Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Krzysztof Kieślowski | Trois couleurs : Bleu (Three Colors: Blue)

the good woman
by Douglas Messerli

Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Krzysztof Kieślowski, Agnieszka Holland, Edward Żebrowski (writers) Krzysztof Kieślowski (director) Trois couleurs : Bleu (Three Colors: Blue) / 1993

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s first work of his Three Colors, Blue begins with what seems like a joyful ride in the country, in which the heroine, Julie (Juliette Binoche) is riding with her husband, Patrice, and daughter. On a curve in the road, however, the car quickly goes out of control, hitting a tree, and killing both Julie’s husband and young daughter. She survives, after hospital care, with only a few bruises—and a failed attempt at suicide—returning home soon after. There she calls up one of her famous composer-husband’s friends and occasional collaborator, Oliver (Benoît Régent)—who has long admired her—and almost without much emotion invites him into her bed, and if sex were a form of saying goodbye.

      By the time he awakens the next morning, she has destroyed most of her husband’s compositions, including his still unfinished symphony dedicated to the unity of Europe, and has  ordered the mansion in which lives and all of its contents be sold, the monies to be sent to her mother, living in an institution with progressing Alzheimer’s Disease. Packing a single bag, Julie is off to Paris, where she chooses a modest apartment which she fills with contemporary Ikea-like furniture.
     From the composer’s desk, Olivier, however, retrieves a score for the symphony and a stash of photos hidden within it.
     Little is said, and we are not even told what Julie did in her life; but it is intimated in a news report, early on, that she may also have been a collaborator with her husband, and has actually composed many of his famous works. But here the movie almost goes mute, as Julie attempts to adjust to a new life. What is clear in Binoche’s beautifully expressive acting, is that Julie has so  loved her husband and daughter that she has now attempted to cut herself completely off from anything that might remind her of them, that her grief is so unassailable that she has gone into a kind of hibernating state, cutting herself off from everything else in life. 
     When Olivier finally tracks her down, she immediately sends him packing. Julie’s own mother (quietly played by the great Emmanuelle Riva) does not even recognize her as her daughter when she visits her, confusing Julie with her own sister.

     The only object Julie has carried with her is a mobile of blue beads, apparently belonging to her daughter. Indeed, as the director indicates through the predominance of that color throughout the film, hers is now a blue world, a world of pain and sorrow. Kieślowski has also  expressed the idea, however, that his three “Color” films are based on the French flag, representing the French Revolutionary ideals of “liberty, equality, and fraternity.” So, we recognize that Julie’s new life is potentially a world of liberty, even if she cannot yet recognize it.
     But gradually we perceive that Julie is not the cold-hearted woman in grief that she first appears to be. Although she has not yet been able to cry, she is naturally kind-hearted, refusing to sign a petition by the other tenants of her building to oust her neighbor, a woman who is having an affair with her next door neighbor and who performs nude in a male club, Lucille (Charlotte Véry); and in that act she gains the woman’s deep friendship, and later comes to her rescue when Lucille spots her father in the all-male crowd at her club.
     Julie also meets with the decent young man who, having observing the crash, has pulled her from the car and called the ambulance. He has found a small cross nearby, which he now is  happy to return to her; after hearing her husband’s last words, however—the punch-line of a joke they had just shared—she gently rewards the cross to the boy for his help and kindness.

     Through these simple acts—the visit to her mother, her conversation with Olivier, the attention she gives to a local street-performer who plays a recorder, her friendship with Lucille, and her gentleness with the boy—we come to see that Julie is a naturally kind person who, in her need of others, will not be able to live long in the retreat from the world she has attempted to create for herself.
       After over-hearing a news interview with Olivier, who displays Patrice’s score and corrections along the photographs hidden within, and proclaims that he is working to complete it, Julie confronts him, demanding that he not attempt to finish the composition and asking him who is the lovely woman in the photographs. He explains that she was Patrice’s mistress.

      Obtaining the woman’s address, Julie encounters Sandrine (Florence Pernel), who is pregnant, she discovers, with her husband’s child. Clearly, she is hurt, but, demonstrating her true personality, Julie offers the still unsold mansion to the woman and her soon-to-be-born son in recognition of their relationships to her former husband
     Returning to Olivier, she promises to work with him in finishing the symphony, knowing of her husband’s plans for a final chorus from First Corinthians, singing of Saint Paul’s praise for divine love. 
      The film ends with a revived Julie, finally crying, having realized that her husband’s simple humanity and her own place in his life as a “good” person, as Patrice, himself, has described Julie to his mistress. Patrice was not a saint, and Julie can now go on in her new liberty, sharing her own love with others.
      Working very much in the tradition of Bresson, Kieślowski forgives his characters while simultaneously revealing their sins and errors. The world, he demonstrates, is not made up of heroes, but ordinary men and women trying to live out their lives with joy and fulfillment. If Julie has not, as it has been previously suggested, co-written her husband’s compositions, it has now become the reality, and in that act, she has found a new meaning to life.

Los Angeles, November 29, 2016

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