Review

One moment, Julie (Juliette Binoche) had everything; the next, her husband and daughter have been killed in a car accident and her own face is a patchwork of lacerations. The physical recovery proves less difficult than the emotional one, and Julie ends up selling her house, burning her late composer-husband's compositions, putting her mother in a home, and running off to live in relative anonymity, with "no memories, no love, no children." Life, however, is intent on forcing Julie to confront certain elements of her past that she might rather not face.

Blue, the first of Krzysztof Kieslowski's "colors" trilogy (White and Red have recently been completed, marking the director's farewell to the industry, as he has announced his retirement), is a powerful motion picture - both in terms of its dramatic impact and in its method of presentation.

Reminiscent of Fearless in the manner that it handles the transformation of an individual through a life-altering tragedy, Blue delves deeply into the psyche of Julie and leads us to examine our own perspectives on life, loneliness, and liberty as we watch her cope with her new, and dramatically different, existence. We are also reminded that control is frequently an illusion.

Juliette Binoche, in what amounts to a one-woman show, turns in her best performance since The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and arguably her most accomplished ever. She manages to bring an element of humanity and sympathy to a potentially unsympathetic character. There is little in Julie, as written, for the audience to latch onto, but Ms. Binoche provides the emotional link to the story.

Along with director of photography Slawomir Idziak, Krzysztof Kieslowski has created one of the most technically impressive productions in recent years, rivaling Martin Scorsese's The Age of Innocence for sheer visual impact. Mr. Kieslowski uses light and shadow like a painter uses his pallet, and even some of the most simple images - such as a sugar cube absorbing coffee - are memorable. Then there's the use of color - and one color in particular. In addition to blue filters and blue lighting, any number of objects are blue - a foil balloon, a tinted window, awnings, a folder, the walls of a room, coats, skirts, scarves, blouses, jeans, shirts, trash bags, crystals, a lollypop and its wrapper, binders, graffiti, a pool, a van, and a pen. Each use of the title color underlines the central messages.

Lately, a number of French imports have had music as a common element. These have included such titles as Tous Les Matins du Monde, Un Coeur en Hiver, The Accompanist, and now Blue. Mr. Kieslowski makes use of Zbigniew Preisner's grand score in the same innovative fashion that he molds the visual facets of his project. The music mirrors the actions.

Coping with loss and trying to build life anew is certainly not a unique theme, but the manner in which Blue portrays one woman's journey along this path is fresh and eye-opening. As rich in emotional impact as in style, this motion picture sets a high standard that we as viewers can only hope the other two chapters of the trilogy will match.
©1994 James Berardinelli


 

It's hard to defend the artiness of BLUE. With a Kieslowski movie (maybe with all Kieslowski movies), either you get it or you don't. If you get it, you're a fan. The movie becomes a mystical, dream-like experience. You recall the most indulgent camera angles and close-ups at the oddest moments of your day. Perhaps you hum a few bars of Zbigniew Preisner's formidable score as you drink your coffee in the morning, or you have a nightmare about the kind of car crash that sets this story in motion. And when a friend doesn't appreciate the film -- in fact, they think it's a dull, pretentious throwback to the French New Wave or somesuch -- you find yourself speechless. It's hard to use words to explain the cinema's moments of great beauty, and you may as well give up before you begin.

THREE COLORS: BLUE is the first film in Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski's trilogy built around the precious themes of liberty, equality, and fratenity (the second and third films are WHITE and RED, respectively). The concepts correspond to the three colors of the French flag, and the conceit is actually less a stricture than a simple excuse for Kieslowski to make a set of movies that meditate on love, loss, and our essential humanity. Liberty is personified in the newly-widowed Julie (Binoche), who survives the automobile accident that kills her husband Patrice (a famous composer) and daughter Anna. This sea change in her life drives her to divorce herself from familiar people and surroundings, but she's dogged by an unwelcome artifact from her husband's life. His unfinished composition, Song for the Unification of Europe, is the subject of intense interest, and although Julie disposes of Patrice's notes for the piece (and tries to dispose of all her own memories), it continues to insinuate itself into her life until she confronts the music as well as her own devastated psyche.

It sounds very color-by-numbers, but the film is actually anything but. Kieslowski is a bold filmmaker, with a knack for hypnotizing an audience. As much as Kieslowski's THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE seemed concerned with lenses, this one dwells on reflections -- Julie's face reflected on the curve of a spoon, a doctor's face reflected in the iris of her eye, filling the screen. The richness of imagery occasionally rivals that of a novel (Julie touches a sugar cube to coffee; as we watch, the sugar turns the luminous color of her own skin). And Kieslowski works at capturing the essence of memory and the passage of time. At four moments during the film, the screen fades completely and music swells Patrice's unfinished piece and then the music cuts, and the scene fades back in at exactly the moment where it faded out. It's part of the mystery of the film that a viewer can have an immediate and intuitive grasp on such an abstract device.

Intuition, indeed, is the driving force behind Kieslowski's films. The relationships and imagery are drawn so intricately that the pictures reward repeated viewing, and it's only on the second or third time around that the whole power of one of these films really becomes apparent. It's easy to belittle a film like this, with its languid pace, elliptical dialog, and propensity for introspection (navel-gazing?). Don't these somber sequences substitute a content New Age-ism for any real statements in response to the questions they pose? Isn't Kieslowski living in a blithe, egocentric dream world? How can we be expected to identify with the rich widow of a French composer as she mourns her way through Paris?

Yet through Binoche's performance and Kieslowski's guidance, we do identify. We feel Julie's aloneness even as we understand her resolve to cast off her sentiment and distance herself from the inexorable sadness. At the end of BLUE, as Preisner's music swells up on the soundtrack, all of the disparate characters and situations that make up Julie's story finally come together. Pictures recall pictures as Julie is finally reflected in the eyes of another, and the delicate shape of another character is traced on a video monitor, echoed in shades of blue. These final moments articulate character and contradictory emotion in one crystalline, irrefutable passage of images, absolutely wordless -- the very definition of great cinema. If you're asking the same questions as our director, the simple clarity of such images provides answers enough.
by Bryant Frazer


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