Krzystof Kieslowski is a film artist par excellence: utterly uncompromising and unconcerned with commercial considerations. His new film Blue comes ashore highly acclaimed, having won top prize at the Venice Film Festival and a best acting award for its star, Juliette Binoche.
The Polish director, who now lives in Paris, confirmed his status as a major auteur with Decalogue (1988), a series of ten hour-long films based on the Ten Commandments. Kieslowski later expanded segments five and six of the series into two features: A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love. Set on a Warsaw housing estate, Killing is a powerfully grim tale that draws parallels between the act of murder and the workings of the criminal justice system. The film won the Cannes Jury Award as well as the “Felix” (the Pan-European) Award. The Double Life of Veronique, which was on my l991 Ten Best List, was a solid hit on the international art house and festival circuit.
The new film begins as a world-famous composer, his wife Julie (Juliette Binoche), and their daughter get into a car accident. The disaster occurs off screen, and it’s presented as a fateful, not melodramatic, event. In the next scene, Julie, the only survivor, wakes up in the hospital entirely transformed. The ensuing tale chronicles Julie’s efforts to cut herself off from reality, to literally obliterate the remaining traces of her existence, which include changing name, identity, apartment, etc.
Blue is the first of Kieslowski’s trilogy, Three Colors, with each installment examining one color of the French flag, which stands for “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity. The liberty in Blue is frightening as well as ironic: It’s the “freedom” of doing “absolutely nothing,” of losing our personal history and the life that connects us to the surrounding reality.
Julie’s desire is to be left alone, blend entirely into anonymity in Paris. Indeed, when someone touches an emotional nerve in her, the screen turns blank–with only snippets of music in the background. But Julie is constantly reminded of her husband’s unfinished, final score, an orchestra piece for the unification of Europe. The gorgeous sound track, which occupies a major role, is by composer Zbigniew Preisner, who also composed The Double Life of Veronique.
Julie soon realizes that her husband had a long affair with another woman who now carries his baby. The particular way that the relationship between the two women evolves is one of the film’s many intriguing mysteries. The other characters who ultimately have redeeming influence on Julie are her sexually driven neighbor and her husband’s assistant.
Kieslowski’s visual strategy consists of mega close-ups, and with a luminous presence as Binoche, whose face the camera adores, he’s able to convey her innermost thoughts and feelings. The color blue prevails in the film’s overall design, specifically in the sequences in the swimming pool, where Julie throws herself in abandon, as if she’s trying to purify herself.
In Blue, as in The Double Life of Veronique, Kieslowski deals unabashedly with metaphysical concerns, explorations of spirituality and existentialism. Posing an intriguing question, is it possible to completely cut off our past, the narrative goes on to show that while each person is fundamentally alone, every life inevitably touches–and is interconnected–with other lives.