Three Colours: Blue review – Krzysztof Kieślowski’s morose yet optimistic masterwork
Thirty years on, the renowned Polish filmmaker's tragic trilogy-opener proves every bit as masterful as its brand new 4K re-release
Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski signalled his long-awaited arrival in Western European cinema with a smooth road in the French countryside, and a doomed Alfa Romeo gliding along it. Following his celebrated ten-part TV series Dekalog and enigmatic identity drama The Double Life of Veronique, Three Colours: Blue was Kieślowski’s first wholly French film – and, perhaps appropriately, his most secular. The reluctantly religious director had consulted God at every stage of his career. Blue is different. No praying, no divine power. A crucifix necklace is the best you’ll get. His 1993 drama, starring Juliette Binoche, is a comparative soap opera. It’s also, rightly, among his most celebrated.
Binoche plays Julie, a Parisian woman mourning (or not) her celebrated composer husband Patrice, and young daughter Anna. In the wake of their sudden deaths in an accident she survived, Julie disengages from life and, for much of Blue, seems to feel almost nothing at all. Blue is the colour of sadness but it’s also the colour of coldness – Julie is that, too. She tells neighbour and unlikely confidant Lucille (Charlotte Very) that “friends and possessions are traps.” The inevitable pain of losing these isn’t worth the trouble.
For such a sad film – Blue is a glass and a half of moroseness – it’s also among Kieślowski’s most optimistic. That says something about his own sensibility (1985’s No End does end, bleakly, with a widow’s head in an oven). But it’s also remarkable that Blue, and Julie, find a way back from the brink. Her friendship with Pigalle sex worker Lucille is genuinely stirring, an opportunity for Julie to acclimatise to a new life and a new Europe. Visiting Lucille at a time of crisis, Julie asks: “Why do you do this?” Lucille says without doubt: “Because I like to. Everyone likes to.” Once in a while, when she’s not assisting her husband or rebound Olivier (Benoit Regent) with their compositions (authorship is another tussle in Blue), Julie quite likes it, too.
Both in exploring these social transgressions and in attempting to define a new European cinema aesthetic, Blue is as close as Kieślowski comes to Pedro Almodóvar. For the stoic Polish auteur, mind, it’s a brief Mediterranean detour. That permissive sensibility also makes Blue an apt companion piece with Binoche’s American arrival The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a warmer and more obviously erotic film in which her Teresa is a similarly repressed individual out for a good time. Yet Blue seems to ask: what happens when you have nowhere to put your passion?
A more obvious piece of self-aware casting is Hiroshima, mon Amour star Emmanuelle Riva as Julie’s mother, credited as Madame Vignon. Destined to see out her life in a home while she watches news coverage of bungee jumps and tightrope walks, Julie’s dementia-struck mother has long lost touch with the outside world. She remembers Julie and Anna and Patrice, then forgets. Riva’s presence is an unnerving nod to Resnais’s seminal film about our tenuous grip on the truth.
In this new 4K re-release, we find a version for our One Perfect Shot era. There are thousands. They look terrific. Cinematographer Sławomir Idziak plays with kaleidoscopes, underwater cameras, and extraordinarily extreme close-ups (Julie’s retina becomes a useful mirror). Blue is a European film both in aesthetic and budget: with a little more cash, Kieślowski’s distinct austerity could be swapped out for something more luxurious. The ideas follow the same trend. It’s an awesome visual experience soon to be made possible on 4K disc – and, this weekend, in theatres. Go.
Three Colours: Blue is re-released in UK cinemas from 31 March.Where to watch