The first film on the director’s great trilogy before his death, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1993 Three Colours: Blue is poignant and profound, not only on its intended theme about liberty, but also on honesty, grief and, ultimately, how one reinvents oneself after tragedy.
Though it might strike as a cliché, it has to be noticed that Julie, the film’s protagonist, is both the epitome of vulnerability and the utmost show of strength. As she is virtually in every scene of Three Colours: Blue [Trois Couleurs: Bleu], viewers experience a gamut of emotions, from her quivering lips while watching on TV as her family is being buried to the self-satisfied smile as she squander her inheritance on the housekeeper and the gardener. Her enigmatic outlook increases the impression that she can be an angel or the devil.
Julie de Courcy (Juliette Binoche), aka Julie Vignon, is the sole survivor of a car accident, which kills her famous composer husband and her daughter. While grieving stoically, Julie sells all her possessions and moves to Paris – the only memento she keeps from her old life is a chandelier made of blue beads. She then befriends Lucille (Charlotte Véry), who lives in her apartment block. One day, as her husband’s former assistance Olivier (Benoît Régent) announces on TV his decision to finish the piece of music left by the famous composer to celebrate the unity of Europe, Julie finds out that her husband was having an affair. At the end, Julie gives away her family’s country house to Sandrine (Florence Pernel), who is pregnant with her late husband’s child and then helps Olivier to finish the piece of classical music.
Weird as it seems, Julie’s choices, which give the story its dramatic arc, are both baffling and totally reasonable. Her decision to extricate herself from her former, apparently comfortable life appears confusing to us because after the tragedy that has shaken Julie to the core, the last thing that she needs is self-imposed isolation. It stands to reason to believe that she should stay close to the people that reassure her. Not Julie. She, instead, takes off to Paris. However, although initially perplexing (counter-productive, even), her sudden departure might just be a natural response seeking to avoid the eternal pain of memories ever-present in her old surroundings.
..Three Reasons: Three Colors: Blue © The Criterion Collection.
What astonishes me the most is her detachment from the pain that she surely feels. And such subtlety of emotional states, expressed in Julie’s face and body language through nuances almost imperceptible is Juliette Binoche’s masterpiece. Obviously the actress is able to paint such a colourful picture because she is given a magnificent canvas by the filmmaker. Julie’s puzzling behaviour makes sense in the general scheme of things because it belongs to this story, which takes its time to reveal her past as it motivates her present attitude. She hides in problem-solving with business-like precision, thus avoiding thinking.
But then, as she starts getting settled in her new apartment, and hence, has less to do, her demeanor does not change. She is still made of steel; she does not cry. Even the times when the music rises and she gets startled (did she write the classical piece or did she not?), she seems more in shock than sad. Eventually, as we get to know her a little closer, and see her kindness and consideration, her deep concern for others – she surely isn’t afraid to stand up for her principles, when she is the only person in a busy street who stops to check on a man, who might be or not a tramp – we realise that rather than being cold and passionless, she might just be grieving in the only way that she knows how.
By placing artists at the centre of the drama, Three Colours: Blue invites a discussion about what makes life worth living. The dichotomy between matters of the heart and matters of the head, between love and art, between what makes us feel and what makes us think is an old one. The distinction might not be original, or even real, as if we as human beings had compartmentalized lives, but it helps us understand impulses that might lead to distinct attitudes towards life. The pursuit of high art is so important to some that other things get trampled down. At the beginning there’s a scene depicting such situation. A journalist trying to interview Julie says: ‘You’ve changed. You weren’t so rude before.’ She then replies with such logical precision: ‘Haven’t you heard? I had an accident. I lost my daughter and my husband.’
Later on, there is a point when her housekeeper starts sobbing and Julie, comforting her asks: ‘Why are you crying?’, which she replies ‘Because you’re not.’ By the end of the film this scene might resonate with us because by then a more complex picture of Julie’s life emerges. If initially we sided with the housekeeper, baffled at Julie’s apparent indifference towards her family’s death, at the end we might realise that only in that way could she have coped with all that tragedy. So many people complain of bad memory when in fact, what really hurt people is the inability to forget.
The greatest among these great films in Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy is the reason for cinema’s existence: its images transcend meaning; a description of the events in the story could never do any justice to the experience of watching the film. A trivial scene with a curved, elderly lady trying to insert a glass bottle into a recycling unit and Julie’s beautiful face being caressed by the wind acquire a new and powerful significance inside this puzzle of a film about the conflicting emotions about love and art.