Smith’s Verdict: ****
Reviewed by Tanner Smith
“Red,” the final chapter in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors Trilogy,” was sadly also Kieslowski’s final film before his untimely death. That the film is excellent for reasons I’m about to describe is a testament to the great Polish filmmaker’s magnificent career.
If the first two parts of the trilogy were very good, then “Red” is one I would call one of the best foreign films of the 1990s if not of all time. (Of course, calling a certain kind of film one of the greatest of “all time” would indicate that I’ve seen every movie, which I certainly haven’t.) Having seen it five times now, I’m always convinced with each viewing that I’m seeing a masterpiece. This is a film that explores the themes of fraternity, platonic love, and kismet in such a rich, complex way that it can lead to heavy discussions among movie-loving groups upon seeing it.
The best thing about a certain series is how each chapter has a story from one individual’s point of view. That makes the ideas similar and somewhat connected to other episodes but also causes each separate one to become its own self-contained story. You can watch “Red” as a stand-alone film and get as much about the ending as one would when associating it with the previous “Three Colors” films, “Blue” and “White.” Those who have seen “Blue” and “White,” like me, however, get an even stronger feeling from “Red.” Its ending brings closure to the other films while tying to this one as well. I won’t give it away here, but it brings its complicated, unstable characters together in a brilliant way that makes the central themes of the entire trilogy even more powerful.
But back to “Red”—the story involves a young, beautiful model named Valentine (Irene Jacob), who accidentally hits a dog with her car. She tracks down the wounded dog’s owner, a retired old judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant), and is surprised to find that the judge is indifferent to the dog and seemingly to her. He tells her she can keep the dog, but the dog runs back home, and this is when Valentine discovers the judge’s secret: he has tapped into people’s phones illegally so he can listen in on their conversations. She’s confused as to why he would invade their privacy; he simply listens in and analyzes what they will do after certain calls. (And sometimes he’s right.) But he doesn’t enjoy it—he hardly enjoys anything anymore, ever since tragic instances caused him to leave the court. He doesn’t even interfere in these people’s lives; he simply listens and lets them go about their day, much like God giving the human race free will (a bit of heavy symbolism, but it’s still there). Valentine is fascinated and somewhat unnerved by her discovery of the judge’s private life, while the judge is interested that someone now knows his secret, and they form an odd friendship. While that’s going on, we see the story of a would-be judge, named Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit), who is actually a neighbor to Valentine and also one of the people being spied upon by the judge. He’s devoted to his girlfriend, Karin (Frederique Feder), but it seems fate has another idea for them.
I didn’t quite get the parallel story involving Auguste and Karin the first time I saw “Red,” but the more times I watch it, the more I realize how similar Auguste’s present is to the old judge’s past, which I found fascinating to ponder. And I was unsure why exactly Auguste and Valentine would be in the same frame without ever actually meeting (or maybe they will); hell, the film even opens (with a remarkable shot, by the way, of telephone wires crossing) with Valentine making a call and then Auguste answering a call but not from her (instead, she was calling her boyfriend and he received a call from Karin). What does this mean? Again, I have to go back to the ending, which I still can’t talk about, but the more I thought about it, the more intriguing the concept of fate became as I watched it. And while we’re on the subject of fate, that’s what’s been controlling the characters of “Blue” and “White,” as well as the characters of this film, all along. When watching all three films, especially after seeing this one and returning to the others, you start to think about the themes that are apparent in each one, especially the theme of destiny. (It’s also worth nothing that this film loves to play with foreshadowing. Watch the film and you’ll see what I mean.)
The color “red” stands for the theme of fraternity, or “platonic love.” Of course, the color is seen in nearly every shot with red objects and filters (and, by the way, the cinematography is absolutely lovely). There are no sexual overtones to be found in the friendship between Valentine and the judge; just interest. She’s fascinated by him, and vice versa. Their relationship is even more interesting when you realize that they’re on opposing sides on views of human nature—he has very little hope for humanity and she keeps her faith, despite him trying to convince her. And sometimes, she even gets to him; the moment that spells that out clearly is the scene where he shows up at a fashion show to see her—something otherwise unexpected for him to do. That’s the beauty of this friendship: you have no idea what’s going to happen. As with “Blue” and “White,” nothing is as simple as it may seem (or…even as simple as the judge might believe it to be; really think about that).
There is so much I’m probably missing in discussing “Red,” and I embrace this film for challenging me and making me think about what’s happening in the film and what it relates to in life. The more I watch this film, the more I learn from it. “Red” is a masterful conclusion to an already riveting trilogy, and even better, Kieslowski’s finest film in an already glorious career.
And I’ll tell you something else I got from the ending, which I still won’t give away: life is precarious and every moment you can cherish should be cherished forever. I love this film.