Go big or go home, so they say. Polish auteur Krzysztof Kieslowski did both, tackling ambitious projects The Decalogue (ten short films for the Ten Commandments) and his Three Colors trilogy before his early retirement in 1994 and untimely death two years later, at age 54. Kieslowski thought big, but he had enough perspective not to take his work overly seriously. While Three Colors—blue, white, and red, the colors of the French flag—ostensibly deals with the themes expressed by the French national motto "Liberté, égalité, fraternité," it does so loosely, and through an ironic lens. More importantly, the films co-written by Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz are unsparing character studies, using the specific to illuminate the universal.
Three Colors: Blue (1993) showcases the great Juliette Binoche as Julie, a woman of hidden talents accustomed to living in the shadow of her composer husband. The film begins by seemingly wiping her slate clean with the deaths of her husband and daughter in a car crash. Though traumatic, the incident gives Julie a taste of liberty, an implicit chance to start her life from scratch. Of course, she learns that life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans: her past keeps threatening to catch up with her as she attempts to move on. Needy people (a stripper neighbor and an insistent family friend) and issues demanding closure (her late husband's unfinished commission and unresolved affair) regularly intrude on Julie's efforts to be alone, suggesting that freedom is an illusion and also a consummation not so devoutly to be wished, our existence being defined and judged by our interactions with the "outside world" rather than our skill at avoiding it. Kieslowski also implies, not for the first or last time, a form of divine intervention or destiny at work, forcing Julie to come to terms with her past, others, and herself and serving as an agent of epiphanic inspiration.
Much of Blue concerns a "Concerto for the Unification of Europe," and Kieslowski plays those notes continuously in his trilogy of films bankrolled jointly by France, Poland and Switzerland. Three Colors: White (1994) reflects the uneasy European union through the character of Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), an immigrant Pole in Paris quickly established as a negative example of equality: he doesn't have it and, as it turns out, he doesn't want it. Humiliated by his wife (Julie Delpy) in an emasculating divorce that robs him of everything (an ironic echo of the liberty afforded Julie, who appears briefly), Karol discovers a new and not entirely healthy ambition, fueled by revenge. He will not become his wife's equal, but he will overtake her, put her in her place. As one with something to prove, Karol Karol embodies his homeland, going for broke—in criminal fashion, if necessary—to stake its claim as a player in the European landscape.
Blue has been called an anti-tragedy (much as Julie tries, she can't quite arrive at an unhappy ending) and White an anti-comedy. Three Colors: Red, then, is the anti-romance, beginning with a bravura sequence tracing a phone connection before proceeding to essay the various obstacles to and corruptions of such connections. A three-slice tart, Red deals with model Valentine (Irène Jacob of Kieslowski's The Double Life of Veronique), retired judge Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant), and Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit), who is studying to become a judge. Set in Geneva, the film explores fraternity in large part as much through the dynamic of neighbors and community (again, inviting an allegorical reading in terms of European politics) as though potential one-on-one friendships or romances. The seeming fragility of such potential—and the hand of destiny—gets play in Kern's reflection on roads not taken by those on whom he's passed judgement, and even more emphatically in a conclusion that dovetails with the beginning of the trilogy and unites the three films in an unexpected narrative flourish.
Criterion does up the Three Colors Trilogy in a fabulous Blu-ray set that trounces the previously available Miramax/Buena Vista DVDs. Picture quality far outshines those discs, which were plagued by compression artifacts. The images retain their grain structure for a strong film-like character, and true colors and improved detail are the highlights of these new transfers. All three pictures are happily stable (with slight improvement from the first film to the last), and the accurate-at-last visuals will be welcomed home by those who saw the films in theaters. The lossless audio benefits from Criterion's remastering, with soundtracks that come through with cleanliness and clarity that especially benefits the films' prominent music.
As is to be expected, Criterion's bonus features are meaty and plentiful. In addition to the trailer for each film, the set includes a wealth of documentary featurettes and short films. "On Blue" (20:44, HD) is one of Criterion's always thoughtful academic video essays, this time by Kieslowski expert Annette Insdorf. In the first of three 1994 featurettes hosted by the director, "Kie?lowski’s Cinema Lesson" (7:35, HD) offers an explanation of the creation and meaning of the café scene in Blue. "Juliette Binoche" (24:25, HD) gathers pieces of a 2004 screen-specific audio commentary by the star. "Zbigniew Preisner" (21:31, HD) is a 2011 interview with the composer who scored all three films. "Reflections on Blue” (17:26, HD) comprises interviews with film critic Geoff Andrew, Binoche, filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, film studies professor Annette Insdorf, and editor Jacques Witta covering the film's making and significance.
"On White" (21:46, HD) is an academic video essay by film critic Tony Rayns. "Kieslowski’s Cinema Lesson" (10:48, HD) allows the director to deconstruct White's opening scene. The 2011 featurette "Zamachowski and Delpy" (18:15, HD) sits down with Zbigniew Zamachowski and Julie Delpy to discuss the film's making. Also from 2011, the interview "Krzysztof Piesiewicz" (21:21, HD) gets the perspective of Kieslowski's co-writer for the trilogy. The vintage featurette "The Making of White” (16:09, HD) includes behind-the-scenes footage and interview clips of Kieslowski.
The academic duties of "On Red" (21:59, HD) fall to film critic Dennis Lim, while the third "Kie?lowski’s Cinema Lesson" (8:40, HD) hones in on the editing of the runaway dog scene from Red. For Red, we get three insightful interviews, the first from 2011 and the others from 2001: "Irène Jacob" (16:24, HD), producer "Marin Karmitz" (10:51, HD), and editor "Jacques Witta" (12:46, HD). "Behind the Scenes of Red" (23:30, HD) serves up raw B-roll, while "Kie?lowski Cannes 1994" (15:11, HD) collates footage and interviews, including portions of the press conference at which Kieslowski announced his retirement.
The set also includes 2003 featurette "Kie?lowski: The Early Years" (15:00, HD), gathering comments from film critic Geoff Andrew, filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, Insdorf, and Jacob; the well-known 1995 Danish TV documentary "Krzysztof Kie?lowski: I’m So-So…" (55:25, HD) shot at Kieslowski's home less than a year before his death; two of the director's student films, from 1966—"The Tram" (5:30, HD) and "The Face" (6:00, HD); and two documentaries—the 1978 "Seven Women of Different Ages" (16:15, HD) and the 1980 "Talking Heads" (14:50, HD).
Last but not least, the box set comes with an eighty-page color booklet featuring credits, specs, stills, essays—Colin MacCabe's "A Hymn to European Cinema," Nick James' "Blue: Bare Necessities," Stuart Klawans' "White: The Nonpolitical Reunifications of Karol Karol," and Georgina Evans' "Red: A Fraternity of Strangers"—excerpts from interview collection Kieslowski on Kieslowski , and interviews with Three Colors cinematographers Slawomir Idziak, Edward Klosinski, and Piotr Sobocinski.
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer