Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Blue" is a film that appears, at first glance, to have a very simple story and almost no plot. The film is about Julie (Juliette Binoche), who after losing her husband and daughter to a car accident must learn to cope with their deaths. But the real story revolves around the process of liberation from her past. Kieslowski illustrates this process with complex visuals, implementing an interesting use of light and shadow, as well as colors, to create an atmosphere that reflects the feeling of this piece perfectly.
There is a certain degree of multiple meaning in the use of colors in Kieslowski's "Three Colours" trilogy, aside from creating an appropriate mood for each part of the trilogy; the colors also represent the blue, white, and red of the French flag. The three colors stand for liberty (blue), equality (white), and fraternity (red). Liberty, or freedom from the past, is a major theme in "Blue", the first part of the trilogy. The Juliette Binoche character, Julie, goes through a personal journey, as she must cope with her husband and daughter's deaths. She must go on with life even though the worst has happened, and she chooses to be free, to become liberated.
The color blue is used regularly from beginning to end. The film starts with a shot of a candy-wrapper moving in the wind; it is colored blue on one side. The street, the car, and even the air seem to be tinted in a hue of blue. The last shot before the final montage is of the sparkling blue crystal lamp hanging above Julie's flat. Throughout the film blue is used extensively, there is a trace of it in practically every shot of the film, everything from people's clothes, the color of ink, the paint on walls and arches, the tint of the street and the water, etc. The blue is used "to create moods of melancholy and coldness, and to draw attention to the resonant emotional associations conjured up by objects and places in Julie's mind." (Andrew, p. 25) The coloring perfectly reflects the mood of the film; it presents a very dismal and hopeless atmosphere full of solitude and melancholy, giving the viewer a visual insight into Julie's mind.
The several scenes in the swimming-pool are some of the most powerful moments in the film, "there's aching dimension in the bluish swimming-pool water she regularly immerses herself in" (Howe), and it is especially evident in the shot following Julie's recollection of her husband's last words. In this scene Kieslowski implements an interesting use of light and shadow. The shot begins in the water, Julie's entire body is submerged, and the only color visible in the frame is blue: the water is blue, her body is blue, the surrounding walls are blue, and even the shower door is blue. The camera pans as she moves from one side of the pool to the other. Then, as Julie lifts herself out of the water, a reddish ray of light covers the upper half of her body, while everything else seems to be hidden behind a blue-tinted shadow; it is as if the essence of life itself is shining its hopeful light on her. But she can not handle it; she is not yet ready for liberty. Slowly she lowers her body back into the water, returning once again into the atmosphere of the oppressive blue until she is completely submerged in the pool, her grief now as clear as the bluish water surrounding her.
Another fascinating element about Kieslowski's films is the attention that is paid to details, especially when it comes to expressing one of the most difficult elements to capture on camera: human emotion. Every glance, every reaction is rich with meaning, there is no close-up throughout the film that is unnecessary. Kieslowski works very well with the actors, especially Juliette Binoche, who gives one of the most impressive performances of her career in "Blue". One can see the grief on her face, but it is a very cold grief, more than in any of her other films Binoche gives the impression that her character in "Blue" is undergoing a complex state of thought.
There are a few shots in the film that seem to be unrelated to the story. This is yet another technique often used by Kieslowski to heighten the intellectual capacity of his films. Whenever creating any series of films, Kieslowski liked to link each respective part of the series with certain characters or actions, and this is true on several levels of the "Three Colours" trilogy. Beside the fact that the court scene of "White" is actually a short part of "Blue", and the fact that the characters from all three films appear at the end of "Red", there is a very interesting shot of an old woman that is presented in the same way in every part of the trilogy. It's a very simple shot, but it says a lot. An old woman, so old that she can barely walk, walks slowly towards a recycling container. She reaches up so high that she can barely reach to throw a bottle into the container, and then once again she takes her bag and slowly walks away. It is as if Kieslowski wanted to represent life's struggle, and indeed the different struggles of the characters of his trilogy, with this little old woman's struggle with the recycling container.
Also seemingly unrelated were several shots of people bungee jumping juxtaposed with a dialogue between Julie and her mother. "Before I was happy. I loved them. They loved me, too." says Julie, just as a shot of a man jumping from a helicopter begins. The fall seems to symbolize her desperation perfectly, yet it is also a symbol for the film's theme of liberation, for although the shots of the bungee jumpers all end just before it, the entire point of the bungee cord is to stop the fall and to pull the jumper back up, perhaps not to the same height, but up again never-the-less. It is like Julie's plunge into the bluish darkness of hopelessness after her tragedy, yet there exists the opportunity for liberation, for her to be pulled back up and to put the past behind her.
Music is a large part not only of the story of "Blue", but Kieslowski actually worked with composer Zbigniew Preisner to make it a part of the film. There are more than a few parts in the film where music is essential in creating the effect of the scene. "Kieslowski suggests the music's almost supernatural provenance by showing Julie first dozing in a chair with an unexplained blue light playing over her face, then, having been woken by the music, looking started and mystified toward the camera (which not only draws back from her and then returns, but bathes the scene in a blue wash), as if the music itself were a (blue?) physical presence." (Andrew) When Julie first starts remembering the tune to the music to the "Song For The Unification Of Europe" the music plays in several brief flashes, and each time it plays Kieslowski creates a visual lens flare effect, which is of course colored blue. In the scene where Olivier shows Julie his version of the music the audio and video simultaneously lose clarity: each time Julie makes a change to the manuscript, removing instruments from the composition one by one, the camera goes out of focus until only the string instruments are left and the camera is completely unfocused. The ending sequence is another example, for the first time in the film the audience hears the complete chorus and as the tension builds and we finally hear the choir portion the camera tilts up to Julie's glittering blue crystal lamp, a shot which is followed by the powerful chorus and complete darkness. This effect of juxtaposing darkness with music is something that occurs several times throughout the film, Kieslowski uses this technique to represent the intensity of emotion running through Julie's head. When the character Antoine asks Julie if she wants to know what he saw at the time of the accident, she answers simply "no", then the screen blacks out and music begins, a few seconds later the black ends and we are returned once again to Julie and Antoine's conversation.
It's a shame that more directors do not undertake more ambitious efforts such as the work of Krzysztof Kieslowski. His films often do not rely on conventional plot elements, in fact, often times there is no real plot at all, yet somehow he was able to make his films both intellectually stimulating and interesting to watch. In "Blue", Juliette Binoche's character, Julia, must learn to cope with her family's death. She wants to put her past behind her, yet she is drawn into the past because of her husband's unfinished composition. Does she even want the composition finished? Was the music originally her husband's, or was she the real composer? Kieslowski was not interested in answering these questions, he preferred to leave them uncertain.
The film is, instead, about the process of Julie's liberation from her memories. "For Kieslowski, subtlety is a religion. He hints or implies -- anything to keep from laying his cards on the table. With "Blue," you never feel he's shown his whole hand; not even after the game is over" (Hinson). There is no happy ending here, and there is no real solution to the puzzle; the final shot is of Julie's tear-stained face, as it slowly loses opacity to an image of something blue on the frame behind it. She makes the decision to be liberated from her past; hence it's a hopeful ending, yet the tear represents a struggle that is never really over.
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