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RED

Review by Ed Nguyen

Stars: Irene Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Frederique Feder, Jean-Pierre Lorit
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles: English
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen, 1.85:1, color
Studio: Miramax
Features: Golly, just read below!
Length: 99 minutes
Release Date: March 4, 2003

"Yesterday I dreamt...I dreamt of you.  You were forty or fifty years old, and you were happy."

"Do your dreams come true?"

"It's been years since I dreamt something nice."

Film ****

This is the final part of a three-part review of Trois Couleurs that began with Blue and White.  Readers interested in Trois Couleurs may choose to look over the first two reviews to learn more about director Krzysztof Kieslowski and his concept for the trilogy.  While the three films of Trois Couleurs can be enjoyed independently of one another, some of the parallels between the films are best appreciated through a cumulative knowledge of the films.  Rouge (Red), as the finale for Trois Couleurs, coalesces the three films together.  It is considered Kieslowski's finest film and earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Director.

Principal photography for Trois Couleurs started around September, 1992.  Red's shoot ended in late spring 1993, concluding an arduous nine months of production.  Annette Insdorf, a long-time friend and translator for Kieslowski, at one point during filming remarked to Kieslowski that he was killing himself from overwork.  Many nights, he was lucky to get two hours of sleep.  His reply was a simple shrug.  The work continued.

Post-production on Red initially yielded some twenty versions of the film.  Kieslowski considered film as a breathing, fluctuating entity and often liked to experiment with different versions of his films to emphasize different scenes (Kieslowski once wanted to release seventeen different versions of La Double vie de Veronique simultaneously!).  At any rate, Red is my personal favorite.  Kieslowski's romantic direction is leisurely yet masterful as it explores an unusual relationship that develops between a younger woman, Valentine, and an older, retired man.

Irene Jacob, as Valentine, is beyond beautiful.  Anyone who has seen her mesmerizing performance in La Double vie de Veronique will be equally entranced by her in Red.  Valentine is a young fashion model.  She lives in Geneva, and though she is a kind and warm-hearted person, she is lonely.  Her boyfriend is away and never seen.  His occasional phone calls reveal him to be a jealous and callous type.  One day, as Valentine is driving home, she inadvertently strikes a runaway dog.  She nurses the injured dog back to health and traces ownership back to an elderly man.  He is retired, having retreated into the darkened shell of his large home.  He lives in solitude, alone with the memories of past regrets and decisions.  To pass the time, he confesses to eavesdropping on the private telephone conversations of his neighbors from his radio.  Valentine is at first repulsed by this voyeuristic obsession, but she gradually learns that the man, beneath his crusted exterior, was once a good-hearted judge.  For his part, the judge is affected by his encounters with Valentine and begins to change his life, though not without some consequences.

Red is not a typical romantic tale.  For one, Valentine's relationship with the judge is platonic.  They  never embrace or kiss.  Nonetheless, the judge becomes her closest friend and, to some degree, her emotional guide.  His relationship with the young Valentine is closer and warmer than Valentine's with her unseen boyfriend.  Her conversations with the boyfriend are harsh and abrupt; her conversations with the judge are quiet and  intimate.  She invites the judge, not her boyfriend, to her latest fashion show.  The judge is the final person she visits before a fateful voyage abroad.  In truth, the judge and Valentine are soulmates.  Perhaps in a different setting or a younger age, they may have fallen in love, as even the judge recognizes: "Maybe you're the woman I never met."

Their final scene together is a melancholy one.  The judge has entered his car, and before driving off, places his palm against the window.  Valentine, standing outside the car, responds by placing her palm against the window as well.  The glass bars them, a symbol of the barriers that separate them.  They can only exchange smiles before the judge slowly departs.

Red uses an intensely vivid cinematographic style to reflect the often undeclared emotions of its characters.  The color red can express many emotions - passion, anger, or warmth, to name a few.  The film has an understated, passionate story, and so the red tonal quality of the film is diffusely present throughout.  Valentine's very name calls to mind the color; indeed, she has a friendly personality and quietly desires someone to truly love and who will return her love.  Her scenes are often lit with a soft golden-red glow, as expressed in the red theater that houses her fashion show or her sunset visits to the judge's home.  The judge's home, with its dark wood paneling and furniture, has a somber red-brown hue, symbolic of the judge's suppressed or exhausted passion.  In direct contrast, there is a sub-plot that follows Auguste, a young Swiss citizen.  Unlike the judge, he is full of energy, whisking about in a bright-red jeep while cultivating a stormy, fluctuating relationship with his girlfriend. 

Then, there is the famous profile of Valentine.  It is the same portrait that was used extensively for the film's actual promotion.  Valentine, in the shot, glances sadly off to a side while silhouetted in the background by a gently blowing red curtain.  It is a mysterious shot, but a poignant one, almost an expression of Valentine's own internal desires.  In the film, we initially see the expanded portrait on a billboard through Auguste's eyes as he waits by a red traffic light.  Auguste, in fact, is perhaps not coincidentally also a young judge, and as the film progresses, his life experiences seem to mirror those of the older judge.  While Auguste and Valentine never directly cross paths, we sense a certain connection between the two characters.  Perhaps then, the color red has another meaning for the film - perhaps it is an indication of destiny, of the connection and inevitable pairing of two people even across the barrier of time or circumstances.

This theme of second chances echoes in all three films of Trois Couleurs.  Coupled with the theme of death, the suggestion of rebirth is an important one and creates a sense of renewal in the films.  Julie, in Blue, provides the first signs at the film's conclusion that she will overcome her grief at her family tragedy.  Blue's concerto is a symbolic celebration of this new beginning, for it too celebrates a birth - the creation of a new Europe.  Karol, in White, starts out as almost a child - innocent and helpless in face of his plights, he must slowly learn to live again.  Even his changed homeland of Poland is in its infancy, having only just arisen from the ashes of its communist past.  In this new setting, Karol hopes to re-establish the foundations of his love for Dominique, his former wife.  In Red, the very name of Valentine itself is a child's name, personally chosen by Irene Jacob for the memories it evoked in her of her own childhood.  Valentine has requested from the judge the gift of a young puppy, borne of the dog she rescued earlier in the film.  Equally as important, the judge's experiences are reflected in Auguste, a symbolic reflection of the judge himself as a younger man.  Their lives are the same, yet where the judge had failed in love, perhaps the younger man will succeed.  There is a premonition of fate in Red, of destiny bridging the gap between ages, beginning life anew for Valentine and a young judge.

Death, as well, is often an inciting event for change in the three films.  Death is the critical event that so drastically alters Julie in Blue and so prevalently haunts her throughout much of the film.  In White, Karol and a friend both receive a symbolic death that reveals the similarities in their lives and gradually transforms the paths of their lives for the better.  In Red, death exists in an abstract manner, showing the emptiness of Valentine's and the judge's lives as well as being the final force that unites the main characters of Trois Couleurs in the end.  Kieslowski has admitted that death as a dramatic impulse appealed greatly to him, and he used it frequently in his films, subtly changing its relevance to the plot in film to film.

The re-occurrence of characters in Trois Couleurs is a trend from his previous films and also serves to unite Red with its sister films.  Alert viewers may have caught a glimpse of Juliette Binoche early in White.  Likewise, Julie Delpy appears near the end of Blue.  Both characters will re-appear in Red's conclusion.  Furthermore, all three films include a scene with an elderly person struggling to insert a bottle into a recycling bin.  In Blue, Binoche's Julie is completely indifferent to the woman; her eyes are closed and she is distant and far away.  In White, the sad sap Karol watches with an amused smile but does nothing to help; perhaps it comforts him that he has company in his woes.  In Red, Valentine notices the woman's struggles and walks over to assist her.  The different manners in which all three approach the same situation help to define their characters.

The three films conclude in a similar manner.  They offer a sense of real hope, with the emotional liberation and transformation that hope brings.  We see the face of a character in close-up.  The camera holds the frame for a long time as slowly, a tear rolls down the character's face, and the brief hint of a smile appears before the picture fades to black.  In Blue, this character is Julie as she ponders her future.  In White, it is Karol, looking up with adoration upon his beloved Dominique.  In Red, it is the judge, looking past a cracked window in the aftermath of a destructive storm.  But the final image of the trilogy belongs to Valentine, profiled against a deep magenta sky as she gazes into the distance.  The camera focuses in, stopping as a red backdrop suddenly appears behind her.  It is very reminiscent her portrait from earlier in Red, but now, it is a vital and living image, not merely a static one.  Valentine, like Julie and Karol equally before her, has weathered life's uncertainties.  For all their differences, these characters are united by their experiences.  Their lives are a continual process - a search for freedom, for understanding, or for companionship.  They are fundamentally similar.  Red, in revealing their common destiny, is a fitting conclusion to Trois Couleurs.

Released theatrically in 1994, Red was Kieslowski's last film.  It completed an extraordinary cinematic legacy the likes of which have rarely been equaled.  With Trois Couleurs, Kieslowski's greatness as a director was forever established.  Sadly, Kieslowski did not live long after completion of Red.  In 1996, he died from complications of open-heart surgery.  The premature death of Europe's finest modern director was a tragic loss in the cinematic world.  In tribute, Kieslowski's wake in Warsaw was accompanied by Blue's funeral theme.

He was only 54 years old.

Video *** 1/2

The transfer is quite good.  Colors are crisp and bright, the picture is clean, and there are no compression artifacts.  While the image is slightly soft with a noticeable grain (deliberate choices by Kieslowski), I did notice that skin tone is occasionally a bit on the rosy side.  In comparison, the international DVD of Red has a more natural skin tone appearance but also a softer and much darker image with occasional compression artifacts.  Regardless, Irene Jacob's soft, rosy complexion only enhances her incredible beauty and strengthens the romantic overtones of the entire film.

Audio  ***

Red is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0.  It is entirely dialogue-driven.  Forget the .1 channel.  It is virtually ignored until near the film's conclusion.  The sound mix is very clean and audible even in the many softly-spoken passages that transpire in the film.  While Red is hardly the right reference disc if you want to impress your friends, the sound quality is perfectly fine for the film.

Features ****

Juliette Binoche is a princess.  Julie Delpy is an angel.  Irene Jacob is a goddess.  That their acting abilities match their beauty is a rare and wonderful gift indeed.  While Binoche has gone on to win an Academy Award and Delpy and Jacob have received much international acclaim as well, in the end, they will be remembered mostly for their artistry collaboration with Kieslowski in Trois Couleurs.  The actresses recognize as much in their respective Conversation on Kieslowski interviews that appear on each DVD, in this case, featuring Irene Jacob.  Jacob has many fond memories of Kieslowski, which she happily shares, including a quaint anecdote about how Kieslowski decided upon the name for her character in Red.

Next is Insights into Rouge, a truly fascinating discussion about Kieslowski's technique.  Annette Insdorf, a film historian, points out the many parallels that exist in the film itself.  The film's sound engineer marvels at Kieslowski's often exceptional usage of sound and long expanses of silence in his films, keenly observing that while many directors are afraid of silence in their films, Kieslowski often used it very expressively.  The most revealing segment, in my opinion, is a re-confirmation of Kieslowski's humility, despite his obvious talents.  Irene Jacob had been unhappy with aspects of Valentine's character in an early draft of Red's script, even though Kieslowski had written the role specifically for her.  Instead of expressing indignation, he quietly returned to the script, introducing new changes to Valentine's nature and her background that ultimately provided a deeper resonance to the film and improved it immeasurably.  Kieslowski's willingness to listen (indeed, he always wrote down notes of any suggestion or criticism!) endeared him completely to his cast and crew.

In the next featurette, Kieslowski returns for his third cinema lesson.  The first two lessons were included on the Blue and White DVDs, respectively.  This time, he discusses scenes involving the Judge's dog and her importance in bringing Valentine and the Judge together.  As always, it is fascinating to listen to Kieslowski reveal how much care and planning was involved in even the most innocuous of shots.

Next, Marin Karmitz does a selected scenes commentary.  He sometimes forgets about the scenes and talks enthusiastically about production details, instead.  Fair enough, he was the trilogy's producer, after all.  However, Karmitz reveals aspects of Red's initial international reception that may be quite surprising to many fans of the film.  His most enlightening revelation concerns a bowling sequence in the film as he discusses the meaning of its final shot.  I can't believe I never figured out such an obvious detail in my multiple viewings of Red!  Nonetheless, the scene is a perfect illustration of Kieslowski's remarkable efficiency of direction and his expressive, unparalleled ability to convey complex messages without a word of dialogue.  Overall, this is an extraordinarily revealing featurette, one of my favorites on the DVD, and definitely worth watching!

Irene Jacob appears again for the second selected scenes commentary.  Most of her discussion concerns her scenes with the judge, as played by Jean-Louis Trintignant.  She recalls the emotional difficulty of playing these scenes but also notes slyly that she found Trintignant to be "super-seductive!"  Very droll, indeed!

Jacques Witta, the film's editor, contributes his own thoughts in the final selected scenes commentary on the DVD.  He talks in depth about the editing process and demonstrates how a few scenes were significantly altered just through editing.  This segment also showcases a number of deleted scenes, the only time we see such footage on any of the three DVDs.

The actual feature-length commentary is provided by film historian Annette Insdorf, doing the honors for the third time.  In addition to her detailed discussion of Red, she relates various themes to show the common linkage between the three films.  Her commentary is at times a little sad, considering her close working relationship with Kieslowski, but it is nonetheless extremely worthwhile.

The Behind the Scenes feature is a wonderful diamond in the rough.  It is comprised of multiple videos of actual on-location shooting.  The footage is unpolished and raw but provides a grand opportunity to watch Kieslowski directing the film without intrusive narration or promotional gimmicks.  Also, you have to see the size of one of the cameras used - at the time, it was one of the largest of its kind in Europe!

The remaining extras include a filmography and some trailers.  The filmography is a fairly complete one, listing even Kieslowski's student films.  It is the same one that appears on all three DVDs.  The sneak peeks shows three trailers, including a dreadful one for White.  If I had seen this trailer, I would have never watched White.  Avoid it!  However, a trailer for Heaven is included.  This film, directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, The Princess and the Warrior) was drawn from Kieslowski's final script, in what would have been the first film in a new trilogy - Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory.  It's worth a look.

Lastly, Kieslowski at Cannes is a 15-minute featurette documenting portions of Red's premiere.  It also features the only interview segments with Trintignant on the DVD as he talks about Kieslowski.  His answers have a weird, circular argument to them and don't seem to lead anywhere.  To be frank, the reporters pose such ridiculously pseudo-intellectual questions anyways that the interviews take on a really bizarre tone!  One can almost picture Kieslowski rolling his eyes as he eventually resorts to answers that essentially break down to "uh huh, sure" and "whatever you say."  In Polish, of course.  The featurette concludes with Kieslowski's surprising announcement of his retirement from filmmaking.

Summary:

Trois Couleurs Blue/White/Red is Krzysztof Kieslowski's final, poetic masterpiece.  Red alone would shame many a Best Picture Oscar recipient.  Small wonder that Trois Couleurs as a whole is widely considered one of the greatest cinematic achievements of the entire 1990's.    This trilogy deserves a coveted spot in the DVD library of any serious film fan.  Absolutely the highest recommendations!