Well, here I am again with my entry for this month’s obstruction. If you aren’t familiar with what I’m talking about, you should check out Nostra’s amazing blog-a-thon and check out all of the participating entries.
For the second obstruction, Nostra challenged us to write not only a review of a movie, but to include an interview about it. Now we had to choice of interviewing someone who worked on the film or really anyone else (as long as it wasn’t yourself). I really wanted to try and reach someone who worked on a film but this month has been beyond busy and there was just no way I’d have the time to comfortably seek out and conduct an interview. Thankfully, Josh over at The Cinematic Spectacle offered up his services and I was able to interview him about a trilogy he holds near and dear to his heart. In the spirit of July (the 4th to be exact) I decided to review Kieslowski’s ‘Trois Couleurs’ trilogy; ‘Bleu’, ‘Blanc’ and Rouge’. Josh has been a longstanding and rather vocal fan of the trilogy and so it felt like an appropriate choice.
In Kieslowski’s first film in his ‘Trois Couleurs’ trilogy, he explores liberty. This is not in the political sense but in an emotional sense, and that truth rings loud and clear over the course of the film’s running time. ‘Bleu’ follows Julie, a wife and mother who has her life turned upside down when her husband and son are killed in a car accident. Having been in the car with her family, and being the sole survivor, Julie is racked with guilt atop her sorrow and she is pained with the very thought of living. Over the course of the film, Julie regresses into isolation only to have her soul liberated from emotional desolation as she reconnects with her former life and uncovers truths she was unaware of. Kieslowski does a remarkable job of shadowing Julie’s inner conflictions with stunning use of visuals, but more so he allows the emotional core of the film to seep into every frame through music, using it as a symbol of Julie’s inability for true isolation and eventual liberation. Binoche’s tremendous performance illuminates each scene as she digs deep into the turmoil Julie is experiencing. What is so moving about ‘Bleu’ is that it truly serves as a progressive film, maybe more so than either of the other films in the trilogy, because it fully fleshes out Julie’s complete transformation as a person experiencing grief. Kieslowski truly ‘liberates’ her.
In ‘Blanc’, the second film in the trilogy, Kieslowski tackles equality. Using a divorcing couple for this, Kieslowski mirrors the political state of France through this young couple’s sexual and emotional turmoil. Karol, a Polish immigrant, is being humiliated by his French wife for his inability to consummate their marriage. Instead of simply walking away from the situation, Karol mourns the loss of his love and she continues to rub that loss in his face to the point where he seeks out an intricate and devilish revenge in order to attain his personal equality. The use of white is brilliant here, for it underscores the more pure aspects of the story and helps connect us to Karol as a man. As an ‘anti-comedy’, ‘Blanc’ offers a lighter look at Kieslowski’s themes but never feels unimportant. The depictions of Karol’s eminent rise are deeply rooted in the strength of the trilogy and offer a true glimpse of the director’s range.
For me, Kieslowski’s crowning achievement (at least in this trilogy) comes in the form of ‘Rouge’, the final film. Here he tackles the subject of fraternity and does so by introducing us to an ‘anti-romance’ revolving around part-time model, Valentine, and a retired judge, Kern. The two are brought together when Valentine accidentally runs over Kern’s dog. The two find themselves wrapped in a web of emotional connection as the two become privy to the lives of those around them. Kern, a bitter recluse, spies on his neighbors to feed his cynical outlook. Valentine stumbles onto this and finds herself intrigued despite her hesitation. What makes ‘Rouge’ so impactful is the way that Kieslowski perfectly balances out his themes through varied means. He uses polar extremes to create a complete picture. The age differences, the personal outlook on life, the professional stage in life are all factors that help give the audience vantage points that feel fully fleshed out and truly universal. The depictions of maintained innocence amidst pure cynicism are powerful and truly lasting. The prominent theme of fraternity is beautifully exposed through the interwoven relationships that become all the more evident in that closing scene.
So, I contacted Josh and interviewed him on his take on the trilogy, and this is how that went:
Josh, I’m really happy to be able to interview you on Kieslowski’s acclaimed trilogy, ‘Trois Couleurs’. It is always interesting to me to look at trilogies that don’t necessarily piece together as a singular narrative but more or less correlate thanks to themes and the director’s unique vision. ‘Trois Couleurs’ is one of those collections that feels very complete despite the obvious differences between the pieces.
For you Josh, what common thread do you see tying these films together?
For me, themes of love, isolation, deceit and identity pervade these films. In Blue, Binoche's character Julie isolates herself when she loses her husband and daughter in a car crash. Not only does she learn that he was having an affair, but she also struggles with leading a new life on her own. White also deals with these themes in the form of Karol, a man who vows to get revenge of his ex-wife. Isolation exists in both of them, as they were both affected by never consummating the marriage. Kieslowski also has fun with deceit in this dark comedy. In Red, a judge's isolation and bitterness affects the life a young model/student named Valentine, who befriends him. Supporting characters in all three films convey these themes as well.
I completely agree, and find that those universal themes help make this trilogy a more effective and impactful ‘whole’. Kieslowski stated that the films are loosely based on the three political ideals in the motto of the French Republic: liberty, equality and fraternity. Do you see these themes expressed vividly enough, or do you find them more ambiguously placed?
I find them easy enough to identify, but I think Kieslowski went deeper than that. On the surface, Blue deals with Julie's search for liberty; White follows Karol's quest for equality in his marriage; and Red uses Valentine's spirit of fraternity to form her relationship with the judge. These mirror the political ideals in the motto of the French Republic.
Do you think understanding the intent behind the film’s statements necessary to fully appreciating them as a whole?
Understanding helps appreciate them more, but I don't see why a person couldn't appreciate them as works of art, even if they don't fully comprehend them. I'm still discovering things in them myself.
Isn’t that really what defines a great film; one that you can revisit and still glean from! For me, this trilogy is largely visual, using rich imagery to evoke our emotions and express these themes. Do you see there are any particular images that sum up the core of these films?
The images of Binoche in the fetal position, Delpy in prison, and Jacob's profile on the billboard are the most evocative to me. The themes I mentioned of love, isolation, deceit and identity can be found in them.
Now, I consider ‘Red’ to be one of the finest films of the 90’s, possibly ever made, and I know that you have a soft spot for ‘Blue’. Why do you think it is that ‘White’ is often left out of the conversation?
I think White is often (unfairly) overlooked because it's viewed as a light film, especially compared to the bookends of the trilogy. Of course, it's anything but light, so I'm at a loss. Perhaps it's because the humor becomes the focal point, instead of the darker story at hand. Though billed as a comedy, it's very dark at times, and fits nicely between the other two entries. However, I've seen a few people online state that their favorite film of the trilogy is White.
Do you feel that society as a whole considers tragedy and romance as more admirable mediums than comedy?
Indeed. It's easy to dismiss comedy, as it's not "serious" material. I'd argue that bad comedies have actually proven it to be a very serious process. However, it could also be because society often views tragedy and romance as the most difficult forms of art/literature. Comedy is hard to pull off, but laughter is often the only reward that viewers will give to films of that nature.
Kieslowski has sadly left us, his last film being ‘Red’. He certainly left at the height of his career, ‘Red’ garnering him his only Oscar nomination for Best Director (as well as ‘Original Screenplay’). How do you think Kieslowski, and this particular trilogy (which is considered by many to be his most acclaimed work) has impacted the cinematic community as a whole, and who in particular of this current crop of young directors do you think is drawing from his influence?
I think Kieslowski, and this particular trilogy, has given the cinematic community a different kind of auteur. Before Kieslowski, filmmakers like Bergman, Kurosawa and Kubrick were highly revered, as they remain today. But Kieslowski brought something new to the table, a fresh take on intimacy. Most of his films are both stylish and subtle, which is a refreshing and rewarding undertaking for the viewer. In terms of age, I can't think of any young directors who have been influenced by him. Names like the Dardenne brothers and (maybe) Cristian Mungiu come to mind, but I'm sure there are many more that I can't think of.
I like the Mungiu mention. That is one that I thought of immediately as well. I also think that Steve McQueen possesses the potential to become as influential and as impactful as Kieslowski. I can’t wait to see how his vision grows.
I want to thank you Josh for allowing me to interview you. It’s been great fun and truly insightful!