Three Colours - Blue

France-Switzerland-Poland 1993, 98 mins
Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski

Three Colours: Blue is part of a trilogy which bands together three films, Blue, White and Red – the colours of the French flag – under the loose headings Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, and can be seen in some ways as Kieślowski the Pole coming to terms with becoming, so to speak, a French filmmaker under the auspices of French producer Marin Karmitz. Blue’s relationship to the concept of liberty is deeply ironic here, since Kieślowski, as we shall see, regards absolute freedom and love as opposites.

Schooled in the virtues of neorealist visual storytelling, sumptuously photographed in 35mm colour and impeccably pared down to its vital essences, Blue devotes the vast bulk of its screen time to gazing at Juliette Binoche, an actress of great talent and beauty, as she goes about doing remarkably everyday things. But the film is far from an enraptured hymn to graceful looks and elegant posturing. It’s savage irony and remarkable austerity that hold sway.

The story begins with a car crash in which Julie de Courcy (Binoche), though only injured herself, loses her famous composer husband and her child Anna. Failing at suicide, she decides to erase the traces of her marriage and withdraw from the world. Though she has everyone’s sympathy, Julie does her best to push everyone away. ‘You’ve changed,’ says a music journalist. ‘You were never so abrasive or unpleasant. What happened?’ ‘Don’t you know?’ responds Julie. ‘We had a car crash. My daughter was killed. So was my husband.’

Blue treats Julie as someone trying desperately to brush off hurtful connections. She soon finds, however, that no matter how many cobweb strands she removes, near-invisible remnants trail around with her. Hers is an unusual kind of extreme grief expressed in a need to clear the entire past out of her mind, as if to continue any part of what was would corrupt what it had meant to her. This stringent, otherworldly idealism is constantly tested by arbitrarily cruel, kind and ironic interruptions in the form of apparently chance meetings with journalists, her husband’s colleagues, new neighbours, a would-be lover, a street musician, a pregnant mouse and the witness to the car crash. But her emphatic behaviour also presents the viewer with the unexpected – for instance, her sudden summoning of her husband’s partner Olivier to have sex with her when she realises he’s in love with her, done seemingly in the hope that once he’s fucked her, he’ll realise how ordinary she is and let her go.

The way Blue treats its first 15 minutes is part of what makes it so unique to cinema and to its own time. A comparison between the fullness of the script and what ended up in the final edit is illustrative of Kieślowski’s absolutist approach to his craft. In the finished film, a great deal of exposition and description gets condensed almost wordlessly into telling images.

Kieślowski and his writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz have a difficult trick to pull off whereby it’s the things that Julie is renouncing – and we can’t help thinking here about the Catholic tradition of renouncing worldly things in order to be closer to the spiritual – that help us to fill in who she has been. There’s an irony in getting to know a character just at the point when she wants no one to know any more: it’s like raiding someone’s garbage can.

Our introduction to Julie is mediated through images that respond to her state of mind. Bizarre perspectives, Dutch tilts and abrupt changes of scale abound. And by planting all this material on screen uncontextualised by voiceover or much dialogue, Blue presumes, rightly, that the viewer has the sensitivity and intelligence to infer everything. This trust in the audience is one of the things that makes Blue such a 90s film, because it recognises the sophistication in image-reading that most of us, as denizens of the late 20th century, possess.

Blue concentrates much of its effort on depicting a woman determined to be an enigma – an intelligent woman who, for most of the film, has little interest in living men – and portrays her with a uniquely visually and aurally dependent aesthetic born of documentary but fulfilled in almost abstract compositions. The film is put together with ruthless felicity yet is as bleak and harrowing as a fateful film should be. Politically it captures many of the ironies of the freedom espoused by the ‘me’ generation, yet it never patronises either its characters or its audiences. On an allegorical level it could also be about Europe’s futile attempt to wipe the memory of its fractious history – otherwise why the trilogy? Who knows?

Blue is very much an auteurist film in the old-fashioned sense in that it represents the work of six craftspeople at the top of their form, many of whom had worked together before. There’s Kieślowski himself, screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz (who started working with Kieślowski on No End, 1984, and went on to Dekalog, 1988, and The Double Life of Véronique, 1991), composer Zbigniew Preisner (who worked on the same films), cinematographer Slawomir Idziak (who joined the regular team for Dekalog), sound recordist Jean-Claude Laureux (a favourite of Louis Malle) and lastly Juliette Binoche, whose performance, in a career of strict, intelligent underplaying, may be her most subtle ever.

If cinema as art is still alive, it will be in a large part due to filmmakers like Kieślowski who know the whole history of their craft and yet revivified their means and methods constantly, however modest the scale.
Nick James, Sight and Sound, April 2002

Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski
©/Production Companies: MK2 Productions, CEO Productions, France 3 Cinéma, CAB Productions, Zespol Filmowy ‘Tor’
With the participation of: Canal+
Supported by: Eurimages Conseil de l’Europe
With the participation of: Centre national de la cinématographie
Presented by: Marin Karmitz
Production Manager: Yvon Crenn
Unit Managers/Administration: Caroline Lassa, Aline Corneille, Anne Guillemard, Olivier Bulteau, Jean Talvat, Nicolas Tempier, Gisèle Vuillaume, Dominique Lefevre
1st Assistant Director: Emmanuel Finkiel
2nd Assistant Directors: Julie Bertucelli, Stéphane Libiot, François Azria,
Emmanuela Demarchi
Assistant to the Director: Stan Latek
Script Supervisor: Geneviève Dufour
Casting: Margot Capelier
Screenplay: Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Krzysztof Kieślowski
Screenplay Collaborators: Agnieszka Holland, Edward Zebrowski, Slawomir Idziak
Director of Photography: Slawomir Idziak
Assistant Operators: Henryk Jedynak, Muriel Coulin
Second Camera: Piotr Jaxa
Grips: Albert Vasseur, Alain Dreze
Lighting: Hans Meier, Ernst Brunner, Alain Dondin
Stills: Piotr Jaxa
Editor: Jacques Witta
Assistant Editors: Michele D’Attoma, Aïlo Auguste, Catherine Cormon, Urszula Lesiak
Art Director: Claude Lenoir
Set Decorators: Marie-Claire Quin, Jean-Pierre Delettre, Christian Aubenque,
Julien Poitou-Weber, Lionel Acat
Props: Michel Charvaz
Costumes: Virginie Viard, Naima Lagrange
Make-up/Hairdressers: Valérie Tranier, Jean-Pierre Caminade
Titles/Opticals: Ercidan
Music: Zbigniew Preisner
Music Performed by: Warsaw Sinfonia, Philharmonic Choir of Silesie
Soprano: Elzbieta Towarnika
Flute: Jacek Ostaszewski
Piano: Konrad Mastylo
Orchestra Director: Wojciech Michniewski
Choir Master: Jan Wojtacha
Executive Music Producer: Halina Laciak
Music Engineer: Rafal Paczkowski
Assistant Music Engineer: Leszek Kaminski
Sound Recordists: Brigitte Taillandier, Pascal Colomb
Sound Mixer: William Flageollet
Sound Editors: Claire Bez, Bertrand Lenclos, Jean-Claude Laureux
Sound Effects: Jean-Pierre Lelong, Mario Melchiorri, Vincent Arnardi
Press Representative: Eva Simonet

Juliette Binoche (Julie Vignon de Courcy)
Benoît Régent (Olivier)
Florence Pernel (Sandrine)
Charlotte Véry (Lucille)
Hélène Vincent (journalist)
Philippe Volter (estate agent)
Claude Duneton (doctor)
Hugues Quester (Patrice)
Emmanuele Riva (mother)
Florence Vignon (copyist)
Jacek Ostaszewski (flautist)
Yann Trégouet (Antoine)
Isabelle Sadoyan (servant)
Daniel Martin (downstairs neighbour)
Catherine Thérouenne (neighbour)
Alain Ollivier (lawyer)
Pierre Forget (gardener)
Philippe Manesse
Idit Cebula
Jacques Disses
Yves Penay
Arno Chevrier
Stanislas Nordey
Michel Lisowski (interpreter)
Philippe Morier-Genoud (judge)
Julie Delpy (Dominique Vidal)
Zbigniew Zamachowski, (Karol)
Alain Decaux

France-Switzerland-Poland 1993©
98 mins

A Curzon release

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound & the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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