Film review: Three Colors Blue (1993)


My review is intended for people who have already watched the film. Spoilers ahead.

Blue is the first part of the three colours trilogy about freedom, equality, and brotherhood, the colours on the French flag. So Blue is about freedom/liberty.

A drama directed by Polish auteur director Kieslowski, about how to cope with losing your husband and child. You could argue the main character Julie decides to repress her loss. The apartment she moves into does not allow children for example, and she takes next to nothing with her from her previous life. Due to the sorrow she tries to start over. Wanting to sell her house and all her belongings is no doubt a way of distancing herself from the past and trying to forget.

Julie moves to the city to do nothing. You wouldn’t think a film about a woman doing nothing would be that appealing, but the way the story is told, and the wordless visual style is very intriguing. The surroundings reflect her inner state of mind. Julie doesn’t want to commit to anything or have any obligations. She seeks freedom and isolation.

Perhaps the family of newborn rats in the bedroom remind her that there is still love in the world and life to be lived, Julie tries to be anonymous, but the real world is inescapably all around her. Julie requests a cat from a neighbour to get rid of them. The action of asking for the cat shows that Julie does indeed need other people. Her mother tells her in a conversation that you can’t give up on everything.

Several close ups were used, the intent probably to convey a subjective experience of the sadness of Julie.


Interestingly, Julie swims backwards in the pool. My own interpretation is she is thinking back, about her life when her family were alive.


Is she green with envy is this scene, where she has just witnessed some kids messing around in the street?


And is this screenshot an illustration of how the light in her life is limited due to sadness, and brightness can only reveal itself partially through the tree branches?


Julie’s mother likewise lives a pseudo existence in front of the TV set, not really living, and perhaps Julie can mirror herself in this numbness, and visiting below perhaps gives her the urge not to end up like her mother is?


In an interview on my dvd, Kieslowski talks about the sugar cube scene, which represents Julie observing details, and not worrying about anything else. Absorbed in her own little world, wanting to simplify and restrict her world view. To show that nothing around her matters, people, or the man who is in love with her.



From the interview book Kieslowski on Kieslowski: “Blue is about freedom, about the imperfection of man’s freedom. How far does our freedom reach? (…) She is perfectly provided for – has plenty of money and no responsibility whatsoever. She no longer has to do anything. And the question arises: Is a person in such a situation really free?"
“But it turns out that you can’t liberate yourself fully from everything that was. You can’t do this, because sooner or later, fear or loneliness will surface, or as Julie for example experiences it, the feeling of having been let down. This emotion changes Julie so much, that she realizes, that she can’t live the life, she had expected. It’s the sphere of personal freedom. How free are we, when it comes to emotions. Is love a prison? Or is it freedom? Is watching TV imprisonment or freedom?“
"Did Julie just make the corrections? Perhaps she is one of those people, who is unable to write a single sheet of music, but who is excellent at correcting other people’s work. She sees everything, has incredible analytical skills as well as a gift of being able to improve things. The described sheet is not bad, but after she has looked at it, its outstanding”
(translated)

In the dvd extras, the lead actress Juliette Binoche talks about how the film is like real life, seen through the eyes of Kieslowski. According to Binoche, her character’s decision to say no to everything was to make a clean slate of things without any emotion. It’s brave, but at the same time she in incapable of doing anything else. Julie tries to avoid having any feelings, because life has been so tough, and so hard to accept. She tries to move on with this huge burden. She keeps the blue beads, and together with the classical music they represent a link to the past.

Juliette Binoche was inspired by Annie Duperey’s book “Black Angel”, where Duperey writes about her parents, who passed away in an accident, when she was about 9-years-old. She couldn’t cry, which she describes in the book. Some of the quotes are very close to the female character in Blue. “I suffered enough on the inside, I didn’t need to show it”. And she said “I became someone, who said no to everything”.

The realization Julie reaches that you can’t live happily in complete isolation is comparable to what the retired judge Kern discovers in his outsider position in Red (1994) (the third part of the trilogy). Perhaps this particular message is a personal statement from Kieslowski, after completing the trilogy, he decided he no longer wanted to be an artist, a director, who watches the world from a distance.

You are only free, when you don’t want anything. What do you want to do with your freedom? Elias Canetti once said in the book The Secret Heart of the Clock. This is a lesson Julie learns, she must fill her freedom with something meaningful in order to go on living. Freedom is not worth striving for. We run away from freedom, as soon as we get there.

The ending is very ambiguous, she accepts the love of Oliver, but is still crying. Does the love he can give not measure up to her dead husband’s affection? Or perhaps she is crying of happiness now, and Oliver has given her the guide to go on living? Actress Juliette Binoche comments on the dvd that the smile at the end of the film is very important, a liberation and the start of a new life for Julie.

Blue is my second favourite of the Three Colors trilogy, I'll review White next week!

IMDB

Rottentomatoes

Readers, any thoughts on Blue?

21 comments:

  1. It's my favorite of the trilogy. There are moments in this film of startling beauty and poignancy, and the sudden bursts of orchestral music never fail to move me.

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  2. Great review, and great usage of screencaps to further what you've written. This indeed ranks as a wonderful movie, not to mention its kick-starting Three Colors - one of the greatest cinematic achievements.

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  3. Great post. You made some great observations about this masterpiece. Such a beautiful performance by Juliette, I immediately fell in love with her while watching this.

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  4. @ Movie Guy Steve: I don't really remember the music in Blue to be honest, when I rewatch I'll listen out. Blanc (White) is my personal favourite of the trilogy-the relationship puzzles me still.

    @ Shubhajit : Thanks, I enjoy making those screenshots, and Blue is so visually interesting.

    @ Bonjour Tristesse : Yes, her acting was great. I don't know if my observations are right or wrong, just interpretations, they make sense in my head ( :

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  5. Seems like everyone is watching BLUE at the moment... I had to watch it in French class, and it was a horrible experience. Noisy students and a obviously very artful and visual film, that I could not enjoy at all. All I remember is that it seemed confusing and weird.
    Don't know if I'll give it a second try.

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  6. What a coincidence that we are both working through the Trois Couleurs Trilogy.

    Your observations are great. I especially like the connection you made with the light striking through the trees. The film is beautifully shot, scored and performed, and every scene is deftly handled by Kieslowski.

    It is interesting to hear that your favourite in the trilogy is Blanc. Mine has always been Rouge, but Bleu has made a strong case!

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  7. @ Andy Buckle: While interesting, Blue always struck me as a bit too melancholy to warrant a favourite tag.

    Kieslowski's films are so open that each person has their own personal experience I think, about my observations, the screenshots I interpreted myself. Besides those pics, I relied on the dvd extras + a book called Kieslowski's Art by Erik Svendsen.

    Re. which could be the strongest film of the trilogy, I guess that's impossible to answer with all 3 being good, again its a personal assessment ( :

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  8. @ Lime(tte): I know, a distracting audience can be annoying. Or being ill or tired can mean my attention is not 100% on a film. Maybe give the trilogy a chance another time. Who knows, reading my review might explain some elements you found confusing/weird.

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  9. Good post, Chris! I agree wholeheartedly with your comments!

    It's typical of Kieslowski to seek out places that had parallels - parallels that sometimes only he knew about, unless one visits the locations oneself. For example, it's not too obvious in the film but if you come out of the café where Julie dipped a sugarcube into a coffee (at Brasserie Le Mouffetard, 116 Rue Mouffetard, 75005 in the 5ème Arrondissement of Paris) and you look up across the road you will recognize Julie's apartment above Le Café Egyptien, seen in one of the night shots of Blue. A few doors down the Rue Mouffetard was the Estate Agent's office where Philippe Volter (from The Double Life Of Véronique) leases Julie the apartment.

    In the film, Julie is seen swimming at the ‘art deco’ La Piscine de Pontoise, 19 Rue de Pontoise, 75005 Paris. Why Kieslowski chose that particular swimming pool is not clear but there would have been a reason apart from the obvious fact it looks very blue if you swim in the evening there. There was always a reason with Kieslowski. He would take shots in films that takes investigating to find out why he did. For example, in Camera Buff you see a character reading a book about film theory only to discover later that the film he's reading about is 'Kes' (Ken Loach) which happened to be one of Kieslowski's favourite films and directed by one of his favourite directors.

    Regarding 'Blue', it's strange but from recent blog posts it seems that just about everybody is watching this film at the moment. How's that for coincidence, à la Kieslowski?!

    Bien amicalement,
    Alexandre FABBRI
    KIESLOWSKI'S WORLD
    (back on-air soon)

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  10. @ Alexandre FABBRI: Thanks, I knew I could count on you to contribute some unique insights on Blue. Its amazing to me how Kieslowski could talk for ages on the dvd about the sugar cube scene which only lasts a few seconds, sadly too late now for him to do any audio commentaries(I think they would have been special) I never went to the filming locations, maybe you should write a book on the director, since you know so much ( :

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  11. @ Alexandre FABBRI: On second thoughts maybe the Kiesloeski audio commentary wouldn't have worked, as he didn't speak much English, so they would have had to translate it or something

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  12. Hi Chris. As you so nicely pointed out that your review contained spoilers I am afraid I have not read it!!

    All I can say is that this trilogy seems to be popping up on lots of blogs at the moment, which can't be a bad thing for the films can it?

    I really need to get my ass into gear and get around to watching them.

    Thanks for helping me make the decision.

    Have a good weekend

    Custard

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  13. @ Custard : The Three colours trilogy is really worth the time I think. Good weekend to you also ( :

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  14. Thank you, Chris, for your kind comments.

    Kieslowski actually spoke quite a bit of English with Irène during the shooting of 'TDLOV' & 'Red' and had some funny pet names for her in Polish (little donkey, etc) as well as the Polish name, Irènka.

    The sugar cube bit on the DVD was really funny! He knew that some critics would really buy that! To think of Kieslowski shooting the same sugar cube dozens of times to get the right length of shot is so funny! The truth is that Kieslowski spent very little time on re-shooting, if ever; it was just not his way of working and was one of the things that 'La Binoche' didn't quite appreciate during the filming of 'Blue' ('But why can't we do it again, please?'). Kieslowski had to work with the limited film stock allocated to him by the state for most of his life and so he just got used to frugal working.

    Additionally, he absolutely hated pretentiousness in film or in life generally. When filming Irène for TDLOV, she was breathing on the window glass with her foggy breath because... that was just something that Irène used to do and she told him about it, not so much that she was trying to act that bit. Kieslowski told her, when he first met her, she would have to 'put a lot of herself into this film', which she did.

    Also, at least a third of the film was hacked by Kieslowski because he felt it overstated the obvious (for example, in one deleted scene, while Weronika was leaning out of the train window with her hair swirling everywhere, the train suddenly goes into the pitch-black of a tunnel but Kieslowski thought it far too obvious a reference to Weronika's impending death and so had it removed.

    I could share a lot of anecdotes... anyway, maybe, another time or a topic for an IM with you on my website Chat page, sometime. I bid you a very good day.

    Bien amicalement,
    Alexandre FABBRI
    KIESLOWSKI'S WORLD

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  15. @ Alexandre FABBRI: Thanks for the anecdotes, I'll try and find the time to visit your site. I remember Kieslowski talking about on the Blue dvd how different kinds of sugar cubes were tried, he finally found a cube that absorbed the coffee within the time frame!

    In relation to Double life of Veronika, its great when happy accidents happen like the breath on the window anecdote, I've decided to review that film after the three colours trilogy.

    And don't forget to check out my review of White I just posted ( :

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  16. While it is a powerful portrait of grief, I think the film is, at its core, about the idea of freedom.

    It's a powerful thought that even though Julie, for a while, achieves some form of freedom, it's an empty existence. In order to regain meaning in her life, through her relationships and her work, she must give up her freedom.

    To me, the ending is that final moment when Julie is able to face her grief, finally able to cry without trying to cover it up, instead of repressing it all on the inside. Yes, it's sad, but I think it's also with the hopes that she will finally be able to move beyond her tragic past.

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  17. @cinemasights : Re. the first part of your comment, My feeling is the grief and freedom kind of are intertwined in Blue, too much freedom and doing nothing and you become more sad, even if she seeks freedom to avoid the past. She realizes doing something with her life is what can get her out of her sadness I think.

    I agree with your interpretation of the ending, she has been repressing her grief.

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  18. For as long as I live I will never forget Juliette Binoche letting a cat run wild in her apartment.

    That scene has always stayed with me.

    Great write up of a great film.

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  19. @Alex Withrow: the cat scene, yes, the trilogy has so many memorable scenes. Like life I guess we recall random moments. In Blue, its probably swimming in the blue pool that I remember most vividly.

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  20. Great piece,Chris.I agree with the interpretation of "Oliver has given her the guide to go on living" at the end,maybe not only Oliver,but all those characters appear at the end gave her hope of life in some degree.

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    Replies
    1. @David: Powerful ending indeed, thanks for checking out my review!

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