Somehow or other, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs trilogy—Blue (1993), White (1994) and Red (1994)—never crossed my path until now, though I knew of it. I was a little hesitant about tackling the third film in the trilogy as an introduction, but needn’t have been. Despite the fact that the films interconnect (check the cast lists and you’ll see how), Red is completely comprehensible as a stand-alone work. It is also a truly remarkable film—nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s not hard to see why Kieslowski retired from film afterwards (or claimed to have, since he was working on screenplays for another trilogy at the time of his death in 1996). Where, exactly, could one go from there? See the film and you’ll know what I mean.
If you’re unfamiliar with Kieslowski’s work, I’d say (based on this one film) that the easiest way to approach him is to think of a more stylish, more playful, slightly more mystical and less guilt-riddled Ingmar Bergman. That’ll at least put you in the ballpark.
Red stars Irene Jacob as Valentine Dussaut, a model embroiled in a long-distance relationship with an unreasonably jealous and controlling man we only hear over the telephone. When she runs over a dog, she seeks out the injured animal’s owner, a retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who is completely uninterested in the fate of the dog—or, it seems, in much of anything else. Actually, it turns out that the judge has an all-consuming passion for eavesdropping on his neighbor’s phone calls—something that Valentine finds both reprehensible and fascinating. The bulk of the film follows the relationship between the two and its connection to the judge’s past and her future. I’m being deliberately vague about the plot, because Red is a film the viewer needs to watch unfold without too much information the first time. (A second viewing both enhances the experience and reveals Kieslowski’s amazing attention to detail.)
This is a rich, involving drama about human connectivity. It’s also boldly stylish in its visual approach. The use of the title color is brilliant and not merely clever, in that it adds to the feel of the overall film—and its inherent warmth and central humanity. It’s a work that requires both the use of your brain and your heart in ways that all-too-few films do. This is not a film for passive viewers. At the same time, it’s a very generous film—especially to its characters (and to those of the two films that precede it)—that makes the effort of thinking and feeling a rewarding experience, which, I suspect, is the message of it all. Stunning, luminous and unforgettable.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke