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THREE COLORS TRILOGY

Review by Ed Nguyen

Introduction:

The small nation of Poland may seem an unusual country to produce one of cinema's modern masters.  And yet, over the last quarter of the twentieth-century, it was home to one of Europe's finest film directors ever.  His name?  Krzysztof Kieslowski (that's CHEES-TOFF KEYS-LOSS-KEE).  Kieslowski's name may be unwieldy and generally unfamiliar to western audiences, but his best films transcend all language and politics.

Like Sweden's well-regarded Ingmar Bergman, Kieslowski was an actor's director.  He was interested in exploring the complexities and subtleties of human relationships.  Though meticulous in his preparations and direction, he nonetheless often allowed his actors' performances to serve as the emotional heart of his films.  Kieslowski shunned intrusive action or unnecessary dialogue.  As a result, many of his films possessed an East European and decidedly un-Hollywood flavour.  They were exquisitely crafted and deliberately-paced, focusing upon the minutiae of life that defined the characters and their actions.  Kieslowski often wove evocative dream-states around simple tales, creating worlds that felt real and yet existed not entirely within the conscious realm.  La Double vie de Veronique is a good example of one such film.  But of his numerous other works, the one most recognized by western audiences today is his final masterpiece - Trois Couleurs (the Three Colors Trilogy).

Krzysztof Kieslowski started his directorial career making documentaries.  It was not until 1976 that he directed his first full-length feature (Blizna).  The film won first prize at the Moscow Film Festival and helped to establish Kieslowski as a leader in the cinema of moral anxiety.  This Polish film movement included a number of other prominent directors, such as Andrzej Wajda and Agnieszka Holland, and its objective was to use the language of film to subtly depict Polish oppression under communism.  Ironically, Kieslowski was never interested in the Cold War dynamics of the real world and sought to avoid political agendas in all his films.  Though the political atmosphere of the day constrained Kieslowski's talents initially, the eventual collapse of communism in Poland freed Kieslowski to experiment cinematically.  His subsequent films can be included among the best of the contemporary European films.

Kieslowski's crowning achievement in the 1980's was the mini-series, Dekalog.  A ten-hour film whose segments drew thematic inspiration from the Ten Commandments, Dekalog was a tremendous artistic triumph.  Kieslowski's 1991 follow-up, La Double vie de Veronique, brought him further international acclaim.  The film was a surreal meditation on identity and awareness and featured a luminous Irene Jacob.  It was in many ways a test-run for Trois Couleurs.  Perhaps encouraged by the enthusiastic reception for La Double vie de Veronique, Kieslowski announced that his next ambitious project would be a trilogy of films.  These films would expound upon the ideals symbolized by the three colors of the French flag.  The first film, Bleu (Blue), would represent liberty.  The second film, Blanc (White), would represent equality.  The last film, Rouge (Red), would represent fraternity and would provide a common link to the three films in its conclusion.  While separately the films would be different in tone, together, they would form a Magnus Opus - Trois Couleurs.

Superficially, the stories of Trois Couleurs might appear simple and straight-forward.  Surely, hasn't Hollywood made these sorts of films countless times?  However, there is a certain magic in Kieslowski's understated yet confident direction that almost no Hollywood director could ever hope to duplicate.  His films, much like those of Ozu or Truffaut, have a surface simplicity that only belie their countless layers of depth.  It is an immeasurable quality that only the greatest directors possess - a seemingly effortless ability to infuse incredible artistry and beauty into even the most basic of stories.

For reviews of the individual films, click on the links below.

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