The entertaining second seg of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors” trilogy is involving, bittersweet and droll. A fine lead perf from Zbigniew Zamachowski anchors an ingenious rags-to-riches tale of revenge filtered through abiding love. Mostly in Polish, with a smattering of French, this successor to “Blue” should produce plenty of black ink at Gallic and offshore arthouses. (Pic also competes at Berlin fest in February.)
Those put off by the glossy aesthetics of “Blue” will find “White” a fairly straightforward black comedy that skirts pretentiousness and goes easy on thesymbolism while retaining Kieslowski’s eerie gift for spinning mystical narrative gold from the simplest of ingredients. Where “Blue” dealt with liberty , “White” focuses on equality (per the colors of the French flag, repping concepts of liberty, equality and fraternity).
Although mostly set in Warsaw, pic begins in a Paris law court where cruel French beauty Dominique (Julie Delpy) is finalizing her divorce from somewhat bumbling Polish hubby Karol (Zamachowski), on the grounds that their bond was never consummated.
Karol, who runs a hairdressing salon with his spouse, has only a sketchy understanding of French and needs an interpreter. Within the day he’s divested of wife, home, credit card and business.
Stuck in Paris with just a large suitcase and comb to his name, Karol is offered, by fellow countryman Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos), a lucrative job of killing an unnamed Pole. He declines, but the two become friendly and Mikolaj agrees to smuggle Karol back home as “checked baggage.”
Spirited away inside the suitcase by corrupt baggage handlers, Karol gets a rude introduction to the new Poland in which anything and everything can be bought and sold. He returns to the hair salon, tended by lumpy brother Jurek (Jerzy Stuhr, also Zamachowski’s brother in the rollicking 10th episode of Kieslowski’s “Decalogue”), and, through a mixture of luck and determination, becomes a wealthy big shot.
At the pinnacle of his career, Karol hatches a plot to fake his own death and leave his financial empire to his ex-wife. The riveting chain of events is almost impossible to second-guess.
In line with the second watchword of the French Republic, the scriptersset about equalizing the metaphorical playing field between Karol and his French ex-wife, with the former determined to impress the latter.
She lingers on in his life in the form of two talismans salvaged from France — a two-franc coin and a cracked alabaster bust of a woman. Evoking shades of Kieslowski’s earlier “The Double Life of Veronique,” when Karol handles the coin in Warsaw, Dominique feels uneasy in Paris.
The title color is favored in ethereal flashbacks to the wife on her wedding day and in a cathartic sequence of the two brothers giddily playing on a frozen pond in Warsaw.
As the resourceful underdog, Karol (Charles) is meant as an homage to Chaplin , with the worldly Mikolaj a perfect friend and foil to the Little Tramp. Although Delpy is fine as the wife, the pic is Zamachowski’s through and through.
Lensing and editing are aces, as is Zbigniew Preisner’s score. Fans of Kieslowski’s earlier work will be delighted to find him back at work in his native language, with the cream of Polish thesps peopling bit parts.
Third seg, “Red” (fraternity), with Irene Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant, is skedded for Cannes fest. Heroines Juliette Binoche (“Blue”), who’s fleetingly on show here, Delpy and Jacob will all cross paths in the final tale of the trilogy.