Krzysztof Kieslowski’s ‘Trois Couleurs: Rouge’ (1994)

21Jan09
Irene Jacob in 'Red'

Red concludes the Three Colors trilogy in Switzerland with Valentine, a student and part-time model living in Geneva whose sole contact with her family and her boyfriend is by phone. One night she hits a dog with her car and, not knowing what to do, she takes the wounded animal to its owner, a detached and seemingly uncaring retired judge. Valentine and the judge make a somewhat unwilling acquaintance when Valentine realizes that the judge, whose legal career has made him jaded and disillusioned about justice, spends his days listening to his neighbors’ telephone calls with surveillance equipment. Valentine’s censure of his activities reawakens the judge’s humanity and he composes letters to his neighbors confessing what he has been doing. Intertwined with the development of Valentine and the judge’s friendship, a young lawyer named Auguste is betrayed by his lover Karin in events eerily similar to what happened to the judge many years ago.

Irène Jacob is wonderful as Valentine, playing her as infectiously good-natured, open, and unaffected in almost child-like way. Jean-Louis Trintignant creates an emotional foil to Valentine: where Valentine is open, the judge is closed and inscrutable. The judge is arguably the “villain” who redeems himself, but Trintignant doesn’t play him twirling a black mustache. Rather, Trintignant portrays the judge’s transformation from surly and uncaring to newly humanized very subtly. Jean-Pierre Lorit and Frédérique Feder give solid supporting performances as Auguste and Karin.

Red explores the political idea of fraternity, represented by the titular color on the French flag, and of the three films it offers the most literal interpretation of its theme. Valentine embodies the spirit of fraternity throughout the film, acting as an essentially decent person would: she contacts the judge after accidentally hitting his dog, she rushes to help close windows against a brewing storm in an auditorium, she says, “Have a good day,” to someone never even shown on screen, and she finally helps that short, elderly person deposit a glass bottle into a recycling bin that is just out of her reach. The central relationship of the film, that of Valentine and the judge, is one of friendship, and that friendship is almost healing for both of them. The judge recovers his compassion and faith in people while Valentine really connects with someone. Even though she has very open, giving personality, Valentine does not seem to have very many friends in Geneva, and her family and her boyfriend live out of town. Perhaps the unanticipated divergence from the traditional interpretation of fraternity lies in the platonic love that emerges between her and the judge.

Jean-Louis Trintignant in 'Red'

Though I suppose that Kieslowski might stretch the definition of fraternity a bit to include an idea of connectivity. Red is very much about connections, both obvious and invisible. Indeed, the film begins with the camera “going inside” of phone lines to follow the transmission of a phone call, connecting one person to another via wires. Kieslowski also explores unseen connections, such as music that both Valentine and Auguste listen to and the parallels between the judge and Auguste’s lives. Perhaps Kieslowski suggests that this conceptualization of fraternity connects people, whether they see it or not, and Valentine represents the ideal of fraternity, acknowledging that connection through her actions.

Red
is also a film about second chances. The judge has a second chance at connecting with people through his friendship with Valentine, and his dog’s pregnancy offers him a second chance at being a loving pet owner. As the ending suggests, Auguste and Valentine both will have a second chance at finding love with each other, which also allows the judge’s story of love and loss to have a different ending. Indeed, Kieslowski connects the three films in the final scene through this idea of second chance as well as the boat wreck. The surviving couples are either experiencing or offering a second chance at love.

While Polish cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski’s beautiful photography is peppered with rich, beautiful reds, the color imagery of Red seems less specific than that of White or Blue. I do not intend to insinuate that Kieslowski’s choices of red objects were not deliberate, however his use of the color seems less reserved. Red saturates the palette of this film in a way not seen in the trilogy’s previous entries, but the color does retain its association with fraternity. For example, Valentine wears an item of red clothing when she visits the judge and the dog’s collar is also red. But the color is more pervasive and less obvious in its representation of fraternity, which perhaps underscores the idea that Kieslowski suggests fraternity connects people in ways both seen and unseen.

Irene Jacob in 'Red'
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