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Film / Three Colors Trilogy

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"In the trilogy, "Blue" is the anti-tragedy, "White" is the anti-comedy, and "Red" is the anti-romance."
Three Color Trilogies review, Roger Ebert

Critically-acclaimed trilogy of French/Polish drama films directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski (also the director of The Decalogue, Blind Chance, and The Double Life of Veronique), and released in relatively close proximity to each other in 1993–94.

They are named after the three colors in the French flag: blue, white and red, and each has a corresponding color motif. They are each loosely based on one of the three French revolutionary principles of liberty, equality and fraternity. The trilogy are also interpreted respectively as an anti-tragedy, an anti-comedy, and an anti-romance.

Trzy kolory. Niebieski (English: Three Colors: Blue, French: Trois Couleurs: Bleu) (1993): Based on the principle of liberty. After a famous composer dies in a car crash, his wife Julie (Juliette Binoche) retreats into seclusion, but various contacts and issues in the outside world force her to emerge again.

Trzy kolory. Biały (English: Three Colors: White, French: Trois Couleurs: Blanc) (1994): Based on the principle of equality. After the beloved (French) wife (Julie Delpy) of Polish hairdresser Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) divorces him thus rendering him destitute, he makes it back to Poland, manages to make it big by blackmailing his bosses and then schemes to extract revenge on his wife.

Trzy kolory. Czerwony (English: Three Colors: Red, French: Trois Couleurs: Rouge) (1994): Based on the principle of fraternity. College student and part-time model Valentine Dusot (Irene Jacob) runs over the dog of retired judge Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who spends his days eavesdropping on neighbors' phone calls. The two end up becoming friends.

These films provide examples of:

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    The trilogy as a whole 
  • Color Motif: In each film the color corresponding to the title is prominently featured. In Red, the billboards of Valentine all over Paris have her against a red background, and the theater where she has a modeling gig is all done up in red as well. In Blue, there is a "blue room" in Julie's mansion which is painted all blue.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • There are little details telling us the films are part of a same work, like characters from one movie making very brief cameos into another (for example, in Blue, Julie accidentally intrudes on the divorce trial of Karol and Dominique, which we then see from their perspective in White) or an old woman recycling glass bottles (how she gets from Paris in Blue and White to Geneva in Red is never explained).
    • At the end of Red, a fatal ferry crash has only a few survivors: all of the main characters from the trilogy. The Judge sees the news report on TV.
  • Mythology Gag:
    • Van den Budenmayer, a fictitious composer (even though he's treated as a real composer) mentioned in Blue and Red, was mentioned earlier in both The Decalogue (more precisely, Decalogue Nine) and The Double Life of Veronique. The main theme of Decalogue Nine (written by Van den Budenmayer in-world) is featured on two occasions in Red.
    • There's also a re-use of a funeral march motif Preisner wrote for No End (his first collaboration with Kieslowski) as a prominent recurring musical theme in Blue. In there, this composition also gets ascribed to Van den Budenmayer.
  • Rainbow Motif: Blue for liberty, White for equality, Red for fraternity, like in the French flag.
  • Rule of Three: It's a trilogy.
  • The Shut-In: Julie in Blue and Kern in Red have both given up on social interaction, for different reasons.
  • Spiritual Successor: To The Decalogue. Just like that one, it's a series of seperate films that are all interconnected by cameos of characters and an overarching theme, with each film covering one seperate aspect of that theme (The Ten Commandments in the Decalogue and the ideals of the French Revolution in the Three Colors Trilogy).
  • Thematic Series: The series revolves around specific French ideals as opposed to specific characters.note 

  • Babies Ever After: A Subversion of this trope, since the pregnant woman is the mistress of Patrice.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Julie. She's actually a nice person at heart, but the loss she suffers makes her very cold and detached for much of the movie (which suits the film's cold lighting).
  • Died During Production: In universe: Patrice dies before he can finish his symphony.
  • Downer Beginning: Julie's husband and little daughter are killed in a car wreck, but she survives.
  • Fade to Black: Used to represent Julie's difficulty in moving on. It's an unusual type of Jump Cut since the film fades to black only to fade to the exact same moment.
  • Ghostwriter: Though it's not outright stated, it's implied that Julie could be the writer of her husband's music (or at least that they collaborated, but the works were published under his name).
  • He Will Not Cry, so I Cry for Him: Early in the film, Julie, who is still emotionally numb after losing Patrice and Anna in a car crash, finds her servant Marie sobbing piteously. When she asks Marie why she is crying, Marie says, "Because you're not."
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Lucille, the kindhearted prostitute and stripper who lives below Julie. A neighbor petitions to have her evicted for being a "whore," but Julie refuses to sign it, leading to her and Lucille becoming friends.
  • I Just Want to Be Free: Befitting the theme of this film — the French ideal of "freedom" — Julie says this at one point. What she means, though, is "freedom" in the Buddhist sense: freedom from attachment, connection, and desire,
  • I Made Copies: Anticipating that Julie would destroy the manuscript of Patrice's (or her, or both of their) pan-European composition after his death, his secretary made a copy and sent it to Olivier. Julie doesn't learn of this until she sees a television interview in which Olivier states his plans to finish the composition.
  • Leitmotif: The piece (supposedly) composed by Julie's husband keeps appearing at different times. Depending on the situation, the music is played in different variations.
  • Letting the Air out of the Band: Julie collects her husband's (?) last manuscript. The music that he (perhaps) composed plays on the soundtrack. When Julie takes that manuscript and throws it into a trash compactor, the music distorts, slows down, and stops.
  • Mundane Made Awesome: Julie performs a lot of simple actions with bombastic music in the background.
  • Nice Guy: Julie is a female example. When she lets go of her angst, she helps a lot of people on her way, even providing her husband's mistress and her unborn baby with Patrice's old home.
  • Offscreen Crash: When the de Courcys' car crashes at the beginning of the film, the camera is focused on a young hitchhiker they drove past, though we do see the car smashed immediately after.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: Greek instead of Latin, but Patrice/Julie/Olivier's composition features a chorus intoning the Greek translation of 1 Corinthians 13 (in English (KJV), "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal").
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Julie's daughter Anna is killed in the opening car crash.
  • Right Now Montage: The film's ending is a montage of most of the major characters at one moment, all of them affected in some way by Patrice's death or Julie's actions.
  • Scatterbrained Senior: Julie's mother is in an assisted living facility, and when Julie visits her, we see she is several years into dementia, repeatedly confusing Julie for her own sister, Marie-France, and only vaguely recalling that Julie's husband and daughter have died.
  • Sex for Solace: Julie attempts this after her husband's death, calling up one of his collaborators who'd always had a thing for her and abruptly seducing him. She gets very little solace, though.
  • Spiritual Successor: Of Kieslowski's previous film No End. They share the premise of a widow dealing with her husband's death. To further emphasize the thematical connection between the films, Blue reuses No End's main theme on several occasions.
  • Trauma Button: Julie has sudden flashbacks of grief throughout the film, in one case while swimming. They're accompanied by the camera getting shaky.

  • Batman Gambit: Karol's plan to take revenge against Dominique requires her to come to Poland upon being informed of his (faked) death and the fact that she has inherited his entire fortune, so that he can then have the police arrest her on suspicion of having murdered him for his money. [ Sure enough, she takes the bait and is thrown in prison.
  • Cuckold: Karol's wife has met someone new, and as part of her humiliation of Karol, she makes him listen to them sleep together over the phone.
  • Everything Is an Instrument: At his most destitute, Karol tries busking with a comb and paper. He plays the "instrument" in several further scenes once he returns to Warsaw.
  • Frame-Up: Dominique sets fire to the curtains of her salon in the beginning of the film and pins this on Karol, knowing that he won't be able to fight arson charges given this "evidence." Karol gets his revenge by framing Dominique in turn for his murder, which gets her sent to prison.
  • I Cannot Self-Terminate: Mikołaj pays Karol to help him commit suicide; however, the gun is loaded with blanks.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Karol stares at the inside of a gun's barrel.
  • The Immodest Orgasm: Dominique is much louder during a successful sexual encounter with Karol than she was when she tormented Karol over the phone by making him listen to her having sex with her new boyfriend.
  • Language Barrier: Karol's French is shaky, which works against him in French court. Throughout the movie, he's seen listening to tapes to survive better in French society.
  • Lewd Lust, Chaste Sex: A failed attempt at sex is shown in all its glory to establish the desperation of the participants and of their relationship. Later, when they actually do it, there's a Fade to White.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: The reason why Dominique asks for a divorce is that "tonight" was every day.
  • Mad Love: Despite Karol having her arrested and jailed, Dominique pines for him, who pines for her as well. In the final shot of the film, Karol stands in the prison courtyard and looks at her cell window with a pair of binoculars; he weeps after he sees her mime that she would say "yes" if he asked her to marry him again.
  • Repetitive Name: Karol Karol.
  • Spiritual Successor: To Decalogue Ten. It shares its Black Comedy tonality and has a lot of other similarites, such as somewhat shady protagonists and quirky side characters. White also stars the same actors (Zbigniew Zamachowski and Jerzy Stuhr) as a pair of brothers that behave very similarly to their Decalogue counterparts.
  • Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell: The overarching mood of the movie, which is in part an allegory for Poland's modernization after the 1980s.

  • Call-Back: At the end of the film there's a freeze frame on Valentine as she's emerging from the police rescue boat. The freeze frame catches her looking to the left of the screen against a red background, framed in the same manner as the advertisement that was all over Geneva.
  • Crazy Jealous Guy: Valentine's boyfriend. He's not that crazy to commit a crime, but is very jealous, constantly demanding to know why she didn't answer the phone if she hasn't picked up when he wants her to.
  • Cuckold: Joseph's ex-lover was unfaithful to him, as is Auguste's partner. Auguste eventually sneaks into her apartment building and sees the two having sex.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Joseph tells Valentine he had a dream of her meeting someone and being happy well into her forties and fifties. He leaves it ambiguous who that "someone" is, but it's implied that he's invoking fate, and is right.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • The opening sequence is a sped-up montage showing all the cables and wires a phone call from Britain to France travels through. We later find out that Joseph has been tapping into his neighbors' phone lines and recording their calls, to find out their sordid secrets.
    • Valentine walks past a newsstand, and the headline next to it warns that Zurich's growing drug problem will soon affect Geneva as well. We later learn that Valentine's brother Marc is a heroin addict, and one of Joseph's neighbours is a drug dealer.
    • Auguste's girlfriend runs a weather service and gives forecasts for trips across the English Channel. In the end, a storm sinks both a ferry and a pleasure craft.
  • I Am Not Your Father: Valentine tells Joseph that her brother Marc only found out a year earlier that his father wasn't his mother's husband, and that this is part of the motivation behind his drug addiction.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Valentine forms a bond with Joseph, who is old enough to be her grandfather.
  • The Ken Burns Effect: There's a zoom-in on the freeze frame of Valentine at the end, after she's survived the ferry sinking.
  • The Lost Lenore: Joseph tells Valentine that he was in love once, many years earlier, but he caught her cheating on him, and she later died in an accident. His grief caused him to give up on seeking love, which led to him becoming the embittered, eavesdropping shut-in he was when Valentine first met him.
  • Manchild: Valentine's boyfriend is emotionally insecure and commitment-phobic.
  • Maybe Ever After: The final shot of Valentine and Auguste next to each other, after they make it back to shore following the ferry sinking, implies that they will wind up with each other and that he is the man in Joseph's dream who will make Valentine happy.
  • Meet Cute: For a given value of "cute". Valentine meets Joseph after she hits his dog with her car.
  • Mirror Character: Auguste's life is similar to Joseph's—they both are judges, they both loved and lost when they were young, they both followed the love of their youth to England before losing them. They even both dropped a lawbook which fell open to a specific page that turned up on their judge's examination. Fortunately for Auguste, his meeting with Valentine at the end of the film means his life will probably take a better path than Joseph's
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Valentine and Joseph. The age gap might have something to do with it, although he says to her: "Perhaps you're the woman I never met".
  • Secretly Selfish: Joseph believes everybody is like this, that all their "good deeds" are ultimately for their own gratification. That includes Valentine, and he accuses her of this to her face. The events of the movie eventually prove him wrong.
  • Sleazy Photoshoot: Valentine does a photoshoot advertising chewing gum. While reviewing the photos, photographer tries to take them in a sexual direction and propositions Valentine.
  • Sliding Scale of Cynicism Versus Idealism: Valentine's idealism versus Joseph's cynicism. He ends up moving across the scale at the end, though.
  • A Storm Is Coming: The storm that whips up in the end is both symbolic of the violent disturbance soon to affect the main characters, and the literal cause of that disturbance in that it sinks the ferry.