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Bee’s Kieślowski Diary: Three Colours: White

The next stage in the Three Colours trilogy is White, which is about equality. If Blue was an anti-tragedy, then we can best describe White as an anti-romantic comedy. As Roger Ebert put it,  “In the trilogy, “Blue” is the anti-tragedy, “White” is the anti-comedy, and “Red” is the anti-romance. All three films hook us with immediate narrative interest. They are metaphysical through example, not theory: Kieslowski tells the parable but doesn’t preach the lesson”

This isn’t to say that White isn’t a funny film; it’s actually a very amusing film which is probably best described as an honest comedy from Krzysztof Kieślowski. White may be the most accessible film in the trilogy, and after the heavy Blue, this film feels like a chance to breathe and to collect ourselves before we finish with Red.

The film opens with a brief, seemingly irrelevant scene of a suitcase on an airport carousel, at first we are unsure what this all means, but be patient, as all will become clear. White’s main character is, Karol Karol, mild-mannered hairdresser (Zbigniew Zamachowski) who is late for a court hearing.

Despite his difficulty in understanding French, Karol is made to understand that his wife Dominique (Julie Delpy) does not love him. The grounds for divorce are humiliating: Karol was unable to consummate the marriage. Along with his wife, he loses his means of support (a beauty salon they jointly owned), his legal residency in France, and his passport.

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After being kicked out by his ice-cold wife, Karol resorts to begging in the Metro, playing tunes on his comb for money. There, he meets another Pole called Mikołaj (Janusz Gajos), who is also a long way from home. Mikołaj is everything that Karol isn’t, a successful business man who is married with children. He offers Karol a job consisting of killing someone who wants to be dead but does not have enough courage to do it himself.

At first, Karol is reluctant to take the job, but when he discovers that Dominique has quickly moved on and there is nothing left for him in France, he decides to return home and carry out the killing. Through a hazardous scheme, Mikołaj helps him return to Poland hidden in the suitcase which is shown at the beginning of the film.

In a hilarious twist of fate, the suitcase is stolen by baggage handlers who believe the suitcase contains something valuable. Karol is beaten up and chucked into a rubbish heap, as he recovers, he stares around at the vast snowy landscape declaring he’s home. He returns to his brother’s hairdressing salon, which now has a neon sign which proves that they have moved on with the times.

Karol could go back to a life of hairdressing, but he’s after something much more out of life. He becomes a bodyguard for a local ‘gangster/businessman’, and discovers their scheme to purchase different pieces of land that they knew were going to be targeted by big companies for development and resell for large profits. Karol beats them to it, and then tells his ex-bosses that if they kill him all his estate shall go to the Church, and they are therefore forced to purchase all the land from him.

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Karol is becoming the version of himself that his ex-wife had always sought after. He hasn’t forgotten his promise to Mikołaj, but it turns out that it is his new friend who wants to die. However, Karol manages to change his mind and show Mikołaj, that life is worth living.

Even when Karol was at his lowest point, he still kept going. Karol’s secret was this need to prove to his wife that he could be in a position of equality with her which he had never achieved in France. Love is messy in Kieślowski’s cinematic universe.

Karol’s plan to seek revenge on his wife is unpredictable, as the narrative unfolds we are left puzzled at how these pieces will fall into place. They do, and then we are left wondering did she truly deserve what Karol puts her through. Karol isn’t a bad character, he can be kind and thoughtful. But, he is an unreliable narrator and we don’t really get to see Dominique’s perspective on their relationship.

The end of the film poses more questions rather than answers, but is open to many interpretations. Personally, I believe that Dominique and Karol need each other as they balance each other out. Karol’s elaborate plan to see revenge is all about how exploiting the system, he even purchases a corpse from Russia. With White, Kieślowski is reflecting on how corrupt Poland has come and how capitalism has allowed people to buy anything they desire.

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Like Blue, we see the extensive use of the colour that the film is named after. When Karol wistfully remembers his wedding day, we see Dominique dressed in white and bathed in white light. We can read this as Karol recalling how pure their relationship used to be.

And when we see Dominique in the present day, she is dressed in black, the complete opposite of white. Karol also has a white bust of a beautiful woman, that breaks midway through the film, he painstakingly puts it back together. Perhaps an indication of what he hopes to achieve with his plan for Dominique, that somehow, he can break her and repair her. After all, beauty is superficial.

Overall, White is often regarded as the weakest film in the trilogy, but that is hardly fair. White has a lot to analyse and a lot of themes to discuss. This is a highly enjoyable film, set in a bleak world, where things aren’t in black and white.

In the end, we see that Dominique is now dressed in grey. She has gone from being depicted in white to black, and now to grey, showing us that people are complicated beings. We are neither truly good or truly evil, and we have the potential to grow as individuals.

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