Krzysztof Kieślowski: One Color, 21 Moments, A Thousand Times Goodbye

As a young screenwriter, impressionable and ambitious, I was capable of soaking up inspiration like a sponge. Beyond the passion for writing and watching and talking about and thinking about films, the whole screenwriting process was still a huge learning curve, my feet were still being found and my own artistic style was yet to be fully discovered. Those who knew me back then, read my words, probably know I was influenced by the likes of Hal Hartley, Whit Stillman, Jean-Luc Godard, and still am today some twenty plus years on. Perhaps one filmmaker imprinted his genius into my creative soul more than any other.

When I was 18 years-old a friend and I went to the local single screen cinema to witness a motion picture I fell head over heels in love with. I mean, this was no multiplex movie, so we were lucky to have this tiny alternative venue to watch the non-English films, the Mike Leigh films, the rare-and-never-to-be-forgotten films. That screen is no longer there now, hasn’t been for years, and that really is a sad thing indeed as it was a nifty little gem of a cinema. Regardless, the film in question stayed with me, as one of the finest, most evoking film experiences I have ever had, slotting its way easily into my all-time top ten – where it has comfortably remained for over 20 years. The friend I saw the movie with, if I recall correctly, claimed within minutes of leaving the cinema that it might well be the best film is has ever seen.

As my short films morphed into feature length screenplays over the college years and into university, I carried so much of what greatness I’d seen under the skin of my potential body of work. The influences on my screenwriting came without my hardly realizing. In Out of Blue, the young female protagonist puts herself through a hefty exercise routine, before glugging down a lot of water, spilling some down herself. In Beautiful Friend, the young model has a photo shoot, then discusses some of the images of her face with her photographer – later her image is printed on a huge billboard. In Ellousie, the title character, a young sorrowful woman, wanders through a quiet house, looking for the older, down-hearted, reclusive man – there will be friction between them at first but they’ll grow close. In A Gentle Rise and Fall, the central male character is called Red. Inspiration emerges in many forms.

Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Red is the masterpiece sitting alongside his collection of seminal films. Every frame, line of dialogue, every glance, look, piece of music, every emotion evoked – I mean, this is cinematic perfection. Every Kieślowski film I have seen holds a special place somewhere for me, Red is the cream of the crop, hence the following key moments from the film – there are hundreds of them, but to commemorate the great man we lost 21 years ago, thought it apt to pluck 21 for your admiration. Still so much sorrow to say farewell to this man, but my oh my is he still fueling this cinephile:

*** Spoilers Ahead ***

As he prepares to take his dog for a walk, behind Auguste the picture on the wall shows a dancer, an exact pose we see Valentine’s upper torso perform just scenes later. One of the more subtle cues to their paths crossing.

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Directly below Valentine’s apartment you may or may not notice the name Joseph on the cafe, the same name as the retired judge fate would soon have her meet.

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The beautiful Valentine as enticingly portrayed by Irène Jacob shows a rare moment of pride and joy in her work as a model, seconds before being asked to look sad for the photograph now synonymous with the movie.

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Valentine refreshes with a huge amount of water, then turns to someone off shot and wishes them “bonne journée” before leaving – a spontaneous unscripted moment that Kieślowski left in the final cut. Of course he did, it fits perfectly with Valentine’s endearing nature.

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A blink and you’ll miss it chance to see various Valentine poses before she selects the illustrious photo.

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Outside of the Judge’s house, Valentine has a should I stay or should I go moment. She eventually enters the house, choosing in some way her short-term fate.

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As the spying and prying becomes all too intriguing and involving, Valentine succumbs to her own personal urges and the Judge’s reasoning – this shot shows them on the same team, his brief glance at her when she approaches is priceless.

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Perhaps a little too much for Valentine, having crossed something of an ethical line and broken down part of her emotional wall, she weeps privately in her car as she drives home.

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At a red light, Auguste is faced with the huge banner of Valentine’s face from the earlier shoot – the neighbors still have not actually met, but he clearly is somewhat enraptured by what he sees.

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The Judge has to replace a table lamp bulb with one from the main light, obviously far too bright for Valentine’s eyes until he returns the lamp shade, but the impact of the shot is illuminating both literally and aesthetically.

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As Valentine and the Judge share a semi-celebratory drink, a rock comes crashing through the window, suggesting heavily that someone is onto his intrusive hobbies.

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Going to extreme, but necessary, lengths to see with his own eyes that his girlfriend is sleeping with another man, Auguste climbs the window ledge and gradually peers in to see what he was hoping not to.

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At the film’s climactic fashion show, there’s a beautiful moment as Valentine peers around the curtain as a child perhaps would to see if their parents have shown up for their play.

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Physically and work-wise, this could well be Valentine’s glory moment, adrift from the usual, timid persona, she is literally center stage amidst the applause and flash photography.

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To her pleasant surprise, Valentine sees that the Judge has attended the show after all, making one of his rare ventures out into the real world.

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As the judge and Valentine part, she places her hand on the glass over his at the other side in the car he is about to leave in – a completely appropriate and mutual respect.

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Showing up, and struggling, in the first two Three Colors movie, Blue and White, the hunched over old lady finally gets some assistance from the good-hearted Valentine.

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At the film’s final hurdle, a remarkable sequence has us meet some familiar faces as survivors of a ferry accident. First, with the blue sky behind her, we see Julie, and Olivier, (from Blue) being escorted from the scene.

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Next making it safely to land is Dominique, as well as Karol, (from White) once again incredibly pitched against a while background of white.

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And finally, as we and the Judge anxiously watch on, Auguste and Valentine are also safe, and for the first time have actually, finally met. The image, too, as the frame freezes, with the red in the background, is an astute but direct reference to the now classic photo of Valentine.

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Knowing Valentine is safe, and likely finding it hard to have warmed so much to her, the Judge looks through the broken window, the wry smile on his face is truly a poignant and fitting close to a wonderful movie.

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I do hope you have all enjoyed the #KrzysztofKieslowskiWeekend (of four days), would love to hear your thoughts below.

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