Movie Review – Three Colors: Blue

Three Colors: Blue (1993)
Written by Krzysztof Kieślowski & Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski

My first thought when I decided to watch Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy was why this Polish filmmaker chose to make a series centered around the three political ideals of France: liberty, equality, fraternity. His explanation reveals a lot about how the director approaches his work. Kieślowski said he chose these themes because the funding he received to make the pictures were in francs which bear these three ideals as France’s motto. Kieślowski had no interest in making nationalistic propaganda for France, and instead, these ideas are often presented with a sense of irony in the trilogy, exploring them in ways that feel antithetical but ultimately uphold their meaning. Even stranger is that only one of these movies takes place in France; White is set mainly in Poland, while Red is about people living in Switzerland. While The Three Colors trilogy isn’t attempting to be overtly political, it is set against the backdrop of the most significant change to Europe since World War II, the formal treaties signed to create the European Union, a political body that has reshaped life in the continent. 

Julie (Juliette Binoche) experiences one of the worst things a person could: her husband and daughter die in a car accident from which she is the sole survivor. It is expected that Julie tries to kill herself early on in the story, sneaking into the hospital pharmacy and cramming pills into her mouth. The knowing, pitying gaze of the attending nurse causes Julie to spit them out and resign herself to healing & living. She doesn’t want to. We learn that her late husband Patrice de Courcy was a renowned composer who was writing a series of compositions to be performed in capital cities across Europe titled “Unity of Europe.” The public wonders what will happen to these unfinished pieces and isn’t aware that Julie goes about destroying most of her husband’s work before selling their house. She moves into a modest apartment in Paris and takes only one item with her: a hanging mobile of blue beads that belonged to her daughter.

Julie is desperate to disengage from the life she knew because continuing that would act as a constant reminder of everything she has lost. She doesn’t want to think about her past; she wants to emerge a blank slate, reborn out of that wreck. Past friends become strangers, and her mother’s Alzheimer’s, once seen as a horror, is a blessing. Julie doesn’t have to worry about her mother missing her if she doesn’t come around anymore. Julie only keeps one thing from her husband, “Unity of Europe,” and we learn she was likely the other half of her husband’s creative voice, a silent partner in the work. Throughout the film, she hears the fragments playing, often as she loses herself staring into the blue beads that bathe her world in their light.

This new identity being born is not framed as entirely good or bad. Kieślowski sees Julie as attempting to negate a necessary part of herself, moving from one system of expectations into another. Before, she was part of a wealthy class and protected from many of life’s harsh realities. Now she pivots wildly into a pseudo-Bohemian lifestyle, living nihilistically. It’s the binary extremes of the Western mind, parallel tracks of solipsism. In neither life she lived was Julie focused on anything other than herself & her status. Kieślowski doesn’t appear to say that isolation as an offshoot of grief is terrible, but attempting to smother oneself by disconnecting from humanity is suicide.

“Unity of Europe” symbolizes the unfinished life torn away from Julie. She doesn’t want it completed because, in a way that would close the chapter of the first half for her, it would be an ending of her beautiful life with Patrice and her daughter. She cannot bear it. Yet from the moment she wakes up in the hospital until the film’s end, Julie is haunted by the music. It is a loose end that she has to reckon with. Julie wants to fashion herself into something that cannot be hurt, that doesn’t feel pain. She gives herself after spotting mice in her apartment. A cat is borrowed from the neighbor, and Julie places it in the room before looking away & shutting the door with a grimace. She is vulnerable and feels suffering; the story here is about Julie learning to accept that and process it. 

At the heart of Blue is an examination of what we owe to ourselves and what we owe to the society we exist within. There is a social expectation that the music will be completed, that this is Julie’s responsibility and a way to honor her family’s deaths. But Julie is beginning to understand how much of her life was based on strangers’ expectations. The biggest shock to her system is the revelation that Patrice was cheating. Photos come out in the news of him embracing another woman, which sends Julie spiraling. Again, there are social expectations about how she is supposed to handle this, which would be centered around discretion and pretending a problem doesn’t exist. Then she finds out the woman is pregnant with Patrice’s child. 

In realizing that Patrice was never exactly who she perceived him as Julie realizes she can also be her own person. There is no need to hide away; she must move forward and shape something new out of the life she has left. Part of that is tracking down Sandrine, the lawyer who is having her husband’s baby. Julie reconnects with Olivier, her husband’s colleague who has been trying to check in on her the entire film. With Olivier, she finds something new creatively through the music & at the start of a relationship. Now “Unity of Europe” will bear Julie’s name as the composer, the first time this has happened as Patrice took all the credit before. As the music plays over the film’s conclusion, we revisit supporting characters that passed in & out of Julie’s life. They are connected at this moment, some barely more than strangers to her, but people who have been a part of this transformation. Julie smiles, still not revealing. In this way, she has found emotional freedom; she decides the course of her life and how she expresses herself.

Blue presents a contradiction worth examining in our contemporary context. We view freedom as a form of disconnection, to be apart from the world, living how we choose & free from their expectations. But this is the opposite of love in many ways. To love someone is to give over part of that freedom in exchange for that connection. Complete freedom isn’t always good, despite the hammering of American ideology on a poorly defined version of the idea. To give yourself over to something larger while still finding a way to be true to yourself is a struggle every human on this planet has wrestled with since our brains began evolving. There is no easy answer to the conundrum, but it is worth spending time contemplating, perhaps the most important thing for humanity to come to terms with. Hyper-individualism will never lead to the solutions we need to continue the existence of life on this planet, yet suppressing individual identity & expression is a form of suicide/genocide. We do not know if Julie is entirely happy with her choices, but they are her choices, and she is opening herself to the world. May we all have moments like these in our own lives someday.


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