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Bee’s Kieślowski Diary: Three Colours: Red

I have finally reached the end of Krzysztof Kieślowski‘s Three Colours Trilogy, and I feel slightly sad to finish it. I feel slightly more sad, knowing that Red was Kieślowski’s final film, and after filming it, he announced his retirement. Kieślowski would sadly pass away in 1996, 2 years after the release of Red. Red is meant to symbolize fraternity in the French flag. The story turns the theme of fraternity around to be viewed at angles one would never suspect.

Kieslowski stated that Red was the most difficult film of the trilogy to write: “I’ve got everything I need to put across what I want to say, which is really quite complicated. Therefore, if the idea I’ve got in mind doesn’t come across, it meant that either film is too primitive a medium to support such a construction or that all of us put together haven’t got enough talent for it.” Certainly, I feel that he managed to capture what he was trying to say with Red. As the film unfolds and all the pieces fall into place, we see the end result of all of Kieślowski’s hard work.

Irene Three Colours.jpg

Red focuses on the character of Valentine (Irene Jacob) a young part-time model living in Geneva. Valentine seems content enough, although she has a controlling boyfriend who gets upset if she’s late picking up the phone. One day she accidentally knocks over a dog in her car when she becomes distracted. Valentine does the right thing, she takes the injured animal back to its owner.

The dog’s owner is an elderly, retired judge called Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who is not much concerned about the animal and would prefer not to be disturbed. Shocked, Valentine replies back with, “If I ran over your daughter, would you react the same way?” Without, missing a beat, the judge replies back with, “I don’t have a daughter, miss.”

“Auguste and Valentine seem like a perfect match but they just keep missing each other.”

Valentine leaves the Kern and takes care of the dog; later she receives money from the judge towards the vet bills. When she returns to his house after his dog leads her there, she discovers that he spends his days spying on his neighbours, by tapping into their phone calls, not for money but to feed his cynicism.Valentine nearly gives into the judge’s life when he informs her of a man who is a drug dealer, which she calls up to insult.

Valentine’s reaction to Kern’s behaviour sparks something in him, and after she leaves, he writes a series of letters to his neighbours and the court confessing his spying activities, and the community files a class action. Kern confesses to Valentine that it was her reaction which prompted him to put an end to his activity.

They form a touching friendship, and this sets the stage for another turn of events. Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit) is young judge who is in many ways a mirror image of Kern. He lives near Valentine, however they have never met, despite a few near misses. Auguste is in a relationship with Karin (Frederique Feder), but when she attends the court hearing of Kern, she meets another man. Fate has a strange way of bringing people together. Auguste and Valentine seem like a perfect match but they just keep missing each other.

The cast is wonderful; Irene Jacob manages to capture the complexity of Valentine, who on the surface seems to be quite naive in her world view; but she is a fully developed character. Her scenes with Trintignant are wonderful to watch, as their friendship grows and they begin to help each other evolve as individuals. There is a hint that in another life, the two of them might have been romantically involved, and one suspects that if this was a Hollywood film, the director may have pushed for a forced romance between the two.

This element of the accidental is a recurrent theme in all of Kieslowski’s features. It was most evident in his film The Double Life of Veronique but it is also seen here. We see how Valentine carefully, obsessively, drops a coin into a newsstand slot machine every morning. Auguste drops his exercise book on a question that comes up in his exam days later.

Auguste’s girlfriend meets another man at the court that she would have never attended if it hadn’t been for Kern admitting his behaviour. And as mentioned, there is this hint that in another life, Kern and Valentine could have been together. The judge tells Valentine: “Perhaps you’re the woman I never met”.

“It is a warning of what may come if we isolate ourselves from others and cut off communication.”

Like Blue and White, the colour red, (in which the film is name after), is everywhere. We see it in Valentine’s apartment, she often wears something red, and her soul mate Auguste drives a red jeep. Red represents love, and love is here in the form of her and Auguste relationship. But it could be read, as the love for your fellow-man. Red also represents danger, it is a warning of what may come if we isolate ourselves from others and cut off communication.

Red can also symbolize adventure and was considered by our prehistoric ancestors as the colour of fire and blood – energy and primal life forces. Red is also a magical and religious colour. It symbolized super-human heroism to the Greeks and is the colour of the Christian crucifixion.

Three Colours Red

Red features many Biblical references relating to the Gospel of Matthew. We can read the judge as an Old Testament archetype, a God-like figure. Kern most likely regards himself as being an Old Testament God, who has control over the wind and seas and predicts about people future.

However, Valentine manages to reveal to Kern, that he is no better than any of the other people he eavesdrop on, and that he doesn’t have the right to judge them. During the film, his windows are smashed by rocks (those who live in glass houses and all that), and in the film’s ending, he looks out of the broken window as if he’s seeing the world properly for the very first time.

Red feels like the perfect final film. Krzysztof Kieślowski was a genius filmmaker, who understood the beauty and the power that the visual image can have. Red‘s final scenes offer so much hope for the future. The main characters from the two earlier films come together in the last scene of Red (although that scene was the first one Kieślowski filmed when he began making the trilogy). All these characters have grown and developed, and we can all learn something from their journeys. There will never quite be another filmmaker like Kieślowski.

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