A 1993 film by Krzysztof Kieślowski. The main character, Julie, loses her husband and little daughter in a car accident...
Three Colors: Blue is the first part of the Three Colors triptych, followed by White and Red. The whole cycle – like The Decalogue – was created in opposition to Kieślowski’s previous films, which dealt with the characters’ problems from a political and social angle and contained many realistic background details. In the half of the 1980s, Kieślowski decided to slightly change his tactics and present characters facing existential dilemmas, understood more universally than in his previous, more realist films.
All films in the cycle allude to the French Revolution. Their plots loosely refer to the mottos of the revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, whereas formally, by symbolic use of hues, they hint at the colours of the French flag. In accordance with this assumption, while trying to interpret Three Colors: Blue, one should treat the ideal of liberty as the starting point.
As Bożena Janicka wrote in Film magazine (10/1993):
The director of Blind Chance, a film about free choice being an illusion as the circumstances always lead us to one of the mediocre ruts of social life, has now made a film about freedom as an ontological category.
The main character of the film, Julie, the wife of a prominent composer and mother to a little daughter, leads a life full of many duties, which, inevitably, take away some of her freedom. A car accident changes her life completely. The woman escapes death, but loses her husband and child. In the first moments after the crash, when she regains consciousness in the hospital, she attempts suicide, but doesn’t find enough strength to commit the act.
Tadeusz Sobolewski pointed out in Kino magazine (10/1993):
It seems a misunderstanding to interpret Three Colors as a film with a clear moral. In Kieślowski’s film, the need for love is no postulate. It’s the only solution, a bond that keeps the character alive. Freedom turns out to be useless in view of losing the loved ones. Real freedom would require looking death in the eye. Julie does it, trying to kill herself in the hospital. However, she renounces in the very last moment. She tries to live standing on the edge of the precipice that opened in her life – in this attempt she resembles daredevils exploring a precipice, their legs tied with a rope. (…) Mundane objects – such as a coffee cup – seen in unusual, celebratory close-ups, become symbols of an alliance with life, a safeguard of existence. Kieślowski goes one step further and alludes at sacraments. Julie reacts to her child’s death differently than most mothers. She rejects the solace offered by keepsakes. She does, however, take a look into her daughter’s purse, which she had with her in the car, and finds a round lollipop. She puts the candy in her mouth – this gesture becomes a sort of a communion.
Julie decides to keep on living, but at the same time is unable to lead her life the way she used to. She explores all the possible means that would help her cut herself off from the past, as the memory causes immense pain. She puts her suburban house up for sale and moves to a rented flat in Paris. She doesn’t take anything with her, apart from a string of blue beads. She doesn’t want to keep any objects that could remind her of the accident. A young man who witnessed the accident wants to give her a pendant with a cross which he found – she refuses to accept it.
Julie strives to sever all her relationships – she visits only her mother, who is unable to recognize her because of dementia. She announces to her mother that from now one she will be doing only the things she wants to do, which means nothing. She’s free. Julie spends the night with Olivier, her husband’s assistant (Olivier has been hopelessly in love with her for a long time) only to tell him she doesn’t want to keep in touch with him.
Julie’s husband, Patrice, was an eminent composer. Because of him, she lived in the world of music, too. Before his death, Patrice was working on an oratorio ordered by the Council of Europe. The piece was supposed to celebrate the anticipated union of the twelve countries belonging to the European Communities at the time and was to be played simultaneously in all these states during ceremonies. The composition remained unfinished and Julie strongly opposed the idea of somebody replacing her husband in this task. She initially wants to destroy the incomplete piece.
Julie doesn’t say much, her face remains mysterious, she does everything automatically, as if she's not present in her body. She drinks coffee, swims in a pool, talks to her neighbour after she’s moved to the new apartment. In her new life, there is no life. It’s freedom tantamount to a lack, a void.
Julie is burdened with freedom. It’s a freedom she doesn’t want; a freedom that causes additional pain. Julie does everything to make recollecting the past impossible, but at the same does not do anything to build a new, real life. The past is too difficult to handle. She wants to invalidate it in some way. The scene in which Julie eats her daughter’s lollipop may be interpreted – as Tadeusz Sobolewski did – as a sort of a communion, but at the same time this gesture contains a strong will to annihilate this object, which aggravates her pain by merely existing.
Julie consciously wishes to live in a state of limbo, in a sort of a ‘nothingness’ which is supposed to be a make-believe life. Words are scarcely uttered in the film, there are no dialogues which would make discovering the meanings easier. This silence is symbolic – it’s a constituent of the aforementioned ‘nothingness’. This was likely the director’s intention – it’s not the dialogue, but the symbolic imagery, shot in cold blue hues, that should draw the viewer’s attention. The only object Julie takes with her from home is a string of blue beads. Permeated with pain, Julie purposefully chooses life in coolness. Julie is free, but the pain makes her unable to use this freedom. She is frozen.
A change occurs only after Julie accidentally discovers that her husband had a second life she had no idea about. He was in a relationship with another woman. Her husband’s infidelity doesn’t hurt her much; rather, it comes as a surprise. The knowledge of this has a salutary influence on her life. She’s freed from the trap of pain and she takes the path of true freedom – not ‘freedom from’, but ‘freedom to’ – freedom to experience a new feeling, to work. She finds her husband’s lover, Sandrine. The woman confirms what Julie was already sure of – Sandrine’s relationship with Patrice has been going on for a few years and she’s expecting the man’s baby. Sandrine seems lost – apparently, she’s also suffered a significant loss and is tormented by anxiety stemming from the fact that she doesn’t know if Patrice loved her. Julie magnanimously assures the lover that her husband had strong feelings for her. After some time she takes action to change her previous decisions. She decides to give her house to Sandrine and the son she’s expecting. She accepts Olivier’s feelings and tells him she’s ready to help him finish Patrice’s oratorio. The film is crowned with the performance of the piece. Its lyrics are the thirteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, sometimes also called the Hymn of Love.
Blue, standing for liberty, has become a vehicle for depicting freedom understood in a drastically different way – not as a value of social life, but as an emotional, individual impression.
Three Colors: Blue (Trois couleurs. Bleu). Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski, writing credits: Krzysztof Kieślowski, Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Cinematography by Sławomir Idziak. Music by Zbigniew Preisner. Produced by MK2 Productions SA, CED Productions, France 3 Cinema (Paris), CAB Production Lozanna, Studio Filmowe TOR. Cast: Juliette Binoche as Julie, Benoit Regent as Olivier, Florence Pernel as Sandrine, Huques Quester as Patrice, Julie’s husband.
- 1993 - Golden Lion for Krzysztof Kieślowski at Venice Film Festival. Gold Duck presented by the Polish monthly Film
- 1994 - César Award, presented by Académie des Arts et Techniques du Cinéma, for Juliette Binoche
- 1994 - audience award for Krzysztof Kieślowski at Tarnów Film Award in Tarnów.
- 1999 - Polish weekly Polityka decided that the film should occupy the sixth place - together with the other parts of the trilogy - in the ranking of the most interesting Polish films of the 20th century.
Author: Ewa Nawój, November 2011. Translation: Natalia Sajewicz