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19 October 2005

Three Colors: White (1994)

Zbigniew Zamachowski (Karol), Julie Delpy (Dominique), Janusz Gajos (Mikolaj)

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski

Polish title: Trzy kolory: Bialy

From Hollywood Video: "A French woman divorces her Polish hair- dresser husband because he cannot consummate their marriage. He returns to Poland, becomes a successful businessman, and schemes to get back his ex-wife."

The second of Kieslowski's Three Colors series, White follows Blue and makes a 175-degree turn away from its predecessor. If you believe the intentional references to "liberté, égalité, fraternité," then this is the film about equality. Equal how? Perhaps that one lover has the same right to revenge and the same potential for duplicity as the other. It's a sick sort of equality, but this was a wicked, funny, sick sort of film.

(In hindsight, that would mean that Blue was about Julie's freedom - from a past in which her husband had a mistress, her soul-crushing grief, her self-imposed distance from Olivier, and the falsehoods concerning the actual composer of her husband's music).

But back to White. The color white is the color of purity. Wedding gowns. Virginity. Innocence. Yeah... Dominique was none of those things, despite Karol's warm-and-fuzzy memories of their wedding day. She leaves him with no money and no passport, and then she burns down her salon in order to get Karol in trouble with the French police. He flees to Warsaw... in a suitcase. Slowly, he recovers his purpose, and his single-minded focus on making money becomes the tool to bring Dominique back into his life.

Despite many reviews that bill this film as one of revenge, (even the tagline on the front of the DVD says "There's nothing sweeter than revenge"), I saw it differently. Karol loves Dominique. He loves her beyond all reason. He takes drastic steps to guarantee her return to Poland, and she stays in Poland for reasons I will not disclose here for fear of spoiling the finale for everyone. His plan was not one of revenge but of unrequited and unflagging devotion, and in the end they are equals indeed. They cannot love each other, but they cannot love anyone else. Neither can be free of their relationship. Marriage couldn't hold Dominique (the movie opens with their divorce), but Karol finds the means of doing so. That, I believe, was his goal - not revenge.

Julie Delpy plays a cold, nasty little whore, but her part is sooo tiny. Why is she on the cover? Oh yes, because she's radiant. She's the idol, Karol's fair porcelain goddess, while Karol is a man so inconspicuous that he can walk the streets of his neighborhood completely unrecognized. Polish star Zbigniew Zamachowski was so good in this role as a sweet mixture of spinelessness, resolution, desperation, compassion, and ingenuity. He was the driving force and the gentle soul of the film, much like Juliette Binoche's lonely, grief-stricken face propelled the drama of Blue.

Oh, and white is also the color of le petite mort, a brilliant little flash when Karol finally gets it done! Now on to Red.

Blogger Mircalla said...

I am not sure what you mean with le petite mort, and whether you can reveal more than this, but a white wall is always associated in my mind with death.

[This reminds me of a book, Die Wall (the Wall) by Haushofer, which I recommend you vividly.]

My word verification was oqegnut
:o )

Blogger carrie_lofty said...

Le petite mort (the little death) is a French phrase for orgasm. When Karol finally manages to sleep with Dominique, the screen flashes a langorous, splendid white as they achieve their sexual release.

So you weren't that far off in associating it with death ;)

Anonymous Pacze Moj said...

I've always wondered how concerned Kieslowski was with the politics of a European Union.

In Blue, there was the musical composition (I can't remember the actual title) about a unification of Europe. And White, besides being 99% (or more) what you say in your review, struck me as being about a kind of European equality. Karol travels only a few hundred kilometres in the film, but France is a completely different world from Poland. Was Kieslowski thinking about a type of entrapment and equality above the characters, and about nations...

Probably not. Hehe.

Blogger Mircalla said...

Thanks. Now I remember another association: when i was studying John Donne at Uni, our prof explained us the at that time it was common believe that sex would weaken the body and make you blind... That's why it is called la petit mort. And also that any separation is a little death...

Blogger carrie_lofty said...

Pacze, you say "Karol travels only a few hundred kilometres in the film, but France is a completely different world from Poland." I think that the "worlds apart" aspect is not that far-fetched. When he emerged from his suitcase, he was greeted by Russians in a snowy landscape - suddenly, when contrasted with Paris, Poland looks like Siberia. He returns home, but he is exiled from the forward-moving, urban life of Paris and from Dominique's love.

I also liked the opening few minutes: the suitcase being abruptly and callously pushed along by a conveyor in an airport, while Karol is treated similarly by the legal system of a foreign country. The parallels with the opening credits were hard to miss.


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