick with the French).
BLUE is about a woman named Julie (Juliette Binoche) whose husband and child are killed in a car crash that she survives. She uses the incident as a way to attempt to isolate herself and cut herself off from the outside world. WHITE is about a man named Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) who is divorced by his new bride Dominique (Julie Delpy) on the grounds of inability to consummate the marriage. Karol sets out on an elaborate plot to regain the pride and standing which he has lost. Finally, RED is about a model named Valentine (Irène Jacob) who hits a dog while driving one night. As she goes about re-uniting the dog with its owner, she learns that it belongs to a retired judge named Joseph (Jean-Louis Trintignant)…who just happens to enjoy eavesdropping on his neighbours’ phone calls.
What’s wonderful about the trilogy is the way it can be watched in almost any order. As I understand it, the preferred order is “BLUE, WHITE, RED” – which makes sense both chronologically and likewise in its association with the french flag. However, because I had hear whispers that WHITE was the one that people liked the least, I decided to start there…and ramp my way up. That’s when a funny thing happened on the way to the ramp-up; I found myself adoring WHITE…perhaps even best of all. As an astute cinephile put it to me, sometimes it just comes down to affinity you have for your first taste. However, I like to think that it says something about your character and what you cling to; the anti-romance, the anti-comedy, or the anti-tragedy.
To close out my thoughts on viewing order, I’ll say this much; RED is quite clearly meant to be the conclusion. So if decide to dig into this series for the first time, do what you will with BLUE and WHITE, but leave RED to last. It works best that way.
Amusing sidenote: No mere moments after I finished typing that sentence in a draft of this post, I was actually prodded by a lover of the series (also the kind friend who loaned me the blu-rays) for watching them out-of-order.
I believe in artistic intention and in curation, but I stand by my statement – by and large in TROIS COULOUERS, order doesn’t matter.
A funny thing happened in the way I consumed this trilogy. Not wanting to watch it all in one marathon session, I spread the three films out over my three-day post-Christmas break. In doing so, I chose to watch each film during the time of day where I got the most peace & quiet: the morning. So beginning on Boxing Day, I woke-up, cleaned up, and immediately moved to my couch to get my Kieślowski fix for the day.
What’s funny about this, is that in every film I could almost feel the central characters waking up with me. I could feel Karol getting past his humiliation and hatching his scheme. I could sense Julie slowly rising from her depression and re-establishing her connection to the outside world. And I could relate to everybody in RED as they slowly let go of their immediate desires and started to see the truth for what it was.
It’s a really strange sensation – watching a film as you first wake-up, especially one with subtitles. Your brain isn’t quite firing on all cylinders yet, and you barely want to move. Yet engaging with these very human stories in the harsh morning light felt like the best way to consume them. It reminded me that while so many of us want to stay warm in our beds secluded from the outside world, that we learn so much about ourselves by opening our eyes and throwing open the curtains.
Every one of these three films was an elevation…so using them to elevate into my day through this vacation felt like it really allowed me to get the most out of three days away from the office.
What the visualist in me loved most was the way each film tried to work its titular colour into the frame as often as possible. Sometimes it was obvious – such as the photo shoot in RED or the swimming pool in BLUE – but usually it was natural. Items and encounters that would normally dot these characters’ everyday lives just happened to be the colour of the moment…and if they happened to underline the wistfulness of the tale, or the rage, or the sadness, so be it!
At the end of it all, I believe what I love most about TROIS COULEURS is the way they seem less like a trilogy of films and more like three movements of the same symphony. Each film can be enjoyed all on its own as a complete work – even RED which ties a bow on the whole series in its finale. There are tropes and themes that connect them as a series, but unlike other great trilogies in film history, it’s not like each film is dependent on additional viewing for the audience to fully appreciate the work. Such respect for the audience is rare in art sometimes. More and more, a filmmaker or producer who sets out to make a series wants its audience to show up having done the reading. One should be entitled to walk into something cold and appreciate it on its own merit.
I could write a post that is twice as long as this going into my specific highs and lows of all three films. I could tell you how moved I was by Binoche in her swimming pool, or how twisted-up I felt by Delpy behind her fenced-in window. I could talk about loss, about alienation, about redemption, and about how much better I believe this world would be if Krzysztof Kieślowski were still around to treat us to new films…but I would be writing until rapture.
For now, all I’ll say is this – There are rewards that await those with the love and patience enough to consume a complete collection. It’s a journey that you take with an artist that is not for the faint of heart or short of patience. The rewards though, are so truly worth it. They allow you to experience something you so seldom experience, and get further in touch with your own thoughts and your own feelings than you ever thought possible.
I usually post Blind Spot entries on the final Tuesday of every month. If you are participating, drop me an email (ryanatthematineedotca) when your post is up and I’ll make sure to link to your entry.
Here’s the round-up for December so far…
Beatrice watched MEMENTO
Nikhat Zahra watched A STAR IS BORN
Courtney Small watched CLOSE-UP
Josh watched BIRTH OF A NATION
Katy Rochelle watched THE HOLIDAY
Mette Kowalski watched IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE
Fisti watched CHILDREN OF PARADISE
Ruth watched THE STING
John Hitchcock watched WHITE HUNTER, BLACK HEART
Jay Cluitt watched SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN
Dan Heaton watched MY NEIGHBOR TOTORO
Brittani Burnham watched FANNY AND ALEXANDER
Will Kouf watched MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS
Sean Kelly watched SCHINDLER’S LIST
Cristian watched ERASERHEAD
Steve Flores watched SALO