Krzysztof Kieslowski’s ‘Trois Couleurs: Bleu’ (1993)

09Jan09

Blue tells a powerful story of grief and loss through the experiences of Julie, a woman whose husband and daughter die in a car crash that she survives. Unable to kill herself, Julie decides to sell her house and all her possessions to move into an anonymous apartment. In Julie’s case, liberty, which is represented by the color blue in the French flag, is a life free of the personal ties that have caused her so much emotional pain. She has enough money that she can afford not to work so that she may live simply, swimming for exercise, visiting her local coffee shop everyday for coffee and ice cream, sitting on a park bench and enjoying the sun. But Julie is still haunted by the emotional trauma inflicted by her family’s death, which manifests as a song that she keeps hearing in her head, a song her husband was composing. Julie soon realizes that she cannot help but be affected by the people she encounters: her husband’s colleague Olivier who has long harbored a crush on Julie, her troubled but caring neighbor who works in a local sex club, the young man who witnessed the car crash that killed her family, her husband’s pregnant mistress, even the baby mice that she finds living her closet. By the end of the film, Julie has realized that the liberty she sought to protect herself is impossible, and she grudgingly lets these people into her heart.

Blue is pretty much a one-woman show. Sure, there are a couple other actors who turn in nice performances, but Blue belongs to Juliette Binoche. For a good portion of the film, Julie is not particularly likable as she distances herself from reminders of her family and from her friends; however, Binoche somehow makes Julie sympathetic, which keeps the audience involved, while simultaneously not trying too hard to win the audience’s favor. When watching the film, Julie always seems barely restrained to me, seconds away from breaking down into sobs. Each little smirk seems to hold back an angry outburst or cruel remark. Blue has very little dialogue compared to other films of similar length, so it’s really up to Binoche to convey a lot of emotion through facial expressions and body language.

Of the three films, Blue is probably the “artiest.” Probably because of the limited dialogue, Kieslowski spends a lot of time creating images that mirror Julie’s mental state. Some of the more memorable ones include the image of a doctor reflected in Julie’s eye after the car wreck, a sugar cube absorbing coffee, and Julie’s reflection in a spoon balanced in the mouth of a bottle. Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak has said in interviews that Julie was originally scripted as a runner, but Idziak suggested to Kieslowski that she swim instead because a swimming pool was more visually interesting for him to film. For Julie who is trying to disconnect from her emotions and human connections, swimming is the perfect form of exercise. Inside a pool Julie is effectively cushioned from the outside world, her senses dulled by the water.

Of course, Kiewslowski and Idziak liberally use the color blue throughout the film, but I think that its use is very specific. Most of the blue seems to be items that prevent Julie from achieving liberty, since that is the ultimate message of the film: the blue folder that contains photos of Patrice’s mistress, the mobile that Julie takes from her daughter’s room (which is also blue), the pen that Julie uses to compose music, the lollipop and wrapper that Julie finds in her purse. Kieslowski also fades to blue when Julie begins to hear the music in her head and when she has sex with Olivier.

Blue is definitely my favorite film of the Three Colors series and one of my favorite films that I have seen. Many critics prefer Red and probably consider it the superior film, which it may be. The script is certainly more multifaceted and it generates quite a few questions that it leaves for the audience to answer. However, while I consider Blue and Red equal in quality, I prefer Blue because of the simplicity of its story and its singular purpose in portraying a raw, compelling portrait of grief.

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