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BLUE (TROIS COULEURS: BLEU)(director/writer: Krzysztof Kieslowski; screenwriters: Krzysztof Piesiewicz/story by Agnieszka Holland & Slavomir Idziak & Edward Zebrowski; cinematographer: Slavomir Idziak; editor: Jacques Witta; music: Zbigniew Preisner; cast: Juliette Binoche (Julie), Benoît Régent (Olivier), Hélène Vincent (Journalist), Florence Pernel (Sandrine), Emmanuelle Riva (Mother), Charlotte Véry (Lucille), Hugues Quester (Patrice), Yann Trégouët (Antoine); Runtime: 98; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Marin Karmitz; Miramax Films; 1993-France-in French)
“Kieslowski’s film never says too much or too little, as it allows all the blue colors infused in it to set the tone to mirror the heroine’s experiences.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A stunning visual film and an absorbing study of a woman’s raw emotions as she’s dealing with the death of her renown musical composer husband and her five-year-old daughter in a car crash. It’s a slow-paced, minimalist told tale from the late Polish director and writer Krzysztof Kieslowski (“The Double Life of Veronique“), who collaborated on the writing with his regular screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz. The dialogue is in French, a language Kieslowski was not fluent in, which should tell one to look for other means to interpret what the filmmaker was trying to say. “Blue” is the first part of a trilogy related to the colors of the French flag–blue standing for Liberty (of white for Equality and red for Fraternity). During long close-ups of the heroine and long periods of silence, the filmmaker is able to portray the rich thought process and the fragility that invades her consciousness and causes wavering moments of doubt if she could ever find freedom.

After the car accident Julie (Juliette Binoche) can’t face the tragedy and decides to reinvent her life after her failed suicide attempt. She asks her lawyer to sell her country estate and takes a flat in the heart of Paris under her maiden name, as she wants no memories, no belongings, no musical compositions existing from her past, no love interests and no friends. Julie’s lawyer is instructed to also pay from her inheritance for the upkeep of her elderly mother’s stay in a luxurious rest home for the rest of her life. When a reporter (Vincent) requests an interview for a story about her husband’s unfinished concert celebrating European unification, she waffles. This musical theme plays as an allegory that tries to shed some light on the attitudes of contemporary Europeans, but does not work as well as the heart-chilling story of Julie’s search for peace of mind and the exploration of her psyche.

After calming down from the initial shock of being left alone and before Julie makes her complete break from the past, she calls a musician who was a colleague of both her and her husband Patrice (Quester) and invites him to make love to her. Julie tells the stunned Olivier (Benoît Régent) that “You have always wanted me. Here I am.” In the morning Julie leaves him and flees in secret to Paris.

In Paris Julie becomes anonymous. When Julie’s building neighbor seeks her out to sign a petition to remove a tenant who is a whore, she refuses to sign. The appreciative young woman who performs in a sex show, Lucille (Véry), tries to befriend her, but finds the elusive Julie tender but uncommunicative. There’s also a mice problem in her flat that Julie has to deal with in a delicate way–another example of her privacy being invaded by unwanted strangers. Not able to escape her fate, as she finds freedom is not that easy to achieve even as she desires nothing, she’s further surprised when by accident she sees a photo of Patrice with an attractive woman and senses that’s his mistress. From Olivier she finds out that the mystery woman is a lawyer and the affair was going on for some time, which makes her feel jealous. The two women meet and when Julie sees that she’s pregnant with Patrice’s child, she deals with that in an unexpected but sensible way. This discovery of infidelity also gives her the impetus to come out of her shell and allow her husband’s unfinished concert to be finished by her and Olivier. The passion of the music has never left her as it was always in her head, and she now tries to use that music to be free.

Kieslowski’s film never says too much or too little, as it allows all the blue colors infused in it to set the tone to mirror the heroine’s experiences. Julie takes from her estate only a shimmering blue design of crystals which she hangs from a light. She exercises her ghosts by swimming in a blue-colored municipal swimming pool, and every contact she has in her new surroundings brings back a memory of her husband and never lets her wounded psyche heal. Julie’s unique way of dealing with her grief is equated with liberty, that freedom of movement that allows her to go from bereavement to recovery in her own way.

At times a brilliant film, at other times a film that seems to be going too far down a dark path to shed much light on its subject. But Juliette Binoche’s soulful performance is smashing, and she keeps it all together whenever one might think the film will lose itself in its hypnotic meditation. Instead, all the key elements seem to come together in the final concert and give the film a staggering feel of unexpected reality. Kieslowski’s filmmaking prowess draws one into this drama and never lets us see for sure what he had in mind, as all the blue shades are open to the viewer’s imagination for further visualizations–as he works much like how a great musical composer does to allow his music the freedom to explore the mysteries that can’t be explained only experienced.

REVIEWED ON 1/25/2003 GRADE: A –

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”