This first film in the loosely connected Three Colors trilogy (the others being White and Red, which combine to form the colors of the French flag and stand for liberty, equality, and fraternity, each of which matches with its movie in obvious and not-so-obvious ways), Three Colors: Blue is an odd duck. On the surface, it’s just a story about an emotionally distraught woman who decides to live life completely on her own after her husband and daughter die in a car crash. While that’s not a bad story idea, it isn’t exactly ground breaking stuff, either. What elevates it, then, into a really great movie is the performance from Juliette Binoche and fantastic direction in the use of visuals and sounds from director Krzysztof Kieślowski.
Binoche doesn’t play her emotions loudly or with a whole lot of passion, even. For a person who recently went through a trauma, she’s surprisingly evenhanded. After she realizes she’s free (ah, Liberty) she cuts herself off from everybody that knew her before the accident and attempts to live in total solitude – in the middle of a city. It’s easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle, though, and for a few moments in the film we see her content. Then, of course, the real world butts back in, whether it’s by old friends and lovers or new neighbors, it becomes increasingly obvious that she can’t just be herself. And she can’t really forget what happened to the man and daughter she loved. On a few occasions when she’s reminded of them by a sight or sound or piece of dialogue, the film will fade to black and a piece of music (ostensibly being written by her late husband for the unification of Europe, but all signs point to her being the real author of the piece) will blare over the soundtrack. These moments of memory are played with Binoche’s constant perfection and work really well in the film thanks to Krzysztof Kieślowski’s fantastic hold on his technique.
Throughout the film we see and hear repeated motifs. It’s raining in half of the film and in the other half she’s swimming in the bluest pool imaginable. I’ve always found water to be a really freeing substance. Get enough of it and you’ll float free for a moment from gravity’s evil grasp, when it falls from the sky it wipes the slate clean and allows for a fresh coat of paint to be applied to the world. It’s no wonder, then, that Binoche is surrounded by the stuff. Even her light, the only object she takes with her into the city on her pilgrimage of independence, looks a lot like a globe of water, each dangling strand of beads a drop of frozen water. Kieślowski frames Binoche behind that light a few times and at once frees her from her surroundings and traps her within it’s ever-shifting facets. There’s the music, too, since this film doubles as a movie about creating art. It’s a beautiful piece and it plays a pivotal role throughout the film, a constant reminder that she lived before and is still living now. Street performers even seem to know it. When it forms the backing to the film’s final montage it’s no surprise, but it is super great. We return to each of the characters we saw throughout the film and are reminded that even a person trying to be free of other people must necessarily impose themselves and be imposed upon by those very people. We are humans, and we crave connection. Music can do that (it was being written for the EU celebrations, after all, and meant to be played in each of the 12 countries forming that Union), and movies can, too.