The climatic entry in the director's seminal film series, released months before his death, is the ultimate expression of his viewpoint
An important difference between Blue, White, and Red is that the final and most acclaimed film in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours trilogy is about a nice person. Valentine (Irène Jacob) is a friendly student and model looking for connection in stoic Geneva. When she enters her favourite cafe, Valentine says “Salud!” She kindly thanks a shopkeeper after downing a bottle of water at the end of an exacting ballet class, and tells a dresser at a fashion show after finishing a nervy catwalk: “I almost fell!”
Unlike Juliette Binoche’s Teresa in Blue, a moody introvert, and Zbigniew Zamachowski’s self-absorbed Karol in White, Valentine values human contact for the sake of it. That’s partly why Red has been termed the “fraternité” slice of the Three Colours series, though it has plenty of ruminations on liberty, too. Those come mostly from a grumpy retired jurist known only as Le Juge (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who might also be God (it's that kind of film, and Kieślowski was that kind of filmmaker).
After his Belgian Shepherd Rita escapes and is run over by a distracted Valentine, she visits Le Juge's home and they strike up an unlikely friendship which seems to have cosmic implications. Although at first both seem less holy than superstitious: when Valentine wins a jackpot at her cafe, the owner tells her it’s a bad sign. “I think I know why I won,” she tells him, disturbed. The holiest is Rita, who sprints away from adoptive owner Valentine and into a church, before returning to the judge, who doesn’t much want her.
Valentine sees that the judge is listening in to his neighbours’ phone calls. They’re mostly boring, some scandalous, all uncomfortable. When she takes him to task for it, the judge says it’s his hobby. Trintignant famously played a ruthless investigative lawyer who helped bring down a dictatorship in Costas Gavras’ Z. This is quite a climbdown in retirement, which is furthered by his own misanthropy, a stark contrast to doe-eyed Valentine. If he is indeed a conduit for God, the judge is more Old Testament than New Testament. The scenes they share are scored with staccato violins that almost sound like a drumroll. These are Cup Final moments in Red, Kieślowski tells us, and for his trilogy.
Red is the culmination of the emotional tension built during the series of films, and its themes more generally. If in White Kieślowski injects comedy to otherwise serious situations, in Red he imbues drama into the menial. When the judge changes a light bulb, the replacement shines blindingly in Valentine’s face. She puts a pebble on his piano, and the camera moves quickly onto it as it wobbles on the wooden surface. These aren’t decisive moments, nor typical ingredients for high drama. In Kieślowski’s hands, they are made so. Kieślowski rarely does big character introductions, even for his protagonists; usually a person arrives on the scene, and becomes important. Not the judge, who – when Valentine first gets to his house – might as well be the Wizard of Oz. And yet, as we see in the film’s final shots, he could just be the real deal.
Kieślowski’s commitment to a relentless visual dynamism in Red makes it easy to see why the trilogy’s climax is so celebrated. Red is the ultimate expression of what he understood better than any other filmmaker of his generation. Life is fragile. Passions matter. His cinematic immigration from austere Polish political dramas to existential French soap operas came as Europe was transformed. And yet, as Red shows, same old people. Same old Kieślowski, too. Et voila.
Three Colours: Red is released in UK cinemas on 14 April.Where to watch