RED (Trois couleurs: Rouge)

(director/writer: Krzysztof Kieslowski; screenwriter: Krzysztof Piesiewicz; cinematographer: Piotr Sobocinski; editor: Jacques Witta; music: Bertrand Lenclos/Zbigniew Preisner; cast: Irène Jacob (Valentine), Jean-Louis Trintignant (The Judge, Joseph Kern), Frederique Feder (Karin), Jean-Pierre Lorit (Auguste), Samuel Le Bihan (Photographer), Roland Carey (Drug Dealer); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: R; producer:Marin Karmitz; Miramax Films; 1994-Switzerland/France/Poland)

“This is the director at the top of his game.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is Poland’s late filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski last installment from his color trilogy, the others are Blue and White. Red tries to keep the director’s similar themes intact and many of the same actors are also seen briefly in cameos at the film’s conclusion. The title Red is taken from the tricolor of the French flag, whose meaning is fraternity. It is a delicate work that touches base with the following themes confronting contemporary Western society: alienation, destiny, morality, solitude, cynicism, chance and communication. It’s set in Geneva and centers on a caring but distressed fashion model named Valentine (Irène Jacob), who has an elusive English boyfriend phoning her constantly and acting possessive.

The film picks up intensity when Valentine runs over a German shepherd and tracks down Rita’s owner through the collar, and he happens to be a reclusive bachelor, retired judge, Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant). The grouchy judge is world-weary and acts with indifference about the plight of his dog. Out of pity for the dog and contempt for his cold attitude, she takes the dog to a veterinarian and thereby saves its life. When the judge sends her too much money for medical expenses, she comes over to his house and returns the extra money. He allows her to keep the pregnant dog (a symbol for optimism), but when the dog runs away Valentine tracks her down in the judge’s house. She also discovers that he’s eavesdropping on phone calls from his neighbors, which he acknowledges is disgusting and illegal but, nevertheless, entertaining. She is still turned off by his uncaring and patrician attitude, but is beginning to see another side to him that reflects his great hurt. When he turns himself in for this crime and tells her he confessed because he wants to see how she would react, this completely changes her view of him.

One of the conversations the judge taps into that intrigues him greatly is about two lovers, a law student, Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit), and, a young woman who runs a personal weather service, Karin (Frederique Feder). They seem to be in love with each other, but it is not in the cards for them to be together for life. The judge is fascinated by Auguste’s predicament because it strangely reminds him of when he was in love some thirty years ago as a 25-year-old. His love rejected him for another man who could take better care of her, and he has never gotten over his love for her and has never loved another woman since. Years later she died in an accident. Also, her husband after her death returned to Geneva and was tried in his court for a serious business violation and found guilty.

Warning: spoilers to follow in next three paragraphs.

The heart of the film is about the magical and loving relationship (based on fraternity more than anything else) that develops between the middle-aged man and the 25-year-old sensitive beauty, who can’t relate with her mom and whose 16-year-old brother is a heroin addict. Karin finds it in herself to confide her deepest fears to the inquisitive stranger, as Auguste becomes the only one she feels comfortable enough to be so open with. Auguste’s someone who is trying to live his life through another in order to find a reason not to kill himself, and through her warmth he realizes that he doesn’t have to eavesdrop anymore to regain his life.

Fate draws Valentine together with Auguste on a ferry crossing of the English Channel in Calais, where she’s going to visit her boyfriend in England. When stormy weather hits, the ferry crashes and only seven of the over one thousand passengers survive — the survivors include Auguste and Valentine. When rescued, a newspaper photographer captures the same look of consternation Valentine had for one of her photo shoots, which happened to be her favorite pose even though the client chose other shots. This highlights the film’s theme about chance and the forces of nature beyond man’s control that influences how life will turn out.

Kern had a dream that Valentine is aged at 50 and wakes up with a man that he tells her he has never seen before by her side (he realizes that it’s Auguste, someone who is his alter ego–yet lets things play out for themselves). Even though Auguste is Valentine’s neighbor, they have never met. As the point of the film becomes how certain people will meet despite there being no logical reason for them to meet and others will remain strangers because it was not their destiny to meet.

It’s a flawlessly shot film and it is visually stunning. It handles its abstract subject matter, which is mystical, in a concrete and highly stylized manner. The acting by Jacob and Trintignant is powerful. The beauty of their understated performances is in that both their characters are thoroughly examined and presented in an engaging way, so that we can believe in the coincidences that happened to them. We also see how fragile human nature can be and how the links that connect one with another are dependent on chance more than anything else. This is the director at the top of his game.

The film also includes the recurring in-joke about the music of Van den Budenmayer, a fictional composer Kieslowski enjoys presenting as real.

Three Colors: Red Poster