Kieslowski’s Women

Documentary filmmaker by training, Krzysztof Kieslowski had expressed an array of moral themes through female beauty at least since his Decalogue television series (1988). International audiences first saw his eye for detail and its power to render inscrutable concepts in 1991’s The Double Life of Veronique. The film follows the lives of two women at their crossroads, each played by Irene Jacob: Veronique, who makes the necessary compromises and lives, and Weronika, who flies too close to the sun and falls:

In Blue, the fist installment of the three-color trilogy (1993-1994), Kieslowski works with the earthy Juliette Binoche. The hardness of her character lets her survive a horror that would have destroyed a weaker woman, but the story is about her letting go of her pride to find grace in humility:

In White, Julie Delpy’s angelic radiance belies her cruelty. An even more cruel comeuppance makes her a woman again. In this flashback scene, she’s downright beatific:

Red once again features Irene Jacob personifying feminine selflessness. As I mentioned in an earlier post, there is a scene in which Jacob’s character tells her confidante, a cynical retired judge, that her younger brother is a heroin addict and she wants to help. His advice to her: Être. Just be. She’s confused by his answer, so he repeats: être. As I also noted then, this is not over.

Each of the installments of the trilogy focuses on its respective theme liberté, égalité, and fraternité. That said, I see another dimension to Kieslowski’s nominally Revolutionary themes: a vision that a reunified Europe had an opportunity to become whole by reconciling its humane but frivolous half with its spiritually raw, debased other half.

Short-term, things have worked out a bit differently, but the trilogy ends on a prophecy. Foreshadowing the present cataclysm, the events in Red culminate with a tempest and a new day for its survivors.

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13 thoughts on “Kieslowski’s Women

  1. Pingback: Kieslowski’s Women | Reaction Times

  2. Think I mentioned once that ” Double Life” was my damn near review debut in local weekly. …. TOTAL cluelessness topped with embarrassing dollops of verbal bluster. Thank GOD this was early days of digicomm posterity – I’ve yet to find online evidence of my transgression. Ouch!

  3. I saw it not long after it came out and liked it but could’t tell you what it was. The movie was unlike anything I’ve seen. A lot of things were implied and they were just out of my grasp.

  4. What was surprising to me much later, and a testament to the actress’s and the director’s skill, was the contrast between the kind of pure and quiet quality of Irene Jacob’s character in Veronique and Red, and her bubbly natural personality in her interviews on Youtube.

  5. The way the attraction felt by the judge for the women in Red is painted is so subtle. However, I think the film’s ending is pessimistic (but I watched it years ago and am not sure).

    “makes her a woman again”

    Nice way to define the “but now you’re screaming more than on the phone while he fucked you” thing.
    Overall, I think the White episode is the deeper in meaning.

  6. Perhaps these are available at the library. I saw the one with Benoche when it was in the art house theaters. The one scene i recall is her eating some ice crew outside at a public fountain. She was a complex character and coming to grips with something.

    I can’t recall the movie so much as my own experience of life at the time, which was 20+ years ago. I knew that it was an important artsy movie thing and that i was supposed to get something out of it.

    That sort of culture is pushed on the educated classes as a coming-of-age passage: but as such it is not a natural phenomena.

  7. The movie Before Sunrise starred Juliette Delpi with Ethan Hawke, and was a big deal subsequent to those movies.

    Ethan Hawke was supposed as the American actor qualified to work with those top-shelf artsy Euro chicks like Delpi.

  8. “That sort of culture is pushed on the educated classes as a coming-of-age passage: but as such it is not a natural phenomena.”

    This statement could some elaboration, but it is a good starting point. It is unlikely i was the only 20-something in that there art-house audience looking more for status, rather than a sincere appreciation of the narrative and cinematic exhibition.

  9. — However, I think the film’s ending is pessimistic (Your Favorite Gamma)

    The build-up to the storm was very ominous in how it was filmed. At the end, the only survivors of the Channel ferry disaster were the main characters from all three Colours installments and an unnamed French (?) bartender. While the final frame of Red was a still image of Irene Jacob resembling her modelling photo as she was being guided by rescue crews, there was an implied “after the storm” conclusion to the series. Back in the mid-90s, there was no sense of doom in Western Europe. Now, the storm scene and the build up to it comes off as prophetic.

    — Perhaps these are available at the library. (Elk)

    Most are available on Youtube in full length and with English subtitles. You can ask a librarian to order any item from another library or even purchase it. Most of this can be done online.

    — i was the only 20-something in that there art-house audience looking more for status, rather than a sincere appreciation of the narrative and cinematic exhibition (Elk)

    Same here, sort of though I was one of many 20-somethings. Still, I found the movies compelling without being able back then to explain why. The Decalogue is more straightforward and more intense too. Funny thing is, Kieslowski was in some ways a Western-style liberal, as that offshoot of humanism was aspirational to many behind the Iron Curtain. For example, he was against the death penalty. Yet, as I point out, the artistic process is not rational. Artists and philosophers occupy opposite poles of human endeavor. The artist is a passive conduit to higher truths, and on that count, Decalogue 5 (“Thou Shalt Not Kill”) while probably intended as a powerful indictment of capital punishment, in fact affirmed the moral rightness of executing a murderer.

  10. PA, Red is my favorite film of all time. I probably have an rudimentary (for now) appreciation for it, as in one of my many personalities, I’m a filmmaker and had always thought a “close encounters” type film (guy and girl) would be awesome and low and behold, saw Red in an intro to cinema class in college.

    At that time, I was gung-ho on action films and the like. I saw Red and that changed everything. That film blew me away and the way it ends to this day still sticks with me. As much as I love it, I don’t watch it all that often–kinda like not wanting to overplay a favorite song of yours–but each time I do, I glean something that I hadn’t before.

    To this day, no other film has had as much of an impact on me as Red did. (Well, in a small way, The Dark Knight was somewhat like that the first time I saw it, but I was half-baked when I saw it, so that skewed the experience a bit)

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