Trois couleurs: rouge

(Three Colors: Red, Fra/Pol/Swiss/UK - 1993)

by Vanes Naldi & Mike Lorefice
7/25/05 (Vanes 7/01)

Cast: Irene Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jean-Pierre Lorit
Genre: Drama
Director: Krzysztof Kiewlowski
Screenplay: Krzysztof Kiewlowski & Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Cinematography: Piotr Sobocinski
Composer: Zbigniew Preisner
Runtime: 99 minutes

VN: Fate, that's what life is about. We believe we're able to "create" our life, to set a path and follow it, and our future is based on that. That's a simplistic, almost pretentious look at things, and the last act of the Three Colors Trilogy helps us understand this very thing. We might believe we've finally found our "twin soul", the big and important relationship in our life. We might believe we've found the right person, but is it really the case? How can we possibly know that there isn't one better "prospect" we never met?

ML: Red is a film about what we can't control, and what we can but are too distracted to bother to. It shows there are always multiple directions our life could take. The decision isn't necessarily clear, but one thing leads to another if we allow it to. But we have to live, to interact with people rather than just technology, because without that kind of interaction all doors are closed.

VN: Take, for example, Valentine (Irene Jacob), the young model whose life is totally changed by fate. She lives side by side to someone who might be considered her perfect match. They seem bound to be together, but they never meet. Take the judge, who was once betrayed by whom he believed was his true love, totally lost any attachment to life, wanting nothing and just listening to other people's everyday life to fill his emptiness. Take Auguste, a young law student, who is completing his studies. He believes his girlfriend is the love of his life, little does he know she's cheating on him. All those people miss a thing, they miss connection, they miss a real connection with the right person. Because of fate, they might never meet them, or they might. Who knows? It's those questions that make "Red" interesting.

ML: Fate is part of it, but the lack of community these days is perhaps more important. People have been so brainwashed into thinking they have to drive to some type of club to meet anyone or do anything that they often don't even consider what is right next to them. Red is just the opposite, filmed on a Geneva street with apartment complexes on each side and employing a Technocrane to quickly move between Valentine's and Auguste's apartments, we aren't allowed to forget the closeness of their proximity. Yet they have to travel by boat and survive a freak accident to ever notice each other.

VN: It's not about if Valentine will make love with this old judge, it's not about action, or contrived romantic developments. It's rather a question, a reflection on how fate can mislead people into believing they've found the right person for them. Will Valentine find her twin soul? Will the relationship with him be positive? It's about the questions and FATE, not action.

ML: A plot summary of Kieslowski certainly wouldn't tell you anything about the film. If you break it down to it's most elemental, the film would seem incredibly basic because there are only a few things going on in the traditional sense. But this trilogy has some of the most active films you'll ever see because the creators have considered how light, reflections, sounds or lack thereof, camera placements and moves, objects, unseen people and things will effect our interpretation. The detail and precision in Kieslowski's films is simply on another level. There is always something going on to tell the story in a non-conventional way, even if you don't know what it is yet or it doesn't make sense at the moment.

VN: Valentine is a young Swiss model whose life seems incomplete. She needs an adult figure, a father figure, not necessarily a lover, but there's a hole in her life now. She has still the idealism of the young, she's still energetic, she still makes mistakes, but her life is not complete. One day, she accidentally hits a dog in the streets, and life totally changes for her from that day forward. She tries to bring the dog back to the owner, an old retired judge, but he shows no interest:

"You don't want your dog back?"
"I want nothing"
"You don't even want to breathe?"

Instead of being disgusted at the man's behavior, something strikes with her, a spark in her eye forms. There's emotional "electricity" in the air. At first glance this might seem the most impossible relation ever, but fate sometimes overcomes things like that.

ML: The main question of the film may be what makes a person do a good thing rather than the easy thing, which is to do what advertising and their sister media tell you and not care about anyone but yourself. The heroines of Blue & White were that way, refusing to help the old person dispose of the bottle. The cynical judge believes the driving force is relief of guilt (if she's a Christian it's a good bet since that's the way they usually put things across even though it, as usual, has nothing to do with Christ's reasoning or teachings). It's not a desire to do good, but a fear of complicity and a desire not to be bothered, perhaps haunted, by your own inaction. He tries to prove Valentine only helped his dog to help herself, and later correctly gambles that Valentine will return to him to make sure he knows she wasn't a stool pigeon. Valentine, of course not in an unbelievable Amelie fairytale type of way, is someone that acts to help, even if it's small things like taking care of the doors at the hall after the fashion show (a big storm had started). I'm not sure there are good and bad people in Kieslowski's films, that would make the answers too easy so in Dekalog even the murderer that's put to death is not portrayed in a particularly heelish manner. It's more that people are searching for something, and sometimes this quest and those they encounter on it lead them to positive actions, sometimes negative. A key section of dialogue is when the judge explains he would have done the same things the people he convicted did if he was in their shoes.

VN: She finds out about this old man's hobby, eavesdropping with the use of technology, hearing other people's thoughts, personal lives, dramas, tragedies, successes and failures. Her fist instinct his to reveal the truth to the judge's neighbors, but when she finds out that truth can be sometimes very painful, she decides to give up on her quest. She decides to let this man continue cheating on his wife. The reason why she does this is because she sees a happy family. She'd rather let everything be status quo, instead of disrupting their lives.

ML: She sees the man's daughter is also eavesdropping on him, so at least one of the two main people that would be affected already has been. Forcing her, and perhaps the mother, to confront the problem could tear them all apart. It's not necessarily happiness, but the fact that inaction might be a choice that makes the situation livable.

VN: As you'd expect, some kind of relationship develops between Valentine and the judge, but it's not really love, it's an incredible sense of fraternity, in fact, this film is about how fate can change things, how two people whose personalities match together perfectly are prohibited from reaching full emotional pleasure because of social, physical and mental restrictions, because of fortunate or unfortunate happenings. Because they never met, or did so and couldn't explore themselves blinded by preconceptions. They're way more than friends, it goes beyond, but they aren't lovers. They share thoughts, emotions, but they rarely touch each other.

ML: Films that are about people who are together but aren't having sex are oh so much more interesting because they have to actually do some work. What does it take to say she thinks he's hot and he thinks she's hot, so that's why they are together? It takes nothing but pure manipulation, of course. Need, on the other hand, is a lot more complex because it entails want and lack among other things. It requires performers that can convey intangibles.

VN: As the film progresses, the Judge narrates his story, which in many ways parallels Auguste's. He found a woman he believed to be the perfect one for him, but then she betrayed him. In a way, Valentine is the woman he never met, is THAT woman he was looking for, but time and the social structure makes hard for them to go beyond.

ML: I don't think Red is about fear preventing them from getting together. While The Judge likes and is attracted to Valentine, he also doesn't wish himself on her. He is used up not so much because age has withered him away, although that is a lot of Trintignant's performance, hobbling around on his cane hunched and stooped and finding ways to show his impotence. His problem is he has no reason to go on living. He's already lost what he cared about, and although Valentine is the only reason he's had in years not to call a halt to it, that isn't going to undo all of what brought him to where he is. His chance is to prove his own theory wrong and do something good by getting Valentine together with his younger version Auguste, thus saving them both from becoming the walled up bitter old version of him.

VN: Like the Judge, Auguste finds out about his woman, but doesn't find his "perfect woman". What develops between Valentine and the Judge is an incredible bond that goes beyond physical attraction; their souls are like one together. They share things that they wouldn't be able to do with anybody else. Valentine finally finds the father figure she needs to complete her life, and she helps the Judge come out of his cynicism, rediscover the joy of life, forget what happened to him.

ML: It's rare that a film takes the time to develop what people get from a relationship when it's neither physical nor sappy sentimental mush. Such relationships aren't easy money like continuing to eroticise underage girls, and films that try to do something worthwhile with real adults go the way of Kevin Bacon's in The Big Picture.

VN: While many people associate red to blood and death, Kieslowski wants to use it as the color of optimism, of fraternity, of connection between two people, even beyond love. The message is incredibly strong, as there's an incredible amount of focus on the characters, but by the way the react, we know the relationship is beyond sexual. While at first there's an amazing sexual tension, with the help of character development we find out they're able to go beyond that. They're able to strip themselves of any social prejudice, preconceptions and finally open themselves to their true feelings. They're one together, even if that means they won't have sexual encounters or follow a conventional love life.

ML: At first there's a tremendous amount of tension, but it's the fear and tension of the unknown. It's our programming that we aren't safe with anyone we don't know. Though they aren't Lodge Kerrigan in this regard, Kieslowski and his regular co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz certainly understand how to make us think she's in danger. The judge does nothing to hide what he's doing from Valentine, and he feels no remorse about it. These days, one would expect her to drop the dog and run for her life, but is that the smart thing to do or have we all just been watching too many cheesy slasher films?

VN: The subtlety of Kieslowski's message is the most beautiful thing about this film, there's incredibly smart dialogue, to suggest things to come, to underline and highlights feelings. There's little in the way of plot because the important thing is discover about them, about ourselves.

ML: I don't know that the dialogue is great, but it accomplishes its goal of provoking. It does play a role in suggesting things to come and linking, but Kieslowski does that in many more subtle ways that seem like strange coincidences. For example an establishment is being named Josef (which turns out to be The Judge's name), Valentine trying to buy a CD of Kieslowski's fictitious composer Van den Budenmayer (we see part of the cover on Josef's desk), Valentine taking ballet lessons (Auguste has a painting of an arching ballet dancer in his apartment).

VN: The Judge finally finds what he was looking for, the woman he never met, but age sort of prohibits him for having any emotional attachment beyond this incredible sense of fraternity, all this because of fate.

ML: I think this reaction is more programming. So many years of the show/movie has to have this and do this and you start to believe it. Sex isn't the only thing you need from the opposite sex, and Valentine and The Judge both get what they need out of their relationship with one another. They gain a great friend that they can be completely honest with. That might be less fun than a lover, but it's much more valuable because it's far rarer.

VN: Kieslowki NEVER falls in the traps that he could have fallen into, traps that would have caused tons of problems for Hollywood filmmakers. He wasn't trying to show a story of an impossible relationship and show his characters overcome every obstacle to deliver the happy ending "everybody" wanted. The important point he wants to make is that life can be unpredictable, can give us things we don't know their meaning. He substitutes convoluted plots with subtlety and incredible character development. He uses style over "substance", or what average moviegoers might demand in every single film to consider it entertaining.

ML: I'm not sure the "average moviegoer" demands anything anymore. Supposedly all the sheep care about is that it's "entertaining", but the people Hollyplastic is marketing to are so young they haven't had time to figure out what they require. They just know it's not fun to be left out. Moreover, the way the marketing is done makes it little more than a hoax because everything is so general, poorly defined, and geared toward telling them what they already "know." As far as Kieslowski goes, he uses style to provide substance. He has a moral integrity you don't find anymore, and his films all have several messages, but he let's you come to them rather than shouting them out. He also allows for many interpretations because he leaves several possibilities open rather than supplying concrete answers to ensure everyone "gets it."

VN: While Blue was beautiful in its use of colors, it pales in comparison to the work done here. The cinematography is visually stunning, highlighting the color at every possible chance. I remember a scene where we see from a window the street below, seemingly everything BUT the red car and the cover over the store looks black and white, because there's a great focus on the red. It's similar to the feelings you get when Pleasantville's world start getting colored. It's a really imposing visual. Another thing that really makes this film memorable is the sets, the use of lighting. The Judge's house is beautifully filmed, and it looks almost like a place needing something, a ray of life.

ML: While many great directors form a close longstanding bond with their cinematographer, Kieslowski rarely employed the same one. He had great success with that method because it kept him from doing something he feared, repeating himself. That said, it would be hard to argue against the late Piotr Sobocinski as the best cinematographer he used, and he was the one that he brought back, using him on Dekalog 3 & 9 as well. Though his work here deserves to be studied in film schools, I have a hard time giving too much credit to cinematographers when they are with great visual directors. Obviously there are exceptions because some directors allow the cinematographer to do a lot more of their own work than others (Dreyer had awesome cinematography but he admittedly didn't know much about how to technically achieve it. He knew to hire the right people and could explain certain things he wanted, but generally gave a lot of leeway). I tend to believe what goes in comes out, which would explain why Sobocinski couldn't save Opie's plagiarism. As far as Pleasantville goes, I felt nothing because it was the typical tired manipulation that the past is always dull, drab, boring, and stuffy (read worth forgetting and we'll be glad to oblige with entertainment that doesn't acknowledge anything that happened before the latest batch of teenagers was born) while the present is always colorful and exciting, the right time to be living because of all the great freedom and brilliant technology.

VN: The acting is fantastic, from Jean-Louis Trintignant's portrayal of the cynical judge disinterested in life. He gradually starts changing thanks to Valentine, and display such great range that helps us be emotionally involved by his change. Irene Jacob is absolutely perfect, as the childish, dreamy model that is looking for something to complete her life.

ML: Trintignant not only suppresses all emotion, but all expression. In Babette Mangolte's recent documentary on the great Robert Bresson, Les modeles de "Pickpocket", Pickpocket lead Martin Lasalle cites Trintignant's work as "Bressonian". What Bresson did was eliminate projecting, allowing us to learn through penetration. We search for what is in their soul, their true self, instead of just processing what they want to tell us about themselves. Normally any film that employs deadpan uses it for every character, but Trintignant's work is so startling is he is the only character following Bresson's model. Though stylistically the films look nothing alike, the use of offscreen sound is another key borrowing from Bresson.

VN: Red is the Kieslowski film everyone should see, but of course the trusty MPAA has stepped in to make sure children grow up on the studios latest vapid prepubescent stupidity. Italy is worse than America in a lot of ways when it comes to Puritanism, but one thing I'll never understand is why any adult would pay any attention to the MPAA.

ML: People seem to be all or nothing anymore. You have the traditional belief that America is always right, so the institutions are simply more knowing. This fails to see the real purpose, which is not the betterment of the citizens but putting more money into the top fraction of a percent. Then you have the postmodern fatalism where everything is rigged and corrupt, so the institutions are simply less knowing and there's no reason to identify anything or anyone that doesn't fit the mold because they'll never be able to make any difference. Either way, there's no call to action because it's either correct or incapable of being fixed.

An R rating for Red is one of the biggest jokes perpetuated by the Mafia Prohibiting Art in America though, a body that should be known only for giving nearly every foreign or independent film an R rating and any Hollywood film whatever rating will allow it to make the most money (usually PG-13, but PG or G for Disney's sell toys to your tots programs and an occasional R to validate it's a real tough guy movie). There only objection is to the ever so short sex scene that shows the catastrophic damage caused by adultery. If they had any integrity, a film that portrayed actual serious consequences would be able to get away with more than the ones that encourage the act they object to, but of course they always favor $ to logic. Thus, we are stuck with a lot of talking heads blaming the so called "liberal elite" for the lack of values in the country while their sister stations have porn opera on all afternoon that is sold specifically on constant bed hopping with, at best, the most superficial of consequences that are forgotten almost immediately. Outside of public television, it's hard to wade through the 500 channels controlled by don't worry you'll only need one free hand to count the corporations and find anything on television less offensive than the evil Red, much less comparing it to the moralizes Hollywood films that are supposedly safe for teens.

On the DVD commentary Annette Insdorf describes the evil Red as "A film against indifference because it suggests that we all need to fight against the tendency to dismiss people who aren't as good as we might want them to be, and rather to allow them to tell us who they are so we can help them get to a better stage." So in other words Red is in the vein of the literary and artistic classics that fight for the betterment of society and thus have been marginalized in favor of the pointless drivel that tries to adopt everyone to the current needs of business.

VN: The trilogy comes full circle at the end, showing the other two films' characters involved in the story, and the last image, that is also the same we see at the beginning of the film, is simply a masterpiece, considering how Kieslowski is able to showcase how something we see, we do or pretend to do one day can actually become reality. It's a beautiful, touching ending moment that represents a perfect swan song to one of Europe's most gifted directors.

ML: Red's finale doesn't bury it like the White copout, but it's still much too cute in the writing department for me. If it takes that much manipulation to interrelate the characters than it's just not adding anything to do so. In Kieslowski's case, it fuels the fire for his detractors when it comes to him relying far too heavily on chance. For me, the end is a real downer because I can't seeing brilliance end with a cheesy concession to mediocrity.

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