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review added: 3/6/03



The Three Colors Trilogy

reviews by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Three Colors: Blue

Three Colors: Blue
1993 (2003) - MK2 Productions SA/Miramax (Buena Vista)

Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/A-

Specs and Features:

98 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ???), audio commentary with film scholar Annette Insdorf, Reflections of Bleu featurette (17 mins), A Discussion on Kieslowski's Early Years featurette (15 mins), A Conversation with Juliette Binoche on Kieslowski featurette (8 mins), Krzysztof Kieslowski: Cinema Lesson featurette (8 mins), interview and selected scene commentary with producer Marin Karmitz (17 mins), selected scene commentary with actress Juliette Binoche (23 mins), interview and selected scene commentary with film editor Jacques Witta (14 mins), Kieslowski student film Concert of Wishes (16 mins), Kieslowski filmography, 3 theatrical trailers (for White, Red and Heaven), film-themed menu screens, scene access (20 chapters), languages: French (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English and English for the hearing impaired, Closed Captioned



Three Colors: White

Three Colors: White
1994 (2003) - MK2 Productions SA/Miramax (Buena Vista)

Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/A-

Specs and Features:

92 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ???), audio commentary with film scholar Annette Insdorf, A Look at Blanc featurette (7 mins), A Discussion on Kieslowski's Later Years featurette (22 mins), A Discussion on Working with Kieslowski featurette (19 mins), A Conversation with Julie Delpy on Kieslowski featurette (6 mins), Krzysztof Kieslowski: Cinema Lesson featurette (11 mins), Behind the Scenes of White with Krzysztof Kieslowski featurette (17 mins), interview and selected scene commentary with producer Marin Karmitz (6 mins), interview and selected scene commentary with actress Julie Delpy (22 mins), 3 Kieslowski student films (Trolley, The Face and The Office - 6 mins each), Kieslowski filmography, 3 theatrical trailers (for Blue, Red and Heaven), film-themed menu screens, scene access (19 chapters), languages: French (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English and English for the hearing impaired, Closed Captioned



Three Colors: Red

Three Colors: Red
1994 (2003) - MK2 Productions SA/Miramax (Buena Vista)

Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/A-

Specs and Features:

99 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ???), audio commentary with film scholar Annette Insdorf, Insights into Trois Couleurs: Rouge featurette (22 mins), A Conversation with Irène Jacob on Kieslowski featurette (11 mins), Krzysztof Kieslowski: Cinema Lesson featurette (9 mins), interview and selected scene commentary with producer Marin Karmitz (11 mins), selected scene commentary with actress Irène Jacob (11 mins), Behind the Scenes of Red with Krzysztof Kieslowski featurette (24 mins), interview and selected scene commentary with film editor Jacques Witta (15 mins), Red at Cannes featurette (15 mins), Kieslowski filmography, 3 theatrical trailers (for Blue, White and Heaven), film-themed menu screens, scene access (17 chapters), languages: French (DD 2.0 Surround), subtitles: English and English for the hearing impaired, Closed Captioned


The Three Colors Trilogy Box Set
Three Colors: The Exclusive Collection


It's a sad fact that master filmmakers almost never go out on a high note. Alfred Hitchcock arguably directed more classic films than any other person in history, but his last movie, Family Plot, is not one of them. Billy Wilder's Buddy Buddy has its charms but it's just not in the same league as Some Like It Hot or Sunset Boulevard. Even Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut divided audiences into two camps: those who thought it was a career-capping masterpiece, and those who, to put it kindly, did not.

The exception to all this is the great Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski. Upon completion of his masterful Three Colors trilogy, Kieslowski announced he would be retiring from cinema. Three Colors was the summation of his life's work and he simply had nothing more to say. Of course, nobody really believed him and sure enough, it later came to light that Kieslowski soon began working on scripts for a new trilogy of films: Heaven (ultimately filmed by the German director Tom Tykwer in 2002), Hell and Purgatory. But in an ultimate irony worthy of a Kieslowski film itself, the cosmos decided to make sure he kept his promise and permanently retired Krzysztof Kieslowski in 1996.

In Three Colors, Kieslowski uses the themes represented by the tri-colored French flag as a springboard in much the same way he used the Ten Commandments in his 1988 magnum opus, The Decalogue. Both series take fairly lofty philosophical ideas and make them personal and concrete in unexpected ways. While both sagas are comprised of individual films that stand on their own merits, the ten tales in The Decalogue are much more closely tied together than the three in Three Colors. But perhaps the most significant common denominator between the works is that watching both is like attending a master class in dramatic filmmaking. There are no tricks or cliches in these films. Just a seamless blend of writing, cinematography, editing, sound design, performances and music.

The first of the films, Blue, represents "liberty". Julie (Juliette Binoche) loses her husband and daughter in a car accident. Her old life erased, Julie makes a decision that some of us might have contemplated but would likely never follow up on. She cuts herself off, moving to a new apartment, her only link to the past her mother (Emmanuelle Riva), who suffers from Alzheimer's. But can anything ever be completely erased? Julie's past continually catches up with her, most notably in the music of her late husband, a composer who was working on a Song for the Unification of Europe at the time of his death. As it happens, his music was actually Julie's. For her to complete the song would be to reveal that her revered husband was a fraud.

Blue may well be the most complex meditation on mourning and grief in all of cinema. Juliette Binoche delivers a riveting, heart-rending performance that earns her a place in the lexicon of all-time great actresses. Additionally, Blue is one of the few movies to capture the art of musical composition, not performance. Composer Zbigniew Preisner had been one of Kieslowski's most important collaborators dating back to 1984's No End, but his magnificent score is front and center in Blue. It is simply impossible to imagine any other music over the film's concluding montage. Gorgeously filmed by Slawomir Idziak (who worked with Kieslowski on The Double Life of Véronique, among others), Blue is a most auspicious beginning to the trilogy. If it were the only great film in the bunch, it would likely be enough to secure Kieslowski's reputation.

The triptych's middle panel, White, is the most under appreciated of the set. A darkly comic tale representing "equality", White follows Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski from Decalogue X), a Polish hairdresser who has just been utterly humiliated and unceremoniously dumped (literally) on the streets of Paris by his knockout French wife, Dominique (Julie Delpy). Smuggled back to Warsaw inside a trunk, Karol sets about rebuilding his life and fortune. When he decides he's saved enough money, Karol fakes his own death to see whether or not Dominique will attend the funeral. She does and now, the shoe's on the other foot.

Coming immediately after the melancholy Blue, audiences likely weren't expecting this mordantly funny story of love and betrayal. But taken on its own merits (and given at least two viewings, an absolute must for this complicated narrative), White reveals itself to be a unique and remarkable film. Karol's "triumphant" arrival back in Poland is laugh-out-loud funny, a description not usually associated with Kieslowski's work. Preisner's music is again top-notch, whether it's a tango or a comb-and-tissue-paper arrangement of a Polish folk song. And again, we're treated to splendid color-coded cinematography, this time by Edward Klosinski (the DP behind Decalogue II). White is not as immediately and obviously impressive as the other two films but it certainly cannot be easily dismissed. If it doesn't grab you the first time around, wait and see how difficult you find shaking it off. Then watch it again.

The concluding film, Red, represents "fraternity" and it is easily the most intricately woven narrative of the three. Valentine (Irène Jacob) is a Swiss fashion model whose visage is about to dominate all of Geneva on a massive billboard. But she's planning on running away to England with her boyfriend in an effort to cut herself off from her deeply troubled family (shades of Blue). One night, she accidentally hits a stray dog with her car. She takes the dog in and tracks down the owner, a retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who lives in seclusion, eavesdropping on his neighbors with a shortwave radio. The two form the unlikeliest of bonds, with Valentine reminding the judge that people need each other and the judge offering Valentine a sympathetic ear to pour out her fears and responsibilities.

There's a lot more going on in Red, just as there's more going on in each of these films than indicated in the thumbnail sketches provided here, but the bulk of it can't be expressed in a few paragraphs. Red must be experienced and paid close attention to, as the themes and ideas here carry tremendous weight. Capped by an event that brings characters from all three films together, Red is the sort of film that rewards careful and attentive viewers immeasurably. The cinematography is by Piotr Sobocinski and his work here earned him an Oscar nomination, the only cinematography nomination given to any of these films. Interestingly, the use of the title color is both the most bracingly obvious as well as the subtlest of any in the trilogy. Red pops up throughout, from the huge billboard (certainly the most stunning chewing gum advertisement in history) to the dog's leash to the very name, Valentine. Preisner's whirling bolero of a score is simply marvelous, as are the performances by Jacob and venerable French actor Trintignant.

The image quality offered on these new DVDs from Miramax is generally pleasing, and quite comparable from disc to disc. The video is presented in anamorphic widescreen and appears to have been mastered from source prints of good condition. The resulting video is clean looking, although it's occasionally somewhat soft and features obvious grain structure. But the colors are extremely well rendered, muted when necessary and vibrant when it's important to the film. Obviously, color is critical to the character and atmosphere of these films, and you won't be disappointed in that respect. The contrast is also excellent, with deep and detailed blacks that help to firmly anchor the visual mood.

In terms of sound, the discs are surprising. All three films feature the original French audio in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. And while, at first, you might be disappointed not to have full 5.1 remixes, you quickly realize that the tracks are actually quite good. The audio is more dynamic that you'd expect, with good low frequency, a nicely wide front stage and more than adequate fill from the surrounds. This isn't head-turning DVD audio, but these films really don't call for that. What you get instead is a very atmospheric soundscape that is perfectly matched to the visuals.

The extras presented on these three discs are also surprising. There's much more content here than I would have imagined, and it's all quite substantive. To begin with, each DVD features a full-length audio commentary from Annette Insdorf, who has written a book on the films of Krzysztof Kieslowski (Double Lives, Second Chances) and who worked with him personally as a translator for many years. She discusses the films in a tone that's both fond and analytical, in particular pointing out many of the ways that Kieslowski deliberately manipulated images and sounds to achieve dramatic effect. The approach is a little distancing at first, but Insdorf is both thoughtful and thorough, taking you deeply into the subject matter. The commentary is quite satisfying as a result.

In addition to Insdorf's full-length track, each disc offers a shorter, scene-specific commentary with Marin Karmitz (who produced the films), as well as similar commentaries with the three lead actresses (Juliette Binoche for Blue, Julie Delpy for White and Irène Jacob for Red). Editor Jacques Witta also contributes on the first and third films of the trilogy.

Further adding to the bounty of extras, each DVD features not one or two, but several thoughtful featurettes that take you behind the scenes on the films. There are examinations of the productions, discussions on Kieslowski's career and interviews with the lead actresses about their experiences in working with the filmmaker. Kieslowski himself offers short Cinema Lessons on each disc, in which he examines the construction and meaning of a critical scene from each film. Two of the three discs (Blue and White to be exact) include shorter films that Kieslowski made as a student early in his career. The other disc (Red) features a look at the production as filtered through the chaotic experience of the Cannes film festival. Finally, each disc also includes a complete filmography for Kieslowski, as well as trailers for the other two films in the set (a trailer for the aforementioned Heaven is here as well). The bonus material on each of these DVDs works in concert with the material on the next, resulting in a well-envisioned supplemental experience that complements the films nicely.

Taken as a whole, the Three Colors trilogy is a cinematic landmark. These are lush, sweeping movies of ideas that manage to turn themes usually associated with politics and sociology into deeply personal, individually rooted but thoroughly universal stories. Krzysztof Kieslowski's death robbed motion pictures of an artist working at the very height of his abilities. The man will be missed but his work will live forever. If you love movies and have not yet experienced Three Colors, you owe it to yourself to seek them out. Some movies are dismissed as eye candy. These are gourmet treats for the eye, ear, mind and soul. And thankfully, Miramax has done them justice on DVD.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


Three Colors: The Exclusive Collection


Three Colors: Blue


Three Colors: White


Three Colors: Red


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