..

BLUE

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Juliette Binoche, Benoit Regent, Florence Pernel, Charlotte Very, Hugues Quester
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Audio: Dolby Digital Surround 2.0
Subtitles: English
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.85:1, color
Studio: Miramax
Features: Look below!
Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: March 4, 2003

"I'd like to meet you.  It's important."

"Nothing's important."

Film ****

Blue, the first film, revolves around Julie (Binoche), the wife of a prominent French composer.  She is a kind and generous woman, one who is satisfied to live in the shadow of her famous husband.  However, a tragedy strikes early in the film that irreparably changes her.  A horrific automobile accident deprives Julie of her husband and young daughter.  Julie survives the accident, but she has been left an embittered woman.  Early on, she contemplates suicide, engulfing an entire bottle of pills.  But, she cannot bring herself to swallow and so spits out the pills, telling the nurse who arrives on the scene, "I can't...I'm unable to."  Shortly before her departure from a convalescence home, she is accosted by an insensitive reporter.  When the reporter expresses surprise at Julie's rudeness to her,  Julie murmurs, "Haven't you heard?  I had an accident.  I lost my daughter and my husband."

Julie, in a sense, has become paralyzed.  She is unable or unwilling to interact socially, and she gradually withdraws from all pleasure or friendship.  She asks her lawyer to sell her family possessions, and she destroys the transcript of her husband's last unfinished concerto.  The concerto was to have been played during the Unification of Europe ceremonies.  Music that once filled her life is now exiled; Julie has chosen instead a refuge in silence.  Her only keepsake from her family is a chandelier with blue mobiles, once the light for her daughter's room.

Julie abandons the family's country manor for a smaller apartment.  She does not make these changes, as some divorced people do for income tax or financial purposes, but because she is shunning society.  She reverts back to her maiden name.  When asked her occupation, she replies, "Nothing.  Nothing at all."  Julie has chosen to deny every facet of her past, and in refusing to confront the realities of her life, she has trapped herself within an apathetic prison of her own design.  There are hints in the many empty days that ensue that she has not entirely shunned all feelings - her tears of regret over borrowing a neighbor's cat to kill a mouse and its helpless newborn; her anguish over a former friend's attempt to resurrect the Unification concerto.  But such emotions are mere shadows; Julie is no longer the warm and generous woman she once was.  Her salvation, if at all, will be a difficult and heart-breaking one.

There are numerous sequences of an almost ethereal quality in Blue.  The film's start is an abstract example - an opening shot on a mysterious blue motion.  The camera slowly pulls back to reveal that it is a rapidly spinning wheel of a car, silhouetted in twilight as it passes from darkness through lit tunnels and out again.  Inside the car, we see a young girl, surrounded by an aura of red lights - they are the reflection of traffic rushing by.  A reverse angle displays a dazzlingly kaleidoscopic view of headlight glares, the girl's subjective view of the traffic.  While breath-taking, the shots are somehow ominous and foreboding.  Within one minute, Kieslowski's amazing cinematography intrigues us and foreshadows the tone of the film to follow.  Many other scenes in the film communicate solely through imagery or music without dialogue.  There is a lovely yet melancholy scene in which Julie examines her daughter's chandelier, its decorative baubles swaying slowly and casting traces of blue light upon her visage.  In another scene, Julie focuses upon her husband's musical transcript; as she silently reads the music, so we hear it.  The musical notations soon end.  Still, Julie continues to read the blank pages and we hear new, unwritten bars of music, music that has just been freshly composed in Julie's mind.  The scene has no dialogue but communicates a telling aspect of Julie's nature.

Blue is filled with many such similar scenes.  Often, Kieslowski chooses to show random glimpses of Julie's current activities - swimming by night in a dark blue pool room, re-arranging furniture in her apartment, drinking coffee at a local tavern.  Julie ignores the world around her and concentrates upon insignificant objects - a rustling feather, a dissolving sugar cube, a spoon in motion.  Kieslowski does not spell out the film's narrative flow; he has faith in his audience's intelligence.  Instead, he has provided the scenes obliquely as pieces of an interlocking puzzle.  He trusts in his mise-en-scène and his actors' expressions and body language to convey a certain mood or impression.  Taken as a whole, the scenes indirectly reveal the nature of Julie's broken spirit.  This is bold and truly effective film-making, the likes of which only confident directors will attempt.

Thanatological studies often suggest five stages in the process of death.  First comes denial, followed by anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance.  Julie may have physically survived her accident, but she is not truly alive.  And she may remain dead to the world until she is willing to confront her continual existence, rather than emotionally running away.

The film ultimately does not conclude with Julie's re-emergence as a cheerful, carefree woman.  Kieslowski does not deal out such tidy, maudlin endings.  The reality of Julie's situation means that she will never again be the same.  And yet, she has made various decisions by the film's conclusion that suggest that she has begun the process of returning.  The entire film, in one sense, can be considered as just a prelude to the real story to come.  Julie has a long, uncertain path yet ahead of her, but there is now hope that she might liberate herself from her emotional isolation and in doing so, begin to live again.

Video *** 1/2

The film stock used for Blue is typical of most European films.  It has a visible grain and produces a softer image than that seen in Hollywood movies.  Sometimes, dark backgrounds tend to fade into a featureless black.  However, this European film stock also has the potential (in capable hands) of producing marvelous contrasts in colors.  Stanley Kubrick knew this - his Eyes Wide Shut used a deliberately grainy film stock that resulted in an absolutely beautiful film.  Kieslowski knew it, too, and likewise, Blue is a breath-taking film to behold.

Overall, the transfer is quite excellent.  The image looks spotless, and the gorgeous cinematography is wonderfully preserved.  Scene after scene glow in hues of blue and red, a pattern that repeats in White and Red as well.  The inherent grain of the image is deliberate - Kieslowski employed similar film stock in all the films of Trois Couleurs.

Audio  *** 1/2

Trois Couleurs is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0.  The films are quiet and dialogue-driven, so they do not require an immersive sonic environment.  For Blue, the audio is clean and projected mainly from the front speakers.  The .1 channel sees occasional usage, but don't expect any major rumbles.  Nonetheless, the sound can be surprisingly forceful at times, especially during segments of the Unification concerto.

I'm actually glad Miramax didn't try to force the audio into a 5.1 mix.  Some things are better left untouched.  I've heard too many mono and stereo tracks butchered in the transition to 5.1, and Blue sounds fine just as it is!

Features ****

Wow.  Blue contains a staggering amount of bonus materials!  Furthermore, almost all of the features are at least 15 minutes in length, and there are few filler pieces.  A number of these extras originate from the European DVDs which have been available for ages, while others are new to the Miramax editions.  Most offer interviews and have a refreshingly unpolished appearance.  There is some repetition between the features but overall, they are all worth a good look.

First up is Reflections on Bleu, a featurette about the film itself.  Several film historians and cast and crew members offer their experiences on the set as well as interpretations of the film or its characters.  The feature is actually informative, not the usual Hollywood it-was-so-much-fun fanfare.  Interestingly, Blue's cinematographer notes that he was once asked if any of the film's visuals had been modified by CGI, to which he replied that everything was created in-camera.  Reading between the lines, it is obvious that he was probably insulted by the very inference that somehow Kieslowski or he had not been skilled enough to hand-craft the film themselves without resorting to the easy but inferior solution that computers offer.  It is quite amusing...but a sad comment on the state of affairs in today's film industry.

Next, Juliette Binoche appears in a Conversation on Kieslowski.  She looks really good (European actresses just never ever age!) and is often quite funny in her reminiscences about what is perhaps her most memorable performance.  She also notes that Kieslowski obsessed about rehearsals so that he would not have to do more than one take of any scene if he could help it!  The feature is worth watching just to hear Juliette's cute laughter alone.

Another feature gives a biographical discussion of Kieslowski's early years.  It provides interviews with his colleagues as they talk about his film school experiences, his documentary work, and his general importance to the moral anxiety movement in Poland.  The second part of this feature can be found on the White DVD.

Kieslowski himself gives a film lesson in the next short featurette.  He takes a scene from the film and dissects it, discussing the rationale for various actions and shots.  Coming from a director who rarely discussed his films publicly, this is a rare opportunity indeed!

Marin Karmitz, producer of Trois Couleurs, discusses his friendship with Kieslowski in the next feature.  He recounts many wonderful anecdotes about their working relationship.  Despite the fact that Kieslowski spoke no French and Karmitz spoke neither English nor Polish, they had an uncanny ability to communicate ideas.  Karmitz appears in featurettes on all three DVDs, and while they are short segments, they often contain some of the most fascinating disclosures of any of the features.

Juliette Binoche appears in her second feature - this time, she provides a selected scenes commentary for the film.  Some segments of the interview are actually rather poignant, as she reflects upon Kieslowski and the metaphors he chose for the film.  Binoche offers a fun piece of trivia, though - she turned down a starring role in Spielberg's Jurassic Park because she felt her role in Blue would be emotionally more gratifying.

Jacques Witta, the film's editor, has his own featurette to talk about the film's structure.  Most of his comments are of a technical nature and discuss the rhythm of scenes, the pacing, and the important of cover footage.  However, the most interesting tidbits concern the rationale behind the very atypical fade-to-black shots that appear in the middle of a number of scenes in Blue.  Worth a look!

The audio commentary is provided by Annette Insdorf.  She was Kieslowski's occasional translator as well as an the author of a book on his films.  She has a warmly pleasant, singsong narrative voice and, being a scholar of Kieslowski's films, is able to offer forth vast quantities of insightful comments.  This is simple great stuff, worthy of a Criterion DVD, and it should please all admirers of the film.

There is a filmography for Kieslowski as well as a few trailers (White, Red, Heaven).  The trailers are the generic Hollywood pack of lies and misinformation.  The Red and White trailers make both films look like sexy, fast-paced murder thrillers.  Oh the humanity!

Lastly, one of Kieslowski's early student films is included - Concert of Wishes.  It is roughly 15 minutes long but already shows evidence of Kieslowski's confidence behind the camera and his skill with actors.  The plot is a simple one - a boy and a girl traveling on a motorbike lose their tent and must re-trace their route to retrieve it.  Nothing fancy, but it's still a nice little gem.

In short, the Blue disc (as well as those for its sister films White and Red) has some of the highest quality content that I have ever seen in a Disney DVD!  Other DVD companies should take notice of the Trois Couleurs release and stop filling their own DVDs with the pseudo-features that are nothing more than thinly-disguised promotional junk.

Summary:

Trois Couleurs Blue/White/Red is Krzysztof Kieslowski's final masterpiece.  The tragic Blue starts off the trilogy admirably.  Miramax, which owned the US distribution rights, criminally neglected Trois Couleurs for a very long time, but all is forgiven, as Miramax has at last produced an excellent DVD!

This concludes part one of the Trois Couleurs review.  Part two continues with Trois Couleurs: White.