Monday, February 27, 2017

Jeff's #99: Three Colors: Red

#99: Three Colors: Red (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994)

I toyed with putting all of the THREE COLORS trilogy under one slot, but that felt cheap, so I went with the most well-regarded of the three, which also happens to be my favorite.  It wasn't always my favorite until a couple of years ago when I revisited the trilogy.  For the longest time, I loved BLUE the most.  It was the first of the trilogy that I saw, and I was just drawn more to its tragedy, its score, and hell, its blueness than the other two.  I think I first saw the trilogy when I was 15 or 16.  I rented each on VHS from the international section of the video store.  I remember as DVD's started to take over VHS you could rent 5 VHS' for $5, and I tore through the after dark, international, and classic film sections like a fiend.  What a deal.  The THREE COLORS trilogy was some of my first exposure to foreign film, so it's long held a near and dear place in my heart.  And unlike a lot of the movies I initially fell for as a fledgling movie nerd, it not only holds up under recent scrutiny but gets richer every time I revisit it with older and (hopefully) wiser eyes.

There's no doubt that THREE COLORS, like all of Kieslowski's best work, is a highly dense, intellectually rigorous series.  It's methodical, contemplative, and weighty like reading Dostoevsky.  But it's also an emotionally rewarding and deeply humanistic experience.  RED's probably the best of the three at balancing the emotional fulfillment of the storytelling with the intellectual complexity of its themes.  It's also the most nebulous of the three, which is purposeful because red is such a nebulous color thematically.  It can variously symbolize both love and hate, in addition to the "fraternity" it symbolizes on the French flag.  The nebulous nature of the film is part of what has constantly drawn me back to it over the years.  And it rewards multiple viewings because each shot is so thoughtfully composed and interconnected.  The background informs the foreground and every image recalls a previous one or alludes to one that will be.  It's a beautiful harmony of corresponding motifs - all tied together by the abundance of this bold color that seems to take on new meaning with each shot it suffuses.  This potential for multiple meanings is ultimately what makes RED so rewarding for me, and what makes Kieslowski such an affirmative filmmaker.  There are no judgments, no diatribes, no post-modern smirks to be found in his work.  His films are just like the Judge's house in RED - everything is an open door.  And inside of that door, there is an emotional affirmation that drives us to the next threshold and beyond.

Fun fact: Kubrick revered Kieslowski for his uncanny ability to show without telling. I do too.

Stats:  One of three Kieslowski movies on here.  One of two featuring Irene Jacob, and sadly, the only one featuring Jean-Louis Trintignant.  MY NIGHT AT MAUD'S is a very honorable mention for this list.


  1. As we've already discussed, I'll be talking about this one soon. I should just copy and paste what you wrote, since you can say it better.

  2. Star Video. I watched all of these on VHS, rented from Star Video in the mid-90s. Honestly, I don't think I was ready for them then.

  3. I honestly don't try to be a contrarian.

    I re-watched this expecting to love it. Instead, I'm mildly annoyed by it. A pervy old judge wins the attention and affection of a lovely model by being a pervy old judge. Meanwhile, a young judge's life plays out the story of the old judge's life, culminating in a literal shipwreck out of which he gets the girl at an appropriate age.

    I'll go read a few appreciative reviews now and try to find what I'm missing. But I just don't see anything here visually or narratively rewarding that is worth returning to.

    Different strokes, I guess.