Family Plot, Eyes Wide Shut, A Prairie Home Companion, F For Fake, Gertrud, Not Yet, Saraband… Whilst the final films of major directors tend to be of variable quality -ranging from anemic repetition of former glories, to ground breaking masterpieces – even in the above list – with many more examples probably at the back, front and sides and middle of your mind – the experienced cinephile of course knows that such analysis is a dead end.
To deal with the above: Hitchcock was planning another film, Kubrick never wanted to stop, likewise with Altman. Welles was always spinning too many plates to ever conceive of never making films, etc, etc. Most filmmakers do not walk off into the sunset and take up golf. They are retired rather than choose to retire.
Perhaps the act of creating movies is simply too much fun or addictive to the point of not wanting to deny yourself. No, directors don’t retire…
Except Krzysztof Kieślowski. He did retire, claiming that he had said all that he desired to, that he didn’t want to go on and end up repeating himself – and also that filmmaking wasn’t an honourable profession anyway.
The latest director to threaten to retire has been none other than Ken Loach. I would like to think that Kieslowski, if he yet still lived, would be spearheading the petition to the appropriate cultural authorities to forbid such a move, mindful of the high regard with which he spoke of Loach in his lifetime.
“The story of Three Colours: Red is something that you have to discover for yourself.”
Kieslowski’s swansong was the Three Colours Trilogy and the final film was Three Colours: Red, a personal favourite and a prime contender for greatest of the last thirty years lists. It is also a masterpiece.
The story of Three Colours: Red is something that you have to discover for yourself; trust me, at this point a plot synopsis would add nothing to the debate. Red is a film that you should see only knowing the basics, and basically, it is a film about the need for communion, to share feelings and experiences with other humans; empathy, goodness, decency and compassion. Love.
The previous films in the trilogy, Blue and White, are based on the concepts of Liberty and Equality, whilst Red centres on the notion of Fraternity, but all three films embrace such concepts in only the widest of senses. These three words embody the ideals of the French Revolution and are the starting point for Kieslowski’s final observations on the world that he was to leave behind only a few years later. Almost. What follows is not a discussion on French history, a subject that I know nothing about, but a personal appreciation.
I first saw this film some twenty something years ago during its first run in the esteemed company of the editor of this site. It was his choice, not that I was that sceptical. As a result of his discrimination I ended up having one of the greatest cinematic experiences of my lifetime. Until recently, I still had the ticket stub, a prized possession that…sort of slipped through my fingers. Fate perhaps.
“Take any sequence from the film and you will be able to feel it deeply.”
The order in which to see the trilogy was correct as well: Red first, then Blue and White in either order, only then a viewing in the correct sequence. This is not to disparage the earlier instalments; both are monumental works, and the whole a humbling work of art that makes you wonder how people can create such things. Instead the above is merely to suggest an evenings binge viewing. It will be approximately five of the best hours in your artistic appreciation. So why is Three Colours: Red so great?
At this point it would be usual to talk about cinematography, acting, the accomplishment of the screenplay, the editing’s rhythm and construction, the overall themes and feelings of the film. I’ll leave all of that to you. The above pints are worthy of note, merit and celebration… it’s just that other things matter as much and more. Consider the following…
Three Colours: Red premiered at the Cannes film festival and it was here that the director announced his departure from the filmmaking scene. Whilst it was widely assumed that it would win the top prize, Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction walked away with all the glory. I think that this was quite right, it is a brilliant film.
Not only that, but I think that Kieslowski was probably relieved, certainly not bitter. In other words, the film sneaked through and retained yet more of its’ infinite virtue by not winning a major award. Think of it like this: make Three Colours: Red a ward, a ward of your cinematic heart and soul. Never will such guardianship be so rewarding and special.
Take any sequence from the film and you will be able to feel it deeply. But also, should you care to engage in such matters, deploy any level of analysis that you want and have it pay rewards. The only expression that I can find for this is considered filmmaking. Red is virtual textbook on such matters; it manages to tell its own story and yet integrate the other films in a cohesive manner.
“Kieslowski gets your heart and head and changes the world around you whilst you were in the dark enjoying his movies.”
The variations of, repetitions on and nudges towards a concise message, whilst retaining openness to viewer interpretation and, no doubt, what actually happened whilst the film was made, are exquisite. Kieslowski would have made a hell of a teacher. Perhaps the best testament to this film’s ability to fuse form and dramatic content came from none other than Stanley Kubrick.
In one of his final communications with the public the great bearded director – Kieslowski is the great spectacled director – provided an introduction to the published screenplays of another Kieslowski masterpiece, The Decalogue. He wrote about ideas so deep and powerful, yet so subtle and deftly handled that they bypass your conscious mind and penetrate your actual soul.
Kieslowski gets your heart and head and changes the world around you whilst you were in the dark enjoying his movies, Red in particular. That’s how good this level of film directing actually is.
Finally, consider the world in which we currently live… On the verge of ecological catastrophe, with political corruptness, ineptitude and indifference utterly rampant… the gap between the rich and the have poor stretched to virtual astronomical distances… not to mention the extent to which we are all encouraged to, at the very least, dislike each other a little bit more and more, and in a multiplicity of nefarious ways… Even the present situation in this country with Brexit…
Three Colours: Red, even though it will be twenty five years old/young this May, seems to acknowledge, synthesise, foretell and set much, if not all, of the above apart from its main considerations. You cannot find peace by avoiding life, it seems to say, and the first step in engaging with life is to bind yourself to the world of other people, to open up and give… in the end though, it is all about the endings…
“Three Colours: Red is simply one of the greatest filmworks ever made.”
If Kieslowski ends Three Colours: Blue by suggesting that the idea of personal freedom can be just another, and less desirable, prison in terms of simple human relations. And concludes Three Colours: White by playfully and emotionally asserting that, at least in his view, the notion of parity in relationships, especially of the romantic variety, is something of a double edged sword, to say the least. The question arises as to how he will close Three Colours: Red.
I won’t spoil it for you other than to say that despite some of the moral considerations implicit in the final minutes – and they are not difficult to watch in the manner of the more recent onslaught of some films – Kieslowski remains utterly true to his chosen theme. In the final exchange of glances and looks, direct, indirect and filtered through a television screen – and the image of the Sun setting, something that would simply be trite in other hands – perhaps what is suggested is that we don’t really want freedom and equality at all. There is very little fun and only a limited amount of love in that. What we all want is brotherhood, excusing the masculine connotations please.
The prime contender for the greatest film of the past thirty years? In any event, Kieslowski went too soon, but at least got some time to himself first. Not that he ever claimed to be tortured. He was working away on film scripts when he passed, retirement not being all that after all. He had no plans to return to directing though…
At the beginning of the above paragraph and the end of the first of this piece I think that I spoke too soon, and indeed with more restraint that is necessary: Three Colours: Red is simply one of the greatest filmworks ever made. You were a genius and a workman Mr Kieslowski, my favourite humanistic director, rest in peace and thank you for your films, especially this one.