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1 July, 2005

Review: 'Three Colours: Blue' (1993)

I saw this a couple of nights ago, and frankly didn't 'get' it.  It seemed a little slow and inconclusive.  However, it's stayed with me more than most films, and in retrospect I'd strongly recommend it.

It's the story of a woman, Julie, waking in hospital after a car crash in which her husband and daughter died, and the ensuing period of dissociation from her previous life.
As I've implied, not much actually happens, but the way not much happening is depicted, largely from the emotional point of view of the widow, is impressive. It's a very internal film; Juliette Binoche's depiction of, well, not suppressed grief, but undemonstrative, is hauntingly subtle, yet intense. Krzysztof Kieślowski's well-known attention to tiny details was used well to supplement the stillness of Binoche's own remarkable performance. By the standards of Hollywood sentimentality, this could be seen as as sterile intellectualism, but such an impression really is a failing on the part of an audience accustomed to being spoon-fed.

The cinematography is astonishingly beautiful; not only the lighting, colouring and depiction of the locations, but particularly of Binoche, who is absolutely gorgeous throughout, in a purely aesthetic, non-sexual sense (Florence Pernel, though...). All credit to Sławomir Idziak (Director of Photography) for adding visual beauty to Kieślowski's otherwise stark visual narrative.
I've just discovered that Idziak has since worked on such major Hollywood films as 'King Arthur' (dire, but pretty), 'Black Hawk Down' (haven't seen) and 'Gattaca', which I already admire for its unconventional use of colour.

Few of the other technical aspects of 'Blue' are conventional.
Most noticeably, fades-to-black are used to indicate momentous decisions in the middle of scenes, rather than the passage of time between scenes, as is normal visual shorthand.
The music, by Zbigniew Preisner, is only used within the context of the narrative, as Julie hears or thinks of it, or as a surrogate for the otherwise minimal dialogue. It's certainly not just a generic ambience.
The plot, so far as it exists, has many branches and implied subplots, some seemingly irrelevant, few of which are clearly resolved. Indeed, unless one watches the final ten seconds very closely, for the tiny shift in Binoche's expression, one might gain the wrong impression about the outcome of the whole film.

Incidentally, knowing that the 'Three Colours' trilogy relate to the French national flag and associated revolutionary ideals of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality, some commentators have ascribed one value to each film, and claimed that 'Blue' is about Liberty. If that's true, it's a novel aspect: liberation of a woman from her pre-existing life.
However, my understanding was that the bands of the Tricolore don't individually relate to distinct values; rather, the flag as a whole signifies all three, and hence each film might be expected to address all three. If anyone knows otherwise, about the flag and/or the films, I'd be interested.

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