REVIEW: “Three Colors: Red”

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Krzysztof Kieślowski was at a pivotal point in his life while making his renowned Three Colors trilogy. He had determined that these would be his last movies and at the conclusion of his trilogy he announced it to the world. It was 1994 and Kieślowski was at the pinnacle of his career. Yet he stepped away from filmmaking with the intent of sitting at home and smoking while never ever visiting a cinema again. Sadly, Kieślowski would die two years later at the age 54. A true artist driven by his own rules right to the end.

Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy couldn’t be a better send off – a testament to a visionary’s passion for creating movies that burrow deep into the human elements that unite us. Kieślowski once said he preferred “touching on subject matters and situations which link people, and not those that divide people.” While he often spoke to the social and political climates of his times, they were too divisive and rarely his focus. He later said “Feelings are what link people together.” That very idea permeates ever frame of his Three Colors movies.

The trilogy’s name is taken from the three colors of the French flag – blue, white, and red. Each of the flag’s colors represent a particular ideal. Blue stood for liberty, white for equality, and red for fraternity. Each movie represents one of these ideals but on a human level and never within a political framework. Politics tend to divide and that was of no interest to Kieślowski. He sought to examine these principles within the confines of individual lives and all of the love, sorrow, pain, and humor that come with living. These are feelings and emotions that we all know and can connect to. All three films, while able to stand on their own, do connect in subtle and sometimes surprising ways.

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With “Red”, the final film in the Three Colors trilogy, Kieślowski saves his best for last. While pulling some elements from the previous two movies, “Red” still feels strikingly unique both in look and tone. It probably has the most obvious relationship with the ideal it represents (fraternity), but that doesn’t mean it’s free of thematic exploration and nuance. Quite the obvious. Kieślowski rarely looks at his subjects literally meaning we get plenty to meditate and chew on.

“Red” features a fairly straightforward story but with a sense of mystery and wonderment. There is also a surprising amount of warmth that we don’t see in the other movies. “Blue” was cold in much of its dealings with isolation and separation. The coldness in “White” comes in the form of a broken relationship and a jilted husband’s desire for revenge. “Red” has some of the same but it slowly and steadily moves towards the warm glow of fraternity yet not without facing the quandaries of life Kieślowski loves to contemplate.

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Irène Jacob plays Valentine, a university student and part-time bubblegum model living in Geneva. While driving home one night she hits a German Shepherd with her car. The address on the collar leads her to a reclusive ex-judge named Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Their initial meeting doesn’t go well. The soured, callous Joseph seems to care nothing about his dog and even less about Valentine. Eventually the loneliness they both share sparks a compelling bond between the two.

“Red” is a film that deals with fraternity but it’s also about miscommunication and missed connections. We see this in Valentine and Joseph’s central relationship, but there are other ways the film emphasizes it. For example, a law student named Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit) lives in the apartment building next to Valentine’s. The two cross paths every day yet never once seem to notice each other. Both are in less than perfect relationships, Valentine with the smug domineering Michel who we only hear over the phone, and Auguste with the flirty Karin (Frederique Feder). Both have an avenue for a potentially better relationship but constantly miss the connection.

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Kieślowski thoughtfully unwraps these people through their circumstances and intersects their stories in some unexpected ways. As he does so he challenges us to empathize with his characters and delve deeper into their motivations and feelings. This was common for Kieślowski whose true desire was to portray not merely what we see with our eyes but what we sense. This is so evident in his effective uses of each title’s color. In “Blue” it was moody and somber. In “White” it was often more naturalistic and at times idyllic. But in “Red” it conveys a number of feelings while also provokes our senses in a variety of ways.

“Red” is a mesmerizing and engaging experience right up to its peculiar but perfectly fitting ending. It connects itself to the previous two film but at the same time continues the trend of being surprisingly unique. All three movies have managed to be within the same world but strikingly different in terms of story, tone, aesthetic, and meaning. “Red” is a superb way to bring the trilogy to a close and it’s particularly moving in that this was the final movie Kieślowski would ever make. In “Red” he left us with an exclamation point on a fabulous career and a firm reminder that his work stands among the best of his craft.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4.5 STARS

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22 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Three Colors: Red”

  1. This is a fitting end to a great trilogy as it is also a last great film which doesn’t happen very often with great filmmakers. I love how the script is able to create this parallel storyline involving the old judge and the young one as it relates to lost-love and anguish. The ending is a total knock-out as it brings everything together.

    • I think Red is impressive on so many levels. The writing is some of the cleverest I’ve seen. The way it paints those parallel duel stories you mention is incredible. Also the performances – lights out. Pure brilliance. Thanks so much for following along. We definitely see this series the same way.

    • Thanks so much. They are so good. Really looking forward to reading your take on them. It’s hard to believe it’s already time to get our 2017 BlindSpots together!

  2. This was fun reading about this trilogy Keith. I think this is going to be something I’ll really enjoy. I’m intrigued how the three manage to separate themselves while all working together to form a thematic whole. And I’m pretty ignorant, as I’ve never heard of this guy before…..

    • Thanks for following along. Obviously I highly recommend diving into the trilogy. There is so much to chew on. And the three are strikingly different movies yet there are links (I’ll leave it there). As for Kieslowski, sadly I don’t think he has gotten the praise he deserves but I believe more people are discovering him. He truly deserves the audience.

  3. I thought you finally got around to review a movie people actually like. The one about the Russians invading. Colorado and them kids blowing them out of there with nothing but a few Remington shotguns. But no! You still writing about these foreign jobs that nobody wants to see.

    • Red DAWN huh? Granted, foreign films do sometimes have a hard time finding an audience over here, but to say they are movies “nobody wants to see” is….out of touch.

  4. Pingback: A Thanksgiving Post: 24 cinematic things I’m thankful for in 2016

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