Three Colors: White (1994) - Second installment in Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski’s trilogy on the contemporary French society

Kieslowski's treatise on equality, heavy on symbolism and humor

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Three Colors: White, Trois couleurs: Blanc, Poster, Julie Delpy, Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski, Poland, Silver Berlin Bear
Three Colors: White (1994) - By Krzysztof Kieslowski
Our Rating: 9.5
IMDb Ratings: 7.9
Genre: Drama | Music | Mystery
CastZbigniew Zamachowski, Julie Delpy, Janusz Gajos
Country: France | Poland | Switzerland
Language: Polish | French | English | Russian
Runtime: 91 min

Summary: Second of a trilogy of films dealing with contemporary French society shows a Polish immigrant who wants to get even with his ex-wife.

Three Colors: White (1994) is the second installment in the late Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski’s highly acclaimed “Three Colors” trilogy—the other two being Three Colors: Blue (1993) and Three Colors: Red (1994). The screenplay of the trilogy is co-written by Kieslowski and his longtime collaborator Krzysztof Piesiewicz. The “Three Colors” trilogy is loosely based on the French ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity as represented by the French tricolor. The trilogy is widely considered as Kieslowski’s greatest work along with his Decalogue—a ten-episode television series with each of the ten episodes trying to explore and interpret one of the Ten Commandments through the means of a short fictional story. In fact, a very few would disagree that the “Three Colors” trilogy and the “Decalogue” are two of the greatest and most consummate manifestations of human expressions in the whole of cinema. Three Colors: White premiered at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival in 1994 and it won Kieslowski the Silver Bear for Best Director

Julie Delpy as Dominique in Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors: White, Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Julie Delpy as Dominique in Krzysztof Kieslowski's Three Colors: White
In White, Kieslowski deals with the subject of equality—albeit equality in marriage as depicted by the tempestuous relationship that the movie’s protagonists share. Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), a Polish citizen marries a beautiful but peremptory French woman named Domininque (Julie Delpy) and moves to Paris. But, their relationship soon falls apart as his wife files for divorce. Domininque tells that court that she wanted a divorce because Karol was unable to consummate their marriage. The court grants the divorce rejecting Karol’s pleas that he still loves Dominique, that his impotency is a temporary thing, and that he did satisfy her sexually on numerous occasions  before marrying her. The court’s verdict leaves Karol is left in a state of utter ruin as he loses everything: his wife, his money, his residency, and his friends. He doesn’t even have the money to make the journey back home and tries to make a living by playing music (using a hand made mouth organ) at a Paris metro station. While performing one of the famous Polish tunes, Karol meets a fellow countryman named Mikoaj. It is through Mikoaj’s help that he is able to return to Poland where he gets back to his old profession, that of a hair-stylist. Back at home, in the spirit of equality, Karol begins to devise a devious master plan to exact revenge on his ex-wife.

Zbigniew Zamachowski as Karol Karol, Three Colors: White, Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Zbigniew Zamachowski as Karol Karol
Zbigniew Zamachowski as Karol Karol (with his Pole friend Mikoaj), hides in the suitcase, Three Colors: White, Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
A Still from Three Colors: White
Kieslowski’s treatise on equality, “Three Colors: White” is a deeply profound work of art that’s replete with metaphors, allegory and symbolism. While the movie ostentatiously deals with marriage and the equality between men and women as pronounced by the bond of marriage, it isn’t really farfetched to imagine that Kieslowski may have actually had his eyes set on something far more contentious than marriage: politics. White can also be looked upon as a parody. There are several scenes in the movie that defy logic; while some serve the metaphorical or allegorical purpose, others only propagate humor. Take the case of a dove flying across an underground metro station to sit on Mikoaj’s lap or the case of a grown man transported to another country in a suitcase without the airport security even realizing it. Then there is a beautifully crafted sequence wherein Karol shoots the person he was paid to kill with a blank bullet instead of a real one. How did he plan it so smoothly when he didn’t even know whom he was actually supposed to shoot? Then the name Karol Karol alludes to the genre of the literary double while simultaneously reminding one of Franz Kafka.

Julie Delpy as Dominique, dressed in white, marriage scene, Three Colors: White, Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
A Still from Three Colors: White
Zbigniew Zamachowski as Karol Karol, injured, furious with his wife, plots revenge, white statue, Three Colors: White, Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Zbigniew Zamachowski in Three Colors: White
Kieslowski's cinema, heavy on metaphors, allegory and symbolism, is noted for its fragmented moments of sublime brilliance rather than an extended span of sustained grandeur. And the metaphysical, theological and spiritual allusions are so deftly blended that a less keen viewer may even fail to notice them. Music plays a pivotal part in Kieslowski's cinema. The underlining beauty of his cinema is its deceptive simplicity that’s augmented by an abundance of colors and often by a dearth of dialogue. Slowly by steadily, the viewer is sucked inside this painfully plain world until he becomes a part of it. And Kieslowski’s reclusive characters merely serve the purpose of mirrors while their futile actions are a means to help the viewer identify his true follies as he is plunged into a maelstrom of human emotions that paves the way for catharsis. Three Colors: White has all the underlining elements that make Kieslowski’s cinema click. Behind the veneer of bizarre simplicity lies a profound work of cinematic art that testifies Kieslowski’s creative genius as a filmmaker par excellence. It’s a shame that he died at a young age of 54, just two years after the completion of “Three Colors” trilogy, leaving behind a rich and lasting legacy of cinematic excellence.

Dominique (Julie Delpy) and Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) share an intimate momentThree Colors: White (1994), Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Dominique and Karol share an intimate moment
Overall, Three Colors: White is a haunting work of cinema that ranks up with the very best. Kieslowski’s riveting direction is well backed by some top-notch acting from the lead as well as the support cast. Zbigniew Preisner’s evocative music immensely adds to the poignancy of the movie. Edward Kłosiński breathtaking cinematography gives “white”— a seemingly plain color which we forget is the most complex of the lot as it is made up of all the seven colors in the rainbow—a whole new meaning and helps bring the characters to life. Kieslowski, through the "Decalogue" and the “Three Colors” trilogy, succeeded in inventing a whole new language of cinema: one that’s so subtle and yet so evocative, so minimal and yet to powerful, so definitive and yet so difficult to express. And while the casual viewer may remain unaffected by its sheer power, the acute viewer is bound to be devastated by its intellectual and visceral impact. White, which to this critic remains the most complex film of Kieslowski’s masterful trilogy, serves to be a worthy sequel to Blue and also a great prelude to the trilogy’s final installment: Red. A must watch for any film enthusiast who understands and appreciates meaningful, deeply thought-provoking cinema with a powerful universal appeal. 

P.S. Three Colors: Blue has been reviewed earlier on this blog.

Readers, please feel free to share your opinion by leaving your comments. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!  




Movies that make you think (Film Analysis by Jugu Abraham)

Three Colors: White (1994) Trailer

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  1. That poster is haunting and funny at the same time. Good review Murtaza.

  2. Thanks for sharing your valuable thoughts!!! :-)


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