Three Colours: Red (Trois couleurs: Rouge)
France/Poland (1994) Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
Geneva based model Valentine Dussaut (Irene Jacob) sees her life enter a change of pace when she accidentally runs over a dog which belongs to a retired judge Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant). Kern is seemingly unconcerned about Rita, the dog, and tells Valentine to take her home after which she learns that Rita is pregnant.
Returning to inform Kern, Valentine discovers Kern is spying on his next door neighbours and eavesdropping on their phone conversations. Kern also picks up phone conversations between Valentine’s neighbour Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit) and his girlfriend Karin (Frederique Feder). Despite her disgust Valentine finds her drawn to Kern and an odd friendship develops between the two.
The final film in the Three Colours trilogy also turned out to be Krzysztof Kieslowski’s final ever film, something he prophetically announced during filming as he died two years later. In keeping with the trend of the previous films Blue and White, Red takes the subject from the French Revolution ideal of fraternity as its central theme, taking a look at relationships in all their forms, from the romantic to the plutonic and how they can affect people indirectly as well as personally. Style wise it is something of a cross between its predecessors, combining the storyline focus of White with the subtleties and allusions of Blue.
The central relationship under scrutiny is that of Valentine and Kern, a slow burning one which is more of an accidental meeting of two lonely souls than a well matched couple on course for love. Kieslowski teases us with the suggestion that their meeting was somehow fate, a theory which becomes more plausible as the film progresses. Valentine is already in a relationship but her boyfriend is in London, his paranoia about Valentine’s actions not well hidden and taking its toll on her.
Taking on Rita starts to fill a small gap in her life in her boyfriend’s absence but the dog has other ideas and runs back home to Kern. Despite the disgust and pity Valentine feels for Kern for his spying, she is intrigued by him and subsequent visits see him open up to Valentine, something he begins to treasure. Kern’s attitude towards his subject is born out of his past; the interest in his neighbours is based on professional curiosity while his pursuit of Karin appears more personal.
Despite their proximity Valentine and Auguste, who is a trainee judge, never cross paths although they are tenuously connected by other means. Karin works as an operator for a personal weather report service which Kern calls on a regular basis, striking up something of a rapport, leaving Kern to know more about Karin than Auguste does.
Kieslowski is careful to ensure these near misses are never contrived and that the reveal of the connections is subtle, leaving clues throughout the film for the keen observer to piece together. Kern’s cynicism about human behaviour and fate serves as a philosophical centre piece for the plot, explored with Kieslowski’s keen eye, neatly bringing everything together for the final scene – which incorporates the now requisite cameos from the stars of the other films.
Once again, the eponymous colour is a highly featured aspect of the film’s aesthetic from the colour of cars, to Valentine’s outfits and most strikingly, the chewing gum advert she does a photo shoot for (which gets a fantastic reprisal at the end of the film). This would be a tacky ploy in other hands but Kieslowski marks it a charming and acceptable recurring motif which adds to the overall beauty of the visuals, being obvious without being obvious.
Speaking of beauty, the stunning Irene Jacob proves she is more than just a pretty face, bringing the humanity to this film to balance out Jean-Louis Trintignant’s nuanced portrayal of the disillusioned and emotionally broken Kern.
The Three Colours Trilogy, and indeed Kieslowski’s film career, ends on a high with another slice of intelligent, emotional and inventive slice of evocative cinema in Red. While all three films work just as well as standalone pieces, it is advised to watch them as a trilogy, not just to get the cross references with the other films but to fully appreciate the concept of the three themes being addressed and why this trilogy is so highly regarded.