Three Colors: Red (Trois Couleurs: Rouge)
Final entry in a trilogy of films dealing with contemporary French society concerns a model who discovers her neighbour is keen on invading people’s privacy.
The final film in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s ‘Three Colors’ trilogy focusing on the French revolutionary ideals is a deeply insightful and thought provoking piece of cinema. The focus of ‘Red’ is fraternity and this is shown both through the primary story where an accident leads to an unlikely friendship between a retired judge and a student/part-time model, and the secondary stories that show the different ways people can connect and empathise with others. ‘Red’ received the highest acclaim of the trilogy and I think it benefits from expanding on the themes of ‘Blue’, whilst retaining some of the offbeat humour from ‘White’, all whilst delving into a narrative that defies conventional description. Kieslowski said before he made this film that it would be his final piece of work, and this sadly proved true when he died suddenly a couple of years after it was made.
The lead performer in this film is Irène Jacob and she is truly excellent as the inquisitive Valentine, giving off a sense of youthful exuberance yet a certain curiosity about other people and their behaviour. In a different, more extravagant context, this girl could have gone on to become ‘Amelie’, but in ‘Red’ her quirks are kept primarily under the surface. She has an insecure boyfriend who she seems indifferent too, she drops into the local bar once a day to play the fruit machine and she exhibits a curious response to meeting Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant) after an accident involving his dog. Trintignant has a difficult role as Kern, a man who comes across as world weary, rude and dispassionate before revealing hidden depths of character to the audience, and we start to understand him at the same pace as Valentine does. It’s difficult to believe that Valentine would continue visiting this man, but over time they start to bond and learn more about one another. What I found particularly interesting is how their relationship is played on a completely equal footing, with no creepy romantic subtext and an environment where both characters are interested and learn from one another. Kern has experience and knowledge, but Valentine has youth and compassion, and their interactions are intriguing to watch play out.
Like the previous films in the series, the colour of the title plays a major part, from everyday uses as a focus on Valentine’s neighbours red car to the traffic lights, to the massive red backdrop to Valentine’s chewing gum advertisement that crops up at various points throughout the film. ‘Red’ also features the recurring motif of an elderly person trying to recycle a bottle, with ‘Red’s example leading to Valentine helping her (in the spirit of fraternity). Valentine and Kern’s bond is the main focus of the film, but we also spend a lot of time with her neighbour Auguste (who she doesn’t know) and his relationship with one of Kern’s neighbours (as we discover through Kern eavesdropping on telephone conversations). Auguste’s story is more conventional in nature, focusing almost entirely on a romantic angle, but it works as a secondary story particularly when it fleetingly blends into the primary plot through the phone conversations. Kieślowski’s direction throughout the trilogy has been marvellous, but it’s rarely been better than here as he uses a variety of techniques to illuminate his characters and subtly emphasise the key themes of the film. My only slight point of criticism focuses on the finale which almost seems a little too absurd at putting a bow on the trilogy and its characters as a whole.
‘Three Colors Red’ is a terrific film of tremendous depth, featuring superb performances and a narrative that deals effectively with complex and weighty themes. A fine trilogy from a fine director, and it rightfully stands up as an esteemed pillar of European cinema.
Directed By: Krzysztof Kieślowski
Starring: Irène Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Jean-Pierre Lorit, Frederique Feder, Samuel Le Bihan, Marion Stalens, Teco Celio, Bernard Escalon and Jean Schlegel