Krzysztof Kieslowski | Interview | A Short Film About Killing | Three Colours Trilogy
Very few directors are anything like their films: more than often they are just the opposite in character and appearance. But Krzysztof Kieslowski, whom I met at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, where the last part of his trilogy THREE COLOURS RED (1994) was shown, was exactly like his films, at least his last four, including THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE (1991). He was sophisticated, subtle, moralistic without being judgemental, detail obsessed, reserved to the point of shyness and a little evasive when it came to pragmatic questions about everyday life or anything that could be construed as political or ideological. It was very difficult to imagine this being the same man who worked for a long time as a documentary filmmaker in Poland, where he was greatly influenced by Wajda’s realistic style. After studying at the famous Lodz film school (that rejected him twice before finally accepting him) he embarked on a series of documentaries and had to be pushed into making feature films.
In his DEKALOG (1989/90) films, the last one of which he shot in Poland, he had already started to take the positions of the observer, letting the narrative develop without any psychological motivations – he is just the fly on the wall. As he commented “I am only interested in humans, but not in motives, it is not our good intentions which are important, but the most stupid accidents that are interesting.”
And accidents do happen in THREE COLOURS, the characters are literally overwhelmed by them. Like Julie (Juliet Binoche) in THREE COLOURS: BLUE who loses her composer husband and her daughter in a car accident at the beginning of the film (the ball popping out of the car wreck is three coloured: red, blue and white). When later she enters the Palais de Justice in Paris, she accidentally drops into a divorce hearing of a Polish/French couple: Karol and Dominique, the central characters of THREE COLOURS WHITE (1994).
As an example of Kieslowski’s obsession with the smallest details, the story goes that in the scene when Olivier (her husband’s assistant, who is in love with her) has tracked down Julie, but is ignored by her, there is a close-up of Julie allowing a sugar cube to soak up her coffee. Deciding that the sugar cube had to soak up the coffee in precisely 5 seconds, Kieslowski had his assistant director test multiple brands to find one that took just the correct time.
Julie then gets on with her life, looking after her husband’s mistress and her unborn child, giving them away valuable property during the housing crisis at the time. When I asked Kieslowski if this generous present would seem unfair at a time when people were fighting for decent housing, he was adamant. “Look, today we are all more or less the same, when we need a dentist, we go there. There is no equality – everybody has enough”.
The absence of any real equality he set out to prove in his drama THREE COLOURS: WHITE. Karol and Dominique are a married couple in Paris, but Karol has become impotent – the pressure of being with his beautiful and rich wife being too much for him. He re-emigrates to Poland, where he makes a fortune on the black market, invites Dominque to see him, fakes his own death for which she is, as intended, convicted, but falls in love again when visiting her in prison. WHITE, so Kieslowski says, “shows, that there is no possibility of equality ever. But there is a possibility of ‘brotherhood’, which is shown in the final segment of the trilogy THREE COLOURS: RED.
In THREE COLOURS: RED, the fashion model Valentine (Irene Jacob) is rescuing the dog that belonged to a judge (Jean Louis Trintignant), who shows no emotion on being reunited with his animal. We learn, that he eavesdrops on neighbours’ and strangers’ conversations and has very few close human relationships. But Valentine manages slowly to get through the armour the judge has built around himself. And the equality here? Well, all the main participants of the trilogy get together, unknown to each other, on an English ferry, which sinks. Only seven are rescued. Needless to say that Kieslowski warned not to give away the end in an atypically pragmatic way: “Don’t tell how the films end. Then nobody will buy a ticket!”
When asked, if the three colours red, white and blue signify Freedom, Equality and brotherhood, the ideals of the French revolution, Kieslowski is rather dismissive: “The money for these films came from France, so we thought about the colours of the Tricolore, and the ides of the revolution, for which many people fought and died. But we were very naïve, because we thought the French would still adore these ideals. Like Poles with the Eagle and the blood. But this was not the case, so if the money would have come from Germany, we would have constructed a black-red-gold metaphor.”
Kieslowski is well-known for his long time spent in the editing suite. Asked why, he answered “This is my favourite phase of the filming process. Only whilst editing do I have everything under total control.” Asked if he had difficulty eliminating footage to produce the end film he says “I am trying to take more and more away, so that in the end only the really core of the action is left. But one always thinks that the last version is the best, but if you try again maybe?…” He tried, once, to have 17 different versions of THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE distributed in Paris cinemas – the producer did not take gladly to this idea. Surprising really.
THREE COLOURS: RED
Dir.: Krzysztof Kieslowski; Cast: Irene Jacob, Jean Louis Trintignant; France 1994, 99 min.
Exploring the virtues symbolised by the French Flag: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity – the trio of stories is also about love and loss and defined the art-house movement of the nineties with their cinematic quality and emblematic humanity that ranged from tragedy through to comedy. Exploring the experiences of a group of loosely interconnected characters the trilogy garnered an impressive array of awards at the major European film festival winning the GOLDEN and SILVER BEARS at Berlin and the GOLDEN LION at Venice culminating in three Academy Award nominations.