B L U E
Three Colours: Blue is the first film in director Krzysztof Kieslowskis acclaimed Three Colours trilogy. The subtitled French movie was filmed in France and Poland and released in 1993. Kieslowski is regarded as one of Europes most celebrated film directors, and the Three Colours trilogy may be his most important and best known work. It is also his final work, as he retired from filmmaking soon after the trilogys release and died in 1996. Kieslowski based his trilogy on the ideals represented by the three colours of the French flag and the French revolutionary slogan. Blue, White and Red identify with liberty, equality and fraternity. Yet Blue does not use conventional illustrations of liberty, such as the end of a war or freedom from suppression. Instead, the writers, Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz stated "we wanted to show what liberty means to us today, who already possess liberty. Therefore, in Blue, liberty is not treated in a social or political way but if we talk about liberty, we mean individual liberty, the liberty of life itself." (BUFS Reviews, http://www.bath.ac.uk/su0bufs/films/ThreeColoursBlue.html) Kieslowski chooses to examine the liberty of life by modeling liberty on solitude. With this film, he questions if a person in complete solitude has attained individual liberty, since he or she has been freed from lifes responsibilities and hardships. Yet complete solitude is nearly unachievable and perhaps, undesirable. Blue examines individual liberty in a poignant and beautiful study of solitude.
Blue depicts a few tragic and transitional months in one womans life. The film focuses entirely on Julie De Courcy. Her character is perfectly realized by the unfailingly beautiful Juliette Binoche. Julie is the sole survivor of a fatal car accident that claims the lives of her husband and five year old daughter. As Julie recovers in a hospital, the tragedy of her circumstance sends her into a trance-like state of grief and introspection. Without the intrusion of other characters, the viewer learns that Julies husband is a famous composer and that Julie herself plays an important and mysterious role in his compositions. As she recovers, Julie appears to be completely alone. She has nearly no visitors, and there is no evidence of concerned friends or family members. This isolation introduces Julies reaction to the accident. Once she is well, she rejects every aspect of her former (and presumably happy) life. She establishes a reclusive life of extreme solitude. Her days are deliberately without physical reminders of the past, yet the past intrudes on her through her subconscious and psyche. Julies solitude is affected by the haunting music that persists throughout the film and intrusions from the outside world. Her carefully planned lifestyle becomes threatened by the society she attempts to reject. The film ends with Julie's eventual recognition of her own desire for human interaction and love.
The first scene of Blue is a grainy image of the undercarriage of a moving car. The camera also lingers on the actions and expressions of the young girl inside the car. The placement of the camera and the sounds of the vehicle create a feeling of movement and speed. The scenes are eerily silent and almost without dialogue or soundtrack. The plot of the movie begins with happenstance, which Kieslowski uses effectively throughout his films. Just as a boy catches a ball on a stick, a car slams into a nearby tree. The horror of this event is intensified by the absence of the expected screams, cries and blood. The camera stubbornly keeps a distance from the wreckage, and as a typical Americanized viewer, I felt the voyeuristic urge to see the gory results of the accident. Kieslowski uses this camera placement to force the viewer to become more introspective and dependent on imagination. The accident scene is powerful in its understatements and the images it does not display.
From the accident, the film moves to Julie. The hospital scenes are especially heartbreaking, though Julie's character is virtually undeveloped. There is no voiceover (thankfully) to convey Julies feelings. Yet the viewer empathizes with Julie and feels immersed in her situation. Kieslowski achieves a strong connection between Julie and the viewer by filming events as Julie experiences them. There are two shots to encourage the sense of being Julie. The first is the shot of the doctor's reflection in Julie's huge, sad eye. The viewer sees the image that Julie is seeing. The second is a shot of a man, perhaps a priest, making preparations for Julie's viewing of the funeral. The shot is taken from Julie's perspective, as she lies sideways in bed with the sheets tucked up around her face. The soundtrack consists primarily of Julie's breathing, and sounds from the outside world are muffled and distant. By placing the viewer within Julie's tortured psyche, the viewer imagines his or her reaction to such a tragedy. This personal connection is one of the major strengths of the film, and helps to accentuate Julie's solitary situation.
The accident creates a space in which the remainder of the film is played out. Though she likely did not wish it, the death of Julie's family frees her from her previous life. Julie moves away from all that is familiar. She sells her house and possessions. She finds an apartment and does not let others know where she is living. She goes so far as to assume her maiden name, Vignon. Julie is a woman seeking liberty from her past and from the painful accident. She achieves this liberty through extreme solitude. Kieslowski uses several methods to project Julies solitude. The majority of the shots of Julie are close or extreme close shots, which are never tiring since Juliette Binoche has a refreshing and flawless appearance. The framing of the shots is used to represent Julies self imposed boundaries. A strong example of her closed view of life occurs in a café, where Julie orders a coffee and ice cream. The scene shows only a melancholy Julie. The waiter is heard but not filmed and as Julie waits for her order, there are no shots of the café and its other patrons. Instead, Julie fills the shot, which cuts not to another character or some event in the outside world, but to her food. These shots are as limited as Julies view.
Kieslowski uses the structure of scenes to communicate ideas of solitude. Yet, there are many more contributing factors. Each shot is complemented by the stylistic use of the colour blue in lighting and props. The entire film is shot through a blue filter. The title itself and the blue tint of the film evokes feelings normally represented by the colour blue. Blue is often associated with sadness and cold, or emotional states of being blue and having the blues. Kieslowski meticulously uses the colour blue for many different effects. Julie is often bathed in blue, symbolically and literally. She is symbolically bathed blue light, as in the shot of her sitting in the hospital when she is visited by the journalist. She literally bathes in blue as Julie swims in a huge blue tiled pool of blue water. The use of blue objects, such as the hanging beads, and other blue accents, persists throughout the film and creates an underlying theme with this meaningful colour.
Music in this film is closely tied to the plot, but it also has a much more important role in reflecting Julies sentiments. It is interesting that blue notes in music describe a note that is between notes, which leads to the musical genre of the blues. However, the depressing and repetitive style of blues would have created an overly sentimental film. Wisely, Kieslowski chooses an original composition by Zbigniew Preisner. The music itself is a very strong force in the film. It is simple yet extremely powerful and emotional. Kieslowski often demonstrates the power and beauty of simplicity throughout the film with respect to dialogue, cinematography and especially, film score. The importance of the music is unavoidable when Julie and Olivier are collaborating on the unfinished composition. Kieslowski blurs the visuals so much that the music becomes the focus. Like many of the scenes in Blue, the music remains in your mind long after the film has ended.
The music of Blue initially emanates from Julies mind. It storms upon her just as she is about to be overwhelmed by grief, sadness or anger. She is not able to control the audio appearances of a few specific bars of music. The music itself is more loud and clear than the sounds from the outside world. Kieslowski uses the volume of the music and Julie's startled reactions to express that the music is within her mind. These auditory hallucinations, or more likely, musical genius, usher in long blinks within the film. These blinks are unexpected fades to black in the middle of scenes. To me, the fades represent Julies disappearance into her subconscious. She seems to take the time out from the real world to arrange her thoughts and take control of her emotions. These blinks seem like Julies mechanism to deal with difficult or unexpected comments from the world she has rejected. The blinks indicate Julies fragile balance between solitude and the outside world.
Julies outlook on life is also described by her infrequent dialogue. In one brief but revealing statement, Julie explains her situation to her aging mother.
I have no home anymore. Before I was happy. I loved them. They loved me too. Now I have only one thing left to do nothing. I dont want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. Those are all traps.
Yet Julie seems to understand that this is not true. She associates happiness with love, and though it may be against her wishes, she is subconsciously seeking happiness. Eventually, her human needs for interaction and emotion will overpower her selfish desires for solitude.
By studying Julies experience with solitude, Kieslowski expresses that a person cannot reject life completely. He claims that life calls out to you and you are drawn towards life. This idea is supported by the loneliness of the other characters in Blue. At one point, Julie asks Olivier, "Are you alone?" He replies with "Of course." Yet each of these characters is searching for someone to end their solitude. Julies neighbour Lucille claims that she "cant bear to spend one night alone." Which is convenient, considering her profession. Even Julie's mother finds happiness and companionship by watching the world as it is presented by her television.
Blue ends in Julie's return to the world of the living as she trades her solitude for a life of responsibilities and human relationships. These relationships are each shown in the last sequence of events. Kieslowski pans from a scene of Olivier and Julie to a scene of the boy who witnessed the crash. The film then shows Lucille, Sandrine and Julie's mother before returning to a solitary Julie. As the last scene fades, the viewer questions Kieslowski's message of freedom. Hasn't Kieslowski been showing that freedom is achieved through solitude? Kieslowskis deeper message is that freedom from life may be achieved through solitude, but that complete solitude is unattainable and undesirable. He expresses that an individual who truly experiences liberty of life is an individual who recognizes the pain and disappointments of life, yet has the courage to pursue lifes challenges and joys. The final message of Blue is reinforced by the chorus of Julies music:
And though I have the gift of prophecy And understand all mysteries And all knowledge
And though I have all faith so that I could move mountains,
If I have not love I am nothing.
Love is patient, full of goodness. Love tolerates all things, Aspires to all things, Love never dies.
While the prophecies shall be done away, tongues shall be silenced, knowledge shall fade thus then shall linger only faith, hope and love but the greatest of these is love.
(the song from Three Colours: Blue)