Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sat Jun 19, 2021 10:03 pm 
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More maturity? At least more patience

It's been long enough so that they do look different, these three films in a trilogy that was heralded as genius, and rejected as only fashionable. I may have more patience now, and Blue, White and Red require patience, and rewatching. The first time Blue felt cold and repugnant. White seemed pointless and left little impression. Red, with its many parallelisms and intersections and references to connection and chance and the warmth of its incessant red colors and the wise, sour presiding spirit of the great Jean-Louis Trintignant as the misanthropic Swiss former judge, seemed rich and resonant, the best, as Ebert wrote, "among equals." They're more equal now, with patience, and this is a trilogy that holds up after 27 years. I recommend that you, my much younger film buff friend, should watch it and debate it with your other, young or old, film buff friends. For me, there is an (enjoyable) element of fashion. But I lean toward the attribution of genius, Why not both?

Blue makes a lot more sense now; it just may have an acting problem. White is really funny and entertaining, a delicious revenge story starring a lovable everyman buffoon - a Polish punching bag who, like other characters and events in the trilogy, seems almost magical. I see now the whole trilogy is a celebration of fantasy and invention of a cinematic kind. It's the opposite of the "Dekalog," Kieslowski's ten-part made-for-TV masterwork based on the Ten Commandments. They show us inevitability, the sense that life can't be changed. In "Three Colors," change is always just around the corner, and turns out to be positive, at least for somebody, eventually.

All of "Three Colors" seemed before, and still clearly are, marked by a fine directorial hand and an original imagination, those of Kieslowski himself and his screenplay collaborators, always his lawyer friend who "cannot write," Krzysztof Piesiewicz, and for these three I now see, also Agnieszka Holland. They are visually beautiful, as well as, being made with French funding, in French, each featuring a beautiful young French female lead, Juliette Binoche, July Delpy, and Irène Jacob, respectively. Their music is grand - in the case of Blue, which revolves around a famous dead composer who was working on a hugely ambitious piece for a European union, perhaps a bit too grand. Ebert points out the cinematographer changes each time, intentionally, he says, so each film will have a different look.

I used to dismiss Roger Ebert for his pop culture associations and his factual slips but I am coming around now, and beginning to see the reverence in which he was held is not unjustified. (Even here, though, he identifies Trintignant's dog as "a beautiful golden retriever." Not acceptable! German Shepherd would have done; but Rita is actually a Belgian Malinois.) Going back to his reviews lately I find them satisfying for their warmth and love of film and their poetic truth. He says Kieslowski needs to be recognized among the great directors, "like Bergman, Ozu, Fellini, Keaton and Bunuel." Ebert says Kieslowski "is one of the filmmakers I would turn to for consolation if I learned I was dying, or to laugh with on finding I would live after all." It's nice to be able to pen such heartfelt endorsements. By Ebert I was reminded Blue, White and Red represent liberty, equality, and fraternity, respectively, and this makes basic sense of the three plots.

This time I am still disturbed by the coldness of Julie, Juliette Binoche's widowed wife character in Blue. Let's allow that by having her husband and daughter killed beside her in the car crash, she is set free. She is at liberty to live her life however she wants, when she can figure out what that is. But much of the time, basically she is just emotionally shut down. (There is also the mystery of musical composition, an issue from which she may crave liberation too.) The film shows her gradually coaxed back to being a human being, to smiling and helping other people. The initial anomie is on the stylish side, augmented by the wealth that allows the character to shift from one big new Parisian flat to another. But the action makes sense. The trouble is the actor. As the widow, Binoche just doesn't seem to be feeling anything. There should be a world of feeling seething beneath, that isn't there.

White, far from negligible or tedious as it appeared before, is a rollicking good tale. Previously I failed to appreciate that as the protagonist, the prizewinning Polish hairdresser Karol Karol, Zbigniew Zamachowski is brilliant and wonderfully cast. He makes an irresistibly appealing everyman, and a very durable one, who can be shipped across Europe in a box that's stolen, get beaten silly when the thieves open it, be tossed on a garbage heap - and then pop up happy to be home.

This is the stuff of the 1001 Nights, a reminder that behind the trilogy's psychological commentary and philosophical pronouncements, the three films are delightful fairytales. As Dominique, Karol Karol's cruel and imperious young French wife, Julie Delpy doesn't need to be an interesting actress (she's not): she's just a pretty face and a fluff of blonde hair waiting to be knocked down a peg - many pegs. This is a revenge comedy, but a witty one full of surprises. At the outset Dominique has all the power and at the end, none of it, save for the equalizing downward pull of Karol Karol's contradictory emotional obsession with her. This is a wonderful story. Like all the trilogy, it requires our patience because it takes its time unfolding.

This time I'm reminded how confusing Red is. If you summarize it the result seems merely farfetched and silly as well as tendentious. And I'm so struck by how much the theme color is overdone, unlike the subtly used blue and white in the first two films. Does every other thing have to be red? What is Kieslowski getting at with all this red? At the same time, seen as an art film, a nonobjective exploration of color field possibilities, the overdo is something to bathe in - as Trintignant's Joseph Kern, "Le Juge," is still bathing in his misery thirty years after being betrayed by the woman he loved. Trintignant, born in 1930, a French star since he was linked with Brigitte Bardot in the fifties, has since played venerable roles at age 82, 87, and 89. But here in his mid-sixties, with a cane, he is already looking very weathered and wrinkled, so we can perhaps say he aged both rapidly and well. He has a vigor and force of personality that never age. His stern face has all the gravitas to make this mean, unhappy man's slow melting in his delicate friendship with the young student/model Valentine (Jacob) seem remarkable. He makes the film. He is the ultimate, all-important human reason why this film is the best of the three.

Irène Jacob has been called not such a good actress either, not as good as Juliette Binoche, the latter a regular with Claire Denis and doubtless the best of the three. But Jacob has a much bigger role in Red than Delpy has in White, and her dignity, sweetness and restraint shine here, as they must, with Trintignant. But of course a great actor makes you look good.

With his storm hocus-pocus at the end of Red, Kieslowaki becomes very much like the Shakespeare of the final "pastoral" plays. The reappearance to the judge of the three films' other main characters, miraculously saved from a shipwreck in which everyone else has been drowned, is a satisfaction straight out of Shakespeare's fanciful and humane late plays. Accordingly I'd now call "Three Colors" "late Kieslowski" in a similar sense, as it literally became, since he retired from filmmaking after finishing it and died before he could make any more movies. And Ebert says this was the retirement "of a magician, a Prospero who was now content to lay aside his art--'to read and smoke.'" There you are - a Prospero: Ebert sees late Shakespeare here too. And then Kieslowski died two years later, at 54. He made if only two years past Shakespeare.

[I]Trois couleurs, Bleu (1993, 93 mins.), Trois couleurs: Blanc (1994, 92 mins.), Trois couleurs: Rouge (1994, 99 mins.) - multiple festivals, multiple awards. Metacritic ratings 85%, 88%, and 100%, respectively.

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