June 24, 2011
Three Colors: Blue (1993) ****
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Three Colors: Blue (1993)- A visual and directorial triumph even though its narrative suffers from overreaching ambition. **** out of 5
Blue, the first film of Polish director Kryzysztof Kieslowski's much lauded Three Colors Trilogy, takes a color that, as a cliche, signifies sadness and tells a story about just that. One the one hand, this movie is too literal while, on the other hand, it's quite poetic and visually mesmerizing. The strength of Blue lies mostly in its cinematography, editing and soundtrack and not in its plot, which alternates between the familiar and the gimmicky.
The opening sequence involves a car crash which results in the deaths of the husband and young daughter of Julie, played in a wisely understated performance by the excellent Juliette Binoche. Julie survives the crash and very quickly loses the will to go on living the same life she lived before. For a while, we're led to believe that Julie is planning to kill herself, beginning with a failed attempt to swallow a bunch of pills at the hospital. Instead, she decides to leave her lavish home in order to reclaim her maiden name and live in a humble apartment in order to leave her previous life in the past. Julie resists connecting with anyone around her, but circumstances occur outside of her control which force Julie to become involved with others, including people from her past.
Julie does not let herself grieve; instead, she tries to run from her situation, but of course, she can't escape from herself. At times, the screen goes completely black in the middle of some of Julie's most difficult moments, but, when it does, beautiful orchestral music plays on the soundtrack. Julie's husband was one of the best composers in the world, and, before his death, he was working on a piece of music to celebrate the formation of the European Union. Thus, this beautiful music Julie hears whenever she tries to disengage completely does not allow her to escape her tragic reality. In spite of herself, Julie continues to cultivate new memories and even learns some difficult truths about her deceased husband. These truths have the potential to cause Julie more pain, but that might be exactly what she needs since then she will begin to feel something instead of nothing at all.
The themes of loss and grief take center stage in the plot of Blue, but few interesting questions are raised, and there's not much of substance that the audience can take away regarding these themes. Further, there are too many instances of heavy-handed symbolism which are clearly attempting cleverness but instead prove redundant and pedestrian (a bum clutching a flute while he sleeps says that it's important to hold onto at least one thing in life). Yet, Blue is a formally excellent film. Kieslowski consistently offers beautiful camera shots that enhance the mood and texture of Julie's reality. Of course, the color blue is understandably prominent, but it's incorporated quite organically through a lamp of blue crystals and a swimming pool among other instances. Blue is transcendent cinema even though its narrative never matches the artistry which exists behind the camera.