Thursday, 11 August 2011

Places: France/Films and cinema: Three Colours: Red (1994, Krzysztof Kieslowski).

Sourced from the Wikipedia page 'Three Colors: Red'...because I live dangerously...

Three Colors: Red (French: Trois Couleurs : Rouge, Polish: Trzy kolory. Czerwony) is a 1994 film co-written, produced, and directed by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski. It is the final film of The Three Colors Trilogy, which examines the French Revolutionary ideals; it is preceded by Blue and White. Kieślowski had announced that this would be his final film, which proved true with the director's sudden death in 1996. Red is about fraternity, which it examines by showing characters whose lives gradually become closely interconnected, with bonds forming between two characters who appear to have little in common.

The film begins with clips that track a telephone call between London and Geneva, where a university student and part-time model, Valentine Dusot (Irène Jacob), is talking to her emotionally infantile but possessive boyfriend. During her work as a model she poses for a chewing-gum campaign, during the photo shoot the photographer asks her to look very sad. While walking back home Auguste, a neighbour of Valentine's, drops a set of books and he notices that a particular chapter of the Criminal Code was open at random and he concentrates on that passage. While driving back to her apartment Valentine is distracted by adjusting the radio which is emitting a strange signal, accidentally runs over a dog. She tracks down the owner, a reclusive retired judge, Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant). He seems unconcerned by the accident or the injuries sustained by Rita, his dog. Valentine takes Rita to a veterinarian, where she learns that Rita is pregnant. Valentine takes the dog home.
The next day she talks to her boyfriend over the phone and relates how she came to acquire the dog. He becomes angry since they initially met when she ran over his dog accidentally some years before, and wants her to take the dog back. While walking Rita, the dog runs off again and Valentine figures that it went home to Kern, where she finally finds the dog. He says that Rita is now hers since he wishes for nothing in life. Earlier that day she had received a lot of money in the mail and she figures out that it was Kern who sent her the money to pay for the veterinarian's bill, but he got the amount wrong. He goes inside to get some change but does not come back out. Valentine wanders into his house and finds him listening to his neighbours' private telephone conversations (possibly the cause of the disruptive signal on Valentine's radio). Valentine is appalled and threatens to denounce Kern to his neighbours. Kern challenges her to do this and points out one neighbour's residence. At first, she goes to do so, but does not tell them anything, seeing that their daughter is also listening in on the conversation. She goes back to Kern and asks him to stop doing it but he replies that he has been doing it all his life, but now he knows where to find the truth. Kern points out an attractive man to Valentine in his window. He suspects him to run the entire heroin market in Geneva but cannot hear his calls because he uses a Japanese phone. Valentine insults him and Kern concludes that she has a strong feeling against drugs, and after a bit of conversation Kern figures out that Valentine's feelings towards drugs stem from a piece of news in her paper and a photo of a young man, her brother, who discovered that he is not his father's son and has been using drugs for a year. Kern tells her that it shall make no difference that she denounces him for his spying, the people's lives he listens to shall eventually turn into hell. She leaves saying that she feels nothing but pity for him.
While visiting Kern, Valentine also hears a conversation between Karin and Auguste, where they discuss if they should go bowling. Valentine covers her ears, but from the very little she heard she concludes that they love each other. Kern disagrees. That evening Valentine is alone at home and hopes that her boyfriend shall call but it is the photographer who calls, saying that her poster was set up that evening and asks her bowling to celebrate.
Later Auguste takes his exam and passes it and becomes a judge. Karin asks him if he was asked any questions regarding the article that was open when he dropped his books. Auguste says yes. Karin gives him a fountain pen as a gift and he wonders what the first judgment he signs with it will be.
That evening, Kern writes a series of letters to his neighbours and denounces himself, and the community files a class action. At the law courts, he sees Karin meeting another man. Earlier Auguste had missed a call from Karin and tried to call her back but never hears from her again.
Valentine reads in her paper a piece of news about a retired judge that spied on his neighbours and she goes to Kern telling him that she said nothing to anybody. He confesses that it was him just to see what she would do. He asks her in and shows her that Rita has had seven puppies. They discuss that on their last conversation she spoke about pity but he later realized that it was actually disgust. He wonders about the reasons why people obey laws and it turns out that often it is more on selfish grounds and from fear than about obeying the law or being decent. It is his birthday and they have a couple of drinks. During their conversation he reminisces about a sailor he acquitted a long time ago, only later realizing he had made a mistake, and that the man was guilty. However the man later married and had children and later grandchildren and lives peacefully and happy. Valentine says that he did what he had to do, but Kern wonders how many other people that he acquitted or condemned might have seen a different life had he decided otherwise; he sympathizes with them and with his neighbours who have been throwing stones at his windows, saying that in their circumstances and being them he might have done the same, but in his role as judge he never stepped out of his shoes and never really understood other people. He also suggests that being in a position of deciding what is truth and what is not is a lack of modesty and vanity on behalf of humankind. When the conversation turns to Kerns' past romantic life he avoids the question by telling her about a dream he had about her. Valentine tells Kern about her intended trip to England to visit her boyfriend. Kern suggests that she take the ferry.
Auguste is unable to reach his girlfriend Karin since graduation. Later, he goes to her place and sees her having sex with another man. Distraught, he leaves. On another occasion, Auguste sees Karin and her new boyfriend in a restaurant, he gets her attention but when she rushes outside to try to explain he hides from her. Kern calls Karin's personalized weather service and inquires about the weather in the English Channel, which she expects to be perfect as she is about to take a trip there (with her new boyfriend who owns a boat).
The day before Valentine leaves, she invites Kern to a fashion show where she is modeling. After the show, they again speak about the dream he had about her, where she was 50 years old and happy with an unidentified man. The conversation then turns to him and the reasons why he disliked Karin. Kern reveals that before becoming a judge, he was in love with a woman very much like Karin, who betrayed him for another man. While preparing for his exam he once went to the same theatre where the fashion show took place and he accidentally dropped one of his books. When he picked it up, Kern studied the chapter where the book accidentally opened, which turned out to be the crucial question at his examination. When he broke up with his girlfriend he followed her across the English Channel but never saw her again, because she died in an accident. Later, he was assigned to judge a case where the defendant was the same man who took his girlfriend from him. Regardless of this connection, Kern did not recuse himself from the case, since the connection was only known to him and condemned the man, the judgment was legal but he subsequently resigned his post.
Valentine takes her ferry to England, and Auguste is also on the ferry, although the two never quite meet each other. Suddenly a storm rises and sinks both the ferry and the boat with Karin and her boyfriend. Only seven survivors are pulled from the ferry: the main characters from the first two films of the trilogy, Julie and Olivier from Blue, Karol and Dominique from White, and Valentine and Auguste, who meet for the first time, as well as an English bartender named Stephen Killian. As with the other movies, the film's final sequence shows a character crying - in this case, the judge - but the final image replicates the iconic chewing-gum poster of Valentine.


As in the previous two films, a single color dominates: numerous objects in the film are bright red, including the huge advertising banner featuring Valentine's facial profile. Several images recur throughout the film. Characters are often juxtaposed on different physical levels. The scenes between Valentine and Kerm at his house never show the characters on the same level: Valentine either stands above him or sits below him. When Karin searches for Auguste, he hides on a walkway below her. During the climactic scene in the theater, Valentine stands on the stage, towering over Kerm who is in the pit below. Telephone communication is important throughout, and so is broken glass (when Kern reveals his eavesdropping, his neighbors throw rocks through his windows, and the end of the film Kern watches Valentine and Auguste on the news while watching the outside world through broken glass). Also, when Valentine is bowling, the camera moves down the line to where there sits a broken glass next to a packet of Marlboro cigarettes, which is the brand that Auguste smokes.
A symbol common to the three films is that of an underlying link or thing that keeps the protagonist linked to his/her past, in the case of Red the judge never closes his doors or gates, despite the fact that he wants to be cut off from everything; also relevant are fountain pens, in a seemingly unconnected scene August gets a fountain pen as a gift and he wonders how many destinies he will change with the pen, later in the film Judge Kern is about to write letters to his neighbours denouncing himself as a spy and his pen stops working and he is forced to write his letters with a pencil. In the case of White the items that link Karol to his past are a 2 Fr. coin and a plaster bust that he stole from an antique store in Paris. In the case of Blue it is a lamp of blue beads and a recurring image of people falling.
Another recurring image related to the spirit of the film is that of elderly people recycling bottles; in the case of Red an old woman cannot reach the hole of the container and Valentine helps her (in the spirit of solidarity underlying the film). In Blue, an old woman in Paris is recycling bottles and Julie does not notice her (in the spirit of freedom); in White, an old man also in Paris is trying to recycle a bottle but cannot reach the container and Karol looks at him with a sinister grin on his face (in the spirit of equality). Each films' ending shot is of a character crying. In Blue Julie de Courcy cries looking into space. In White, Karol Karol cries as he looks at his wife. In Red, the judge Kerm cries as he looks through his broken window out at the camera.
This film also depicts topics of Law Philosophy and the manner in which man acts in society, the relationship between the law, ethics and socially acceptable behavior and how not all of them coincide, particularly in the reflections by Judge Kern and some symbols related to Auguste.
The film has been interpreted as an anti-romance, in parallel with Blue being an anti-tragedy and White being an anti-comedy.


Three Colors: Red received overwhelmingly positive reviews and currently holds a 100% "Certified Fresh" rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 40 reviews. Film critic Geoff Andrew responded positively in Time Out: "While Kieślowski dips into various interconnecting lives, the central drama is the electrifying encounter between Valentine - caring, troubled - and the judge, whose tendency to play God fails to match, initially, the girl's compassion. It's a film about destiny and chance, solitude and communication, cynicism and faith, doubt and desire; about lives affected by forces beyond rationalization. The assured direction avoids woolly mysticism by using material resources - actors, color, movement, composition, sound - to illuminate abstract concepts. Stunningly beautiful, powerfully scored and immaculately performed, the film is virtually flawless, and one of the very greatest cinematic achievements of the last few decades. A masterpiece."

Awards and recognition

  • Nominated for three Academy Awards:
    • Directing
    • Best Cinematography
    • Best Original Screenplay
  • Cannes Film Festival, Palme d'Or (nominated)
  • National Board of Review, Best Foreign Language Film
  • New York Film Critics Circle Awards, Best Foreign Language Film
  • National Society of Film Critics Awards, Best Foreign Language Film
  • Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards, Best Foreign Film
  • Zbigniew Preisner won the César Award for Best Music.
  • César Award nominations:
    • Best Film
    • Best Actor: (Jean-Louis Trintignant)
    • Best Actress: (Irene Jacob)
    • Best Director: (Krzysztof Kieślowski)
    • Best Writing: (Krzysztof Kieślowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz)
  • Red was selected by the New York Times as one of "The Best 1,000 Movies Ever Made."


  • Irene Jacob: Valentine Dussaut
  • Jean-Louis Trintignant: Joseph Kern
  • Jean-Pierre Lorit: Auguste Bruner
  • Frederique Feder: Karin
*Whilst 'Red' is by no means a bad film (really, it is wonderful) I think it was perhaps my least favourite of the three. Maybe it was just my state of mind or mood when watching it, but I found it more difficult to "get into" than the other too (I definately need to re-watch them again soon!). However, what I really loved about it was the fact that it tied the triology together- seeing all the elements of the seperate films combine and link in a way which was really fantastic and cleverly constructed. A really great achievement, these films, each in their own right, and as a trilogy, are wonderful pieces of cinema, and a credit to the director.

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