Thursday, December 1, 2016

Krzysztof Kieślowski | Trois couleurs : Rouge (Three Colors: Red)

art becomes life
by Douglas Messerli

Krzysztof Kieślowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz (writers), Krzysztof Kieślowski (director) Trois couleurs : Rouge (Three Colors: Red) / 1994

As in the previous two Three Colors movies, Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Red is filled with the coincidence of missed opportunities and choices. This last film of his triptych—and the last film he ever make before his early death in 1996—represents the third color of the French flag, and is structured around the concept of fraternity.

In Red, several couples are seen being pulled apart at the same time they are drawn into  new relationships, most of which are for the better. Valentine Dussault (Irène Jacob) is a model who has a relationship, mostly via phone, with an iterant man, who even over the phone seems to be somewhat controlling, angry each time Valentine misses his petulant calls; yet he is the one constantly on the move, from one country to another. We don’t know what he does, but we certainly suspect that he’s not the right man for this beautiful woman. 
       Across the street from Valentine lives a handsome young law student, Auguste Bruner (Jean-Pierre Lorit), with a dog. Auguste too has a mostly telephonic relationship a young woman, Karin (Frederique Feder), and throughout the film he and Valentine cross paths without seeing one another—although we do feel somehow that they might make the perfect couple.
      At one point, carrying a stack books, Auguste drops them, one of the books, his law book, which the wind opens up to a page which as he goes to pick it up, he carefully rereads. Indeed, in his bar exam the very next day, he passes by being able to answer the question about the information he has accidently read. The event, in Kieślowski’s telling, seems quite incidental, yet like so many of the happenings in this director’s films, it will later be of great significance.

      In the early scenes of the film, Valentine goes for a photo shoot where she makes various poses, including blowing up a bubble of gum. But at the last moment the photographer, shooting her from the side, asks her to look sad. That last photo is blown up, backed in red, and put in posters throughout the city of Geneva, where she lives.
     Soon after, while driving, she accidently hits a golden retriever and rushes to her side, carrying the large animal into the car and, after reading a necklace around its neck naming her Rita and providing the address of her owner. Taking the dog back to the address, she encounters an open house wherein sits a seeming curmudgeon, Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who appears almost disinterested that his dog has been hurt and shows sorrow in the fact.
      Angry about the incident, Valentine herself takes the dog to the veterinarian where they temporarily bandage her legs and reveal that Rita is pregnant. Rita takes home the dog; now, like Auguste, she too has a dog.

      When Valentine receives an envelope of money to pay for the veterinary bill, she returns to Kern’s house to thank him and tell him that Rita has had pups. But once there, she discovers him eves-dropping on his neighbors telephone conversations, one in particular, in which a man living next door, is speaking apparently to a gay lover. Aghast with what she discovers, Valentine announces that she pities him. Kern challenges her to go report him the neighbor, which she attempts to do. But when the door is opened and she is invited in, she discovers a friendly wife and daughter, who call to their husband upstairs. She hasn’t the nerve to intrude with her knowledge upon this seemingly happy nuclear family. Returning to Kern she reports her findings, he replying that he is simply observing, that no matter what he might do, they will each have their own hell to pay for their actions. Valentine overhears one more telephone  conversation before she leaves, this between a man (her neighbor Auguste) and a woman (Karin), who she suggests sound like they are very much in love; but Kern insists that they are night right for each other, and in a later scene, while attempting to visit Karin, Auguste finds her in bed with another man. Indeed they are not a happy couple. 
     A day or so later she reads in the newspaper about a retired judge who has been served with a class action suit for listening to his neighbor’s telephone conversations. Valentine again visits Kern, telling him that she was not the one who reported him, despite her reaction to his acts. He admits that it was he, himself, who wrote to his neighbors, denouncing his own behavior. Since it is his birthday, he offers her a special pear brandy, and the two sit down to a long conversation in which, for the first time, he opens up to another human being, revealing that he too, when young, had been in love with a beautiful young woman who left him for another man, and that he, too, dropped a package of books, one of which opened to a certain page which helped him pass his law examination.

     Much later, as a judge, he found guilty the very man for whom his former girlfriend had left him; he had not recused himself, but argues that it was entirely a legal matter, and he requested, soon after, early retirement. And, later, when Valentine invites him to a modeling show in which she is participating, he tells her that he knew Karin is not the right woman for the man because she looks much like the girlfriend of his youth.

      We can only wonder, of course, whether he might be Auguste himself at another time in life. Will Auguste, having lost his lover, become a bitter old man later in life? We can only perceive Kieślowski’s interlinked stories, accordingly, as kinds of parables that demonstrate the possible choices any—the errors in judgment and the importance of chance—in each of our lives. 
      At another moment in their conversations, Valentine tells him that she will be traveling to England soon to visit her boyfriend. Kern suggests that she take the ferry.
       The morning of the trip, Kern calls a personalized weather service, to be told by the reporter (who happens to be Karin) that the channel will have perfect weather, and that she herself is planning a trip across the channel on a yacht that day with her (new) boyfriend.
       Robert Ebert describes both Kern and Kieślowski as being a kind of Prospero, which indeed both seem to be. For suddenly a huge storm rises, and the ferry and yacht are capsized,  killing all but six.
       The only survivors are Valentine and Auguste—who pulled out of the water, finally come together for the first time—along with Julie and Olivier (from the first film Blue),  Dominique and Karol (from White) and, almost like a kind a chaperone, an English bartender named Stephen Killian. Like all the other films, this one ends in tears, with Valentine, faced in the same direction as in her photograph, displays the same sadness, but this time with true anguish. Art has become life. But perhaps in that transformation, life will be better.

Los Angeles, December 1, 2016

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