Three Colors: Blue (1994)

22 Sep


Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

After Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski created something ambitious with his “Decalogue” film series, which was a collection of short stories having to do with the Ten Commandments in modern life in ambiguous, satiric, and ironic ways, he decided to make something similarly impressive with the “Three Colors Trilogy.” The “three colors” in the title are blue, white, and red—the three colors of the French flag. And each film has to do with one of the three notions of the French motto: liberty (blue), equality (white), and fraternity (red). Writers Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz create three films to show how these ideals function in everyday life, from an individual’s point of view. According to Kieslowski, “When you deal with them practically, you do not know how to live with them. Do people really want liberty, equality, and fraternity?”

The first in the trilogy, “Blue,” is centered around the subject of “liberty,” specifically personal, emotional liberty. The main focus is a Frenchwoman named Julie (played wonderfully by Juliette Binoche), who at the start of the film loses her husband and daughter in a car accident which she survives. She recovers fine but only physically. Emotionally, she’s a wreck as she tries to deal with her loss, while at the same time, she hardly seems to feel anything anymore. At one point, she even seduces and sleeps with a man who is smitten by her, possibly just so she can feel something again. After that encounter, she sets off for a new life. She sells her house, burns her late-composer-husband’s compositions, puts her mother in a home, and goes to live in an apartment building, with no name to herself, no time for love or friendship, and not even any children in the building, as she wishes. But fate runs another course for her—things in the present force Julie to have to face them, and the past is far from at rest, leading to her confronting that too.

There are many movies like this where you could easily predict what is going to happen in a character’s life because the characters are thinking in terms of plot, and therefore, it’s easy to tell where they’re going. But “Blue” is different in the way it conveys real emotion and real pain, and it puts in a lead character who is very complicated and hard to figure out because she has nothing figured out. And therefore, that makes her an interesting person to follow, because we’re not sure what she’s going to do next. For that matter, it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen in her life that she’ll have to deal with! That’s because despite what she may think of her life (and what we all may think of our own lives), there is hardly any control.

That is what makes “Blue” so powerful. It hardly takes the easy way out and thinks things for us—it has a character who’s always thinking, and so, we have to figure out exactly what’s on her mind when she does certain things. The overall mood and grim atmosphere of the film suck the audience in so that they want to know what goes on with this woman and will follow her anywhere. The slow progression of Julie’s “new life” is fascinating, as we see her cope with isolation and loneliness and contemplate what life has to offer after tragedy.

It’s also worth nothing that “Blue” is a beautiful-looking film. To go with the theme of liberty and the color blue, nearly every shot contains a blue object and is often done with a blue filter as well.

“Blue” is a wonderful film and a very strong first entry in the “Three Colors Trilogy.” Will the second film in the series appear stronger or weaker by comparison? Join me in the review of White for the answer.

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