Three Colors: White (1994)

22 Sep


Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“White” is the second entry in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors Trilogy.” It works fine as a stand-alone film, but it’s even better when seen as a middle chapter in a trilogy of films about liberty, equality, and fraternity. (“White” is about equality, while its predecessor, “Blue,” is about liberty.) It’s lighter in tone than the previous film, but it’s still droll enough to have you believe it’s a part of this series, while not being as emotionally consistent as “Blue.” But mind you, that’s only a nitpick mostly in comparison to “Blue” and the final film in the trilogy, “Red.”

Polish actor Zbigniew Zamachowski stars as shy, insecure Karol Karol, who has lost everything after his Parisian wife, Dominique (Julie Delpy), left him in humiliating circumstances. Down on his luck, he becomes a beggar at a train station until a fellow countryman, named Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos), befriends him and decides to help bring him home to Poland, where Karol owned a hairdressing salon. There, he gets a job, rebuilds his life, and eventually plans revenge against Dominique. But when it comes to that time, will he go through with it? Does he still love her? Does she love him?

One of the problems people have with “White” is that we don’t see very much of Dominique (which is kind of surprising, given that she’s on the poster & DVD cover; you’d think Julie Delpy was the star of the film, which is not the case). What makes this a problem is the argument that the resolution isn’t as successful as it should be. We see so much of Karol and get a good sense of who he is as a person, but we know very little about Dominique. The reason it doesn’t work so well here rather than “Blue” is that in “Blue,” we knew very little about Julie but gradually got an idea of her mindset while following her on her journey in life. Here, we’re too sure of Karol and still pondering about Dominique when she isn’t the main focus. And what we see of her looks like an immensely interesting character we’d like to know more about. Something that could’ve fixed this “flaw” (again, this could be argued) is a few more scenes with her back in France while Karol is in Poland; give us a little more of her and more or less reason she has revenge coming. She doesn’t have enough screen time, in my opinion.

With that said, Karol is fine as a character. We get an accomplished portrait of a man who was happy with his wife, distraught when he lost her, regretful when he dedicated everything to her, afraid when he has to go to some heavy measures just for a job, and ultimately, in a wonderful ending, remorseful when his plan worked all too well. I may have some problems with “White,” but I can’t deny it’s a nicely-done character study. And I guess us not fully understanding his feelings toward Dominique compensates for our lack of knowledge toward Dominique.

While “Blue” was an anti-tragedy, “White” is anti-comedy. By that, I don’t mean it’s not funny but that the humor comes from the irony and the unpredictability of human nature. For example, the funniest scene in the movie is not one that many would predict. Karol makes it home to Poland by smuggling himself in a suitcase. What happens to that suitcase, I’ll leave you to find out.

Again, as with “Blue,” using color to spell out the theme was a bold and effective choice. “White” of course uses white objects in nearly every shot to spread the theme of equality, just as “Blue” used color for the theme of liberty.

“White” might need to be seen twice to fully understand the “equality” theme a little more. I didn’t get it so much the first time, but the second time made me notice more about the story and characters, and therefore made me ask more questions, enriching the experience a third time. Maybe “White” doesn’t have the same impact as “Blue” or “Red,” but it’s still effective in its own way.

Side-note: if you noticed in “Blue,” Zamachowski and Delpy make brief appearances, and likewise, in “White,” Juliette Binoche, the star of “Blue,” has a blink-and-you-miss-it cameo. All three actors appear at the end of “Red,” bringing everything in the trilogy together in a subtle, brilliant way. But I’ll get to that in the Red review.

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