587 Three Colors Trilogy

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Re: Three Colors: White (Krzysztof Kieślowski. 1994)

#76 Post by MichaelB » Tue Oct 27, 2020 2:36 pm

My big advantage was that when I saw White for the first time (on its original release), I'd already seen Kieślowski's feature output from Camera Buff onwards, so I was reasonably well informed about his Polish work (although I wouldn't get to see the rest of the 1970s films until much later) - so it was White that felt reassuringly familiar to me rather than Blue or Red.

One of these days I'm going to attempt a deep dive into 1990s Polish cinema, as it's easily the postwar decade I know the least well, and is very poorly documented (certainly in English), mainly because it's very hard to get hold of many titles - and even when I have managed it, they're usually unsubtitled (Andrzej Wajda's The Crowned-Eagle Ring, for instance). The decade still managed to produce some terrific films against extremely adverse financial and distribution circumstances - I'm thinking of White, Wojciech Marczewski's Escape from the Liberty Cinema (1990), Dorota Kędziersawska's Crows (1994) and Krzysztof Krauze's The Debt (1999) - but the strong impression I get is that they were very much the outliers.

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Re: Three Colors: White (Krzysztof Kieślowski. 1994)

#77 Post by therewillbeblus » Tue Oct 27, 2020 3:28 pm

While I'm not sure I can definitively say this is my favorite now, it was when I first watched the trilogy in a college film class. Whereas the other films appeared to be translating emotions through a pool of physical inanimate manifestations of moods in mise-en-scene, White seemed more grounded in an alienation from more palpable, human signifiers, only to take us to a similar enigmatic place as the others in the end. The emasculation of one's bearings from literal impotence certainly resembles a lack of reciprocity in relationships, but that uncontrollable failure to satisfy a romantic partner causing catastrophic consequences is something relatable that doesn't succumb to moral magnetism. We can pity Karol for being a victim, but his defects existing on their own can still victimize his wife, and without intentional harm doesn't negate a perspective of harm. His meekness may be a quality of compassion but not the aggressive partner she needs in a relationship that functions through shifting power dynamics. In a sense this is an antithesis of those erotic films like Eaux profondes or Bitter Moon that see romantic partners playing extreme, toxic mindgames with/on the other to up the ante of sexual gratification via these power dynamics, with White accruing a similar outcome through natural consequences without malicious intent or consciousness to the process. The final moment of this film is so devastating and beautiful because it pierces the safer emotions like anger and byproducts in resentment and revenge that pathologize the triggering individual into a secure black-and-white category, and pares back to reveal that there's something deeply human and nebulous about these dynamics and our needs as people that are spiritually-intangible rather than psychologically-attainable. It's an offering that disallows such blinding positions and thus Karol and Dominique both have spiritual experiences, with Kieslowski here to show that these transcendent moments aren't always purified in positive emotion either.

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Re: Three Colors: White (Krzysztof Kieślowski. 1994)

#78 Post by Sloper » Fri Nov 06, 2020 6:54 pm

Saturnome wrote:
Tue Oct 27, 2020 2:10 pm
I'm pretty sure that being a teenager when watching the trilogy first made me unable to understand much of this one, I felt closer to the experiences of the characters in Blue and Red, and also they're "prettier" films, with more obvious color staging than White ever does. I was way more into formalism as a teenager (as most do?) and I'm sure this bothered me that there was no blue plastic jewels or big bright red posters to color the scenes.
White was my favourite film in the trilogy when I first saw it, I think because it’s the only one with a compelling narrative. Since then I’ve come to feel more of a connection to Blue, I think because I find Julie more interesting than Karol. So that probably says something about what gets me interested, and then what keeps me interested… I’ve never managed to like Red, although it’s grown on me (a little) with repeat viewings.

For me, the problem with Red is more fundamental than just those last few minutes, and thinking about this actually helps me to articulate what I like so much about Kieślowski’s films. I get a real kick out of the idea of using fiction as a way to explore abstract qualities or principles, but doing so in a complex, fluid way, so that something you might expect to be preachy and moralistic ends up being genuinely profound. This is most starkly exemplified by Dekalog One, which (rightly or wrongly) I’ve always read as saying that
just because everything can be measured doesn’t mean there isn’t a god; and just because some things can’t be measured doesn’t mean there is a god. As a lifelong atheist, I find this story genuinely challenging, and it’s not just an intellectual or philosophical exercise – it makes me feel deeply sad. But I love that it’s a story about an unbeliever being punished…and the punishment makes the universe feel more godless than ever.
Similarly, I love how the Three Colours films play with the ideas of liberty, equality, and fraternity in unexpected ways, and ways that are hard to pin down. The problem with Red, though, is that it’s about a movement from alienation to connectedness, and I think it’s hard to tell that story without slipping into mawkish platitudes. Stories on this theme often end up turning the characters into ciphers: like rom-com cut-outs you can feel them being pushed towards each other. It’s potentially interesting that Valentine serves as a centre-point around which everyone gathers and finally connects, but that’s an almost inevitably passive, anodyne role for the protagonist to be trapped in. Irène Jacob is still good, but she’s so much better in Véronique where the story focuses on her for her own sake. I guess what I’m saying is that I just don’t want to see another film about fraternity. For all that there are moments of real tension and ambiguity in Red (and Preisner’s music heightens these very effectively), it does kind of end up being about how we’re all connected and love and friendship are nice. I’d like to be told I'm being reductive, though.

In the previous two films of the trilogy, the concepts of liberty and equality are just so much more conducive to the kind of provocative philosophical/moral/emotional discourse Kieślowski specialises in. There’s something so inspired about tackling the theme of liberty via the story of a bereaved, betrayed, repressed woman, groping her way towards an acceptance of emotions that we, as the audience, are never quite allowed to understand. Even this feels like a trite description of what happens in Blue.

TWBB’s post does a better job than I can of digging into the treatment of equality in White. To go back to my first point, equality is a good theme for a compelling story because it implies inequality (and therefore conflict) as a starting point, and in dramatic terms it implies a quest for vengeance; something is unbalanced and needs re-balancing. But this would be an obnoxious film if it were a simple revenge story. As TWBB says, it’s also not quite the same as something like Bitter Moon (and I think is a much better, more sympathetic, but also more disturbing, take on sado-masochism). Dominique feels betrayed, on some primal level, by Karol’s impotence; his revenge plot is an attempt to restore balance and undo that betrayal; but the ending leaves us unsure of whether the relationship has become balanced, or whether things are (or are about to be) as they were at the start of the film. Again – what a brilliant, and unexpected, way to ask questions about the nature of equality.

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