"Trois Couleurs: Bleu," the first installment in Krzysztof Kieslowski's trilogy inspired by the French tricolor, falls short of the mystical perfection that characterized "The Decalogue," but boasts a riveting central performance by a carefully controlled, lovingly lit Juliette Binoche.

“Trois Couleurs: Bleu,” the first installment in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy inspired by the French tricolor, falls short of the mystical perfection that characterized “The Decalogue,” but boasts a riveting central performance by a carefully controlled, lovingly lit Juliette Binoche.

Dramatic tale of a woman who streamlines her life after surviving the accident that kills her young daughter and composer husband retains traces of the puzzle-piece serendipity that distinguishes helmer’s most captivating work. But in this outing (as, to a lesser extent, in “The Double Life of Veronique”) Kieslowski’s French characters are watered-down icons compared to their Polish counterparts.

Like Wim Wenders with “Far Away, So Close,” Kieslowski (along with co-scripter Krzysztof Piesiewicz and other credited hands including Agnieszka Holland) seems to be grappling witha diluted variation on his own greatest moments and insights, suggesting, as does Wenders, that all you need is love.

Post-accident, bereaved but businesslike Julie (Binoche) is determined to live anonymously and do “absolutely nothing,” but when someone touches an emotional nerve in her, the screen literally goes blank and snippets of powerful music surge forth. It’s a risky but effective device for blowing Julie’s facade of indifference.

Zbigniew Preisner’s music, whose thundering chords evoke memory, loss and the tenuous promise of European unity, is a character in its own right, making up in expressiveness what taciturn Julie seems to lack.

Binoche goes from banged-up to smashing, but rarely smiles or sheds her reserve. As the camera lingers, trying to get at the character’s innermost thoughts, filmmaker puts his faith in the planes of his leading lady’s face as few directors have since the silent era.

Julie wants only to blend into Paris, but a sex-attuned neighbor (Charlotte Very, as a sensitive sinner) and her late husband’s assistant (Benoit Regent) exert a pull on her.

Kieslowski, whose “Camera Buff” (1979) seized on the power of image-making machines, here casts TV in a sly, pivotal role as everything from companion and solace to a medium of betrayal.

Bold final sequence is a visual and aural crescendo calibrated to show that while each person is fundamentally alone, every life inevitably touches other lives.

Jean-Claude Laureaux’s sound design and Slawomir Idziak’s lensing are practically peerless.

It remains to be seen whether the complete trilogy will take on cumulative power. Viewers who enjoy gazing at Binoche will drink their fill in this free-standing episode. Others may have trouble connecting with her internalized grief and stubborn resolve.

Three Colors: Blue

French

Production

A Miramax (U.S.)-MKL (France) release of an MK2 Production SA. CED Prods.-France 3 Cinema (Paris)-CAB Prods. (Lausanne)-Tor Production (Warsaw) co-production with the participation of Canal Plus, the Eurimages Fund and the CNC. (Foreign sales: John Kochman, MK2.) Produced by Marin Karmitz. Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. Screenplay, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Kieslowski. Additional screenwriting, Agnieszka Holland, Edward Zebrowski, Slawomir Idziak.

Crew

Camera (color), Idziak; editor, Jacques Witte; music, Zbigniew Preisner; art direction, Claude Lenoir; sound (Dolby), Jean-Claude Laureaux, William Flageollet; assistant director, Emmanuel Finkiel; casting, Margot Capelier. Reviewed at Club 13 screening room, Paris, Aug. 16, 1993. (In Venice -- competing, Telluride, Toronto festivals.) Running time: 97 min.

With

Julie - Juliette Binoche
Olivier - Benoit Regent
Sandrine - Florence Pernel
Lucille - Charlotte Very
The mother - Emmanuelle Riva
With: Helene Vincent, Philippe Volter, Hugues Quester, Florence Vignon, Yann Tregouet, Julie Delpy, Zbigniew Zamachowski, Alain Decaux.
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