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Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours: Blue, White, Red

Stories and symbols of Europe at the end of the 20th century

Mikołaj Jazdon (opens in new window) (Filmoteka Narodowa – Instytut Audiowizualny)

Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colours film trilogy was made a few years after the fall of the Iron Curtain. 1989 was the beginning of a new era in which people, ideas, and stories, began to move freely in spaces previously separated from each other.

These last three films directed by Kieślowski, with scripts written jointly with Krzysztof Piesiewicz, do not have overtly political themes. Yet, when watched today, they can be interpreted as stories about Europe changing at the end of the 20th century, transforming into a continent of new possibilities, returning to universal concepts that became important in a new way.

All three films were the result of new international co-productions that were possible for the first time in the history of post-war cinematography, signs of the new opportunities opening up for European cinema.

Krzysztof Kieślowski, a director from Poland, made these three movies together with film crews from various European countries. The three movies takes place in different countries: France, Poland and Switzerland.

Migrating artists, as we could call members of these film crews, together created movies that achieved international success, adding a new dimension to the slogans of liberty, equality, and fraternity. These slogans of the French Revolution could be seen to symbolise a kind of artistic revolution.

The films develop these slogans as personal and univeral themes, rather than solely historical. Freedom in Three Colours: Blue does not refer to Central and Eastern Europeans’ fight for liberty from communist dictators. The red in Three Colours: Red has nothing to do with the colour of the revolutionary flag. Instead, these personal stories can be seen as symbols of Europe at the end of a turbulent century.

In Three Colours: Blue, Julie, the film's protagonist, is a young widow, whose husband - a famous composer - and daughter died in a car accident. In the face of tragedy, she chooses a kind of freedom, cutting herself off from the world, breaking ties with her friends and acquaintances. However, she returns from this exile of cold liberty, accepting the fact that to live completely means to love and be loved - and that means a sacrifice of some freedom on the personal level.

Over the film's final scene_,_ we hear Song For The Unification Of Europe, accompanied by verses in Greek from Saint Paul’s Hymn to Love. The opening and readiness for a new love, which the film tells about, also symbolises the openness of Western Europe to enter into a new and close relationship with countries from its eastern part, recovered after years of separation, ready to sing together the song of the uniting continent.

Three Colours: White takes place in France and in Poland. While Three Colours: Blue refers to the theme of unifying Europe, Three Colours: White's story of the turbulent marriage of a Polish man, Karol, and a French woman, Dominique, seems to be the opposite. Kieślowski’s film is about inequalities that stand in the way of people who love themselves, but are shaped by different social, moral and cultural experiences.

Divorced, Karol returns to Poland of the mid-1990s: a country of new economic opportunities, quick fortunes and great social contrasts. He wants to regain his lost fortune and position, a revenge to his wife who renounced him. The former hairdresser turns into a businessman, trying to take advantage of newly acquired property to trick Dominique into coming to Poland. He wants not only to conquer her heart again but make her experience the suffering of imprisonment. That is his way of making his beloved Dominique more ‘equal’ to him and aware of what it is like to be a person from Central and Eastern Europe, where happiness often must be paid for by suffering.

Three Colours: Red, set in Geneva, is about the close encounter of Valentine, a young student, and Joseph Kern, a retired judge, who is bitter and harsh, having discovering his beloved was unfaithful. Meeting Valentine, a good, gentle and honest woman, is a chance for him to recover from his miserable despair. Their story is mirrored in that of Auguste, a young lawyer, who, like the judge, is beset by broken-hearted disappointment.

The film ends with a memorable scene showing passengers saved from a sinking ferry after a storm on the English Channel. The heroes of all three films are among those saved: Julie and Olivier from Blue, Karol and Dominique from White, Valentine and Auguste from Red.

The symbolism of these saved characters is as if we were watching the peoples of Europe fished out of the turbulent waves in the sea of h​istory, saved and ready to enjoy the rescue together on the continent of unifying countries.

Kieślowski asks us to question liberty, equliaty, fraternity: do we Europeans still remain faithful to their basic values? Is love, as Kieślowski showed in his last films, still what blue, white and red together mean?

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Poland film Krzysztof Kieślowski