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Concentrating on Kieslowski: A second viewing of Three Colours Blue




This post is not really for those who have not seen the film.

kieslowski

I’m always shooting the same film!    [..] authors are always writing the same book.





Blue for the second time, a week later, and all the extras in the Artificial Eye DVD of Three Colours. Editor Jacques Witta [2} {3} , says at one point Red should follow Blue.  After watching all three for the first time in the standard order, I felt that too, before seeing Wittas’ comment — mostly because White was not a film I really want to watch all through again so soon, and then maybe only to run through certain sections. And despite each film overlapping at certain points and Red having an ending which recapitulates all three films.  Without knowing the main character in White, the end of Blue would be harder to understand, but the reason for wanting Red to follow Blue is as much about it needing greater examination.  Some reading had suggested it was harder.

I have a tendency to watch a film cinematographically, missing many story details. I find it very easy to be caught up with some technical aspect or structural element of the plot: perhaps sets of equivalences, or counter-currents created through image and voice-over, or image and music.  I made up my mind, when watching Blue the second time, to focus on the story and the cinematography equally: to make sure not to miss anything in the story; to revisit the technicalities I was now familiar with:  I knew when and where they were coming.

I could tell you the story all the way through now in detail – not true the first time through concentrating too hard on film-making and aesthetics. Even after the first viewing, despite Three Colours: Blue being so highly praised – a master work – it might, despite its artistic merits, the blueness might be seen as clunkily executed: as if film technique stood proud from the storyline. The question is whether Kieslowski could have made Blue without the blueness. Or Red without the red. Do we really want red cars and shops signs?

There may be an inherent tendency, in the response to any film, to flip from total absorption and acceptance to awareness of technique, and back. The director may want you to do this.  I like the idea of being deliberately distracted and having to force myself back to what matters, whether is is in prose, poetry, music, art or film. In this film, for example, suffusing the whole field of view with blue in the swimming pool scenes, the brain cannot not but become occupied with the fact of the director is choosing to telegraph an emotion or interior state, while at the same time trying to examine the actor trying to express the emotion. The thing about film is that colour filters can be used so they will be used!  If a writer tried to prime his reader with “The whole scene was suffused with blue..” or “Julie felt her whole world turn blue…” it would never be considered technique in the way that using some cinematographic trick can be. The written expression of an interior state is often much more successfully executed than a filmic representation of it. With film, the immediate distinction between a filter put between viewer and actor in a scene as a device, and it being meant to signify something interior is not always immediately obvious.

As Scott Deskin says here of Red,

It has little to do with the vague symbolic notion of the French virtues that are supposed to make each film cohere, but it is enjoyable and emotionally satisfying.

In Blue, the blue motif is expressed in the use of blue camera filters, blue objects and blue reflections {listed in James Berardinelli’s review}. There can be moments – as I felt in the second viewing – when you tend to be leap-frogging from blue to blue and so not totally enfolded, immersed, in the story.  There is nonetheless a clever three-for-one: the clever, artistically satisfying use of blue, plus the automatic psychological and emotional response to the use of blue for telegraphing for mood, plus the understanding of meaning and how it fits into the main character’s feelings and responses. This is what makes Kieslowski a master.  In this interview Kieslowski gives insights into how he saw himself as a film-maker, which seem relevant to understanding what Kieslowski ends up with in his finished films.

#

In the first viewing, certain features caught my attention, such as the fades to black and the way the music was played out loud, but was meant (I thought obvious to anyone, but maybe I’m wrong) to be in the heads of Julie and her husband’s composing associate Olivier as they ran fingers along scores.  I was impressed by this finger following the score, because I can’t read music.  And yet, in the simple music played, I was able to!

You get two for one: the music is on the soundtrack, but you are being shown (not told) there is really silence in the room as the two composers imagine the music from the score. If one can do that, how magical! And how impressive that film can show it in a way a novel probably can’t. I can’t play a tune in my head, so I was wondering what it was they were ‘hearing’ when they looked at the score.  A hint there of deaf Beethoven composing and playing without hearing his own music. And the notion of one being what one leaves behind, heightened here by it being beautiful music. Plus, as if there were an argument here in a visual explanation, of music allowing one to get as close to a dead person as anything, or maybe more: can writing, a diary, a painting, or some photographs or some home-video without the sound do as good a job? A viewer might watch that and be asking what she is going to leave behind and how it will be responded to.

Here, something I took up in looking at Bela Tarr’s long takes,  that slow film allows the viewer to escape from the film being watched. The fast-cut action movie is not designed for this, except in that one might identify with the hero or anti-hero.  In a slow movie there is space for individual, personal, interior journeys. The great director builds this into a film. Kieslowski says he is happy with there being many interpretations of his films. SEE again the interview.

To me, a sub-story in Blue is a treatise on music itself and how wonderful it must be to compose. Other things too, such as music being a greater solace, a greater stirrer of emotions than other art,

What passion cannot music raise and quell!  ~  John Dryden

than other human artefacts.  (Music is prominent in the earlier The Double Life of Veronique: the Polish Weronik, a singer; the French Veronique, a music teacher. There is the fictional composer, van den Mayer who reappears later in Red). Kieslowski himself, in the extras on this Three Colours DVD talks of his obsession with the idea that the notes are out there in the world, and so it shouldn’t be surprising (the pavement flute-player sequences in Blue reprising this from Veronique.) that the same or similar music would be sure to pop up, convergently, in different places.

Whether others might have picked up on the music the greatest of the arts theme, I don’t know. I see that if your going to leave something behind, music is a good bet. But it is more: that music is inherently more emotional than, say, art or literature. It optimally – or maximally – serves the interests of the plot in reviving the natural feelings of Julie the widow.  Perhaps others might concentrate on the music itself and the themes underlying its use in the film, such as Julie at last being able to bear to read a score her dead husband created, (at the beginning of the film she is intent on throwing his scores away) and to take up again her own creativity through it, which at the beginning seemed to unbearable because it heightened realisation of her loss.

SEE Gareth Rees in this short summary and comment on Blue.

#

Dan Schneider reviews Blue from a Miramax version of the set, which includes an extra not in the Artificial Eye version: comment by Kieslowski ‘expert’ Annette Insdorf.  Take to heart his remarks:

It is a very bad commentary, one of the worst I’ve heard. Like many of the worst Kieslowski critics, she expends far too much energy alternately masturbating over filmic minutia, and over-analyzing it to the point of absurdity. As example, she speaks of the blackout moments only coming to Kieslowski in the editing stage of the film, and not being in the original screenplay – an interesting observation, but goes into no greater depth as to the significance of the moments, nor how their provenance has any relation to the moments themselves. She similarly goes on and on about far too many other differences between the screenplay and the finished film, rather than detailing what is actually on-screen.

but don’t let puzzling over matters of fade to black over story line seem trivial, if that’s what you’re into.  Films like Kieslowski’s are always as much about film as a particular film: about what one sets out to achieve and the end result. Kieslowski himself often talks about this. To be honest, when seeing Julie’s first blackout – realising the face at the moment before the fade reappeared a few seconds later in exactly the same position – it was not obvious to me this represented Julie having a blackout.  I thought at first it was a devise to hold up the narrative.  (I think, but can’t be sure, having read around the film so much, that I also thought, on first viewing, this was something that came at the editing stage not in the script. This is mentioned by the French editor in the extras.)  Why Julie’s face hadn’t moved on when it came back seemed to be wrong!  Why wasn’t she a bit further on….as in when you find you have driven up to a road junction and entered the traffic, with no clear recollection afterwards of whether you looked left or right before joined the flow of traffic or how you changed the gears. If  that’s Osessive Film Minutiae Syndrome, I plead guilty.

DS also says of Insdorf:

…there is a preciousness and superficiality to the whole commentary, as if we are watching a miracle occur, rather than an explicable work of art.

{My emphasis}

Sometimes it can seem we are watching a miracle and a work of art. Sometimes neither miracles or works of art can be explained completely.

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There are two distinct strand of film-watcher, those who are completely story orientated, for whom cinematography is irrelevant or of minimal interest – what did it mean, how did it say it, was it well told – and those who are interested in how film is used to do the telling, as against how prose might do it.  There is no rule you can’t combine examinining the cinematographic technique while you are understanding the story, or even watch one film in different modes at different times.

#

Watching Kieslowski make me wonder about whether it is possible just by watching a film, to know if it was an original script or a script based on a book.

#

There are novels it has proved hard or impossible to translate into film. Mann’s The Magic Mountain is often cited. There was an English language TV adaptation,  and a 1982 German effort, (IMDb) Der Zauberberg, and there are quite a few scripts that lie gathering dust. The comment in the IMDb covers the dilemma well.

#

In the UK, on BBC2 TV, there have been two documentaries on loss, grief and mourning: Michael Portillo’s Death of a Schoolfriend and Moran Mathew’s three-hour long The Fallen shown on Saturday 15 November 2008.  For me these are handy companion pieces to Kieslowski’s Blue.  One, because they show the different approaches to mourning and loss in documentary and fiction, and, two, the documentaries show the elements from which a director like Kieslowski could create a character like Julie.

Coincidently, Gary Findon,  Portillo’s school friend who took his own life at 15, was both a talented musician and had composed. More striking is how his teenage compositions were thought lost, possibly burnt by his father in an attempt to blot out the memory of his lost son. The scores were found by Mrs. Findon on top of a cupboard during filming. The last scene is Gary’s younger brother, a flautist, playing for the first time one of Gary’s compositions to the parents.  They have spent 35 years trying to bury Gary’s memory, but now in their later years have been able to do what Julie does in the film! There is a question, therefore, as to how Julie is able to turn her life around so quickly. Kieslowski’s answer is in the words of her dead husband’s now finished “Song for the Unification of Europe”, with words from 1 Corinthians 13, in Greek. There is an earlier scene where Julie and Olivier are collaborating on the unfinished score. She picks a  book off the shelf and shows him where the words come from: 1 Corinthians 13.

Krzysztof Kieślowski‘s film Three Colors: Blue (1993) draws many images and themes from 1 Corinthians 13, including allusions to appearances (“seeing through a glass”) and musical sounds. The Song for the Unification of Europe at the center of the story sets an abridged version of the original Greek text.

The rhythm of the Greek fits the music.

In a previous scene – Julie confronts her husband’s lover, Sandrine, who she only learns about after his death – she sees that Sandrine has learnt from him that she, Julie, is always capable of love, as in agape.

The Fallen shows a  kaleidoscope of ways in which members of the families of British soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan cope with their loss. It also shows a common thread in people not being able to forget and not being able to stop crying. Gary’s parents, too, admit on film they continued to mourn his loss, with in tears, for 35 years.

refs.

Kieslowski

Three Colours Blue

A review by Noel Magahey, which includes three still from the Artificial Eye DVD:

(1) Julie/Binoche in swimming pool with hands over ears, to block out the sound of the music she is hearing in her head!

(2) Face of Julie/ Binoche: in the extras or elsewhere, Binoche explains that she did not think it necessary for her to be shown naked in the love scenes. Hence, here about to make love to Olivier, she is shown framed from shoulder up exactly as it is in the film.

(3) Famous sugar cube shot. In the AI extras, Kieslowki uses this shot in a master class to discuss length of shot. He explains that a normal cube might take 7 or  8 seconds to such up the coffee, so he obtained on which did it in 4 .5 seconds.  What he doesn’t say is the whole scene – cut to cut – takes about 8 seconds. This would explain why he wants only 3 or 4 seconds for the imbibition!

(4) One of the shots of a music score, showing the pin focus and blurring around as the score is scanned by the camera, so that (presumably) only the notes being ‘heard’ are in focus.

His summary: a film of great beauty – in image, in coherence of concept and in brilliance of execution. It is the work of a true and undisputed master of the cinema.

Demystifying Three Colours Blue

by Anthony Leong

A detailed  review

Kino Kieslowski

links to dissertations, article and poetry

Links to reviews from IBDb

Blue

Review Roger Ebert

Three Colors Trilogy: Blue, White, Red (1993-1994)

Review Roger Ebert

Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue: Not Merely An Essay On Grief

Jugu Abraham

Analysis of the opening of Kieslowski’s film, Trois Coleurs: Bleu
By Matthew Sharpe

Three Colors: Blue

A Film Review by James Berardinelli

Three Colors Blue

Review by Dan Schneider

Krzysztof Kieslowski: I’m So-So

A Film Review by James Berardinelli   (The DVD has a documentary with this title filmed by Kieslowski’s friend)

Edinburgh Film Society have reviews of Three Colours as a whole and individual reviews of each film.

Film

What is a Plot Point?




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November 17, 2008 - Posted by | art, film directors, film [its techniques], Kieslowski, Music | ,

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