Film lovers can embrace Blue as simply a stand alone film, or consider it as Three Colors: Blue, which is merely a first part of a monumental trilogy. Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Three Color trilogy corresponds to the three hues of the French tricolor, and also to the French national principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Blue, the first film of the trilogy is said to refer to liberty, and is generally said to be an anti-tragedy, just as White is an anti-comedy and Red is an anti-romance. The thematic and creative ideas that are in Blue are artistically challenging as the audience is to emphasize and understand Julie, a woman who chooses to erase all traces of her former life, disconnecting herself psychically and emotionally from family and friends. Immediately in the opening sequence of the film, her husband (who is a world-famous music composer) and daughter are killed in a car crash. This former life that Julie embodied is shown in just a few short images which involve her daughter’s hand holding on to a sheet of creased blue tinsel outside the car window, and of a medium shot of the daughter curiously looking out the back window as the car goes through a tunnel. After this horrific tragedy, Julie wakens as you only hear her breath on a feather as she resuscitates back to life, and the close-up of Julie's eyeball which reflects a doctor in a white suit. After a slow recovery, Julie attempts suicide which is unsuccessful, and ultimately she decides to annihilate her entire personal history by removing all the materialistic possessions that made her who she once was. After a period of emotional paralysis, Julie decides to phone her husband’s old companion who had always been in love with her, and she decides to sleep with him, to see if sex will help her feel anything. It doesn’t work, and so she moves to an obscure apartment in Paris and tries to limit herself to the bare necessities. This form of liberation from her former self will have the audience empathize with her transformation, but her husband’s music will transport Julie back to the creativity of her dead family, and will have her discover an unknown part of her husband’s existence that she never knew he had. It is this sudden discovery that will once again bring a sense of clarity and recognition to herself, which will ultimately transform Julie for the better and she will try to again regain everything she once wanted to strip away.
Driving down a freeway, a young girl's hand holds a creased blue tinsel of a lollypop wrapper out of the car window as the girl watches curiously out of the back car window while going through a tunnel. The car gets into a sudden accident and a hitchhiker named Antoine runs for assistance.
The surviving mother and wife Julie wakes up breathing on a feather, as the distorted reflection of a white coated doctor reflects in her eye. The doctor asks the patient: "Do you feel able to walk? During the...were you conscious? It's my sad duty to inform you...Do you know? Your husband died in the accident. Yes. Your daughter too."
Julie gets up and roams the hospital, and diverts the nurses attention by breaking a window so she can take head over the counter and swallow several pills attempting suicide, but fails to do so.
Julie watches her husband and daughter's funeral live from a television screen in the hospital. A reporter comes by to ask about her husband who is a famous music composer and asks where does the Concert for the Unification of Europe stand? Julie says it doesn't exist stating, "Haven't you heard? I was in an accident. I lost my daughter and husband." The reporter asks if Julie wrote her husbands music but Julie ignores the reporter and walks away.
When Julie finally recovers she returns home. When arriving home she asks for her daughter's blue room to be emptied along with the chandelier of blue beads that she tries to tear down, successfully only grasping a few beads. One of her maids Marie is heard crying and Julie asks her why she is crying and Marie tells Julie, "Because you're not. I keep thinking of them and I remember everything. How can I forget."
Oliver is a friend of the couple and also a composer and former assistant of Patrice's at the conservatory. Marie tells Olivier: "No one must know. Ever. First, you're to pay for my mother's rest home for the rest of her life. You're to see that Marie's provided for, and the gardener too. You're to sell all our possessions. The money's all to go into the same account."
Julie goes to see a woman who is in possession of all her husband Patrice's musical work. Julie takes the last commissioned, though unfinished score that her husband was currently working on and destroys it—a piece celebrating European unity, following the end of the Cold War. It is strongly suggested that Julie wrote, or at least co-wrote, her husband's last work.
After a period of emotional paralysis Julie calls up Oliver, who has always been in love with Julie. "It's Julie. Do you love me? Since when. Do you think of me? Come over if you'd like," Julie says unemotionally. Olivier arrives to Julie's now vacant home and Julie coldly orders Oliver to quickly undress. "They took everything away," she whispers to him. "Only the mattress is left."
The next morning Julie tells Olivier, "I appreciate what you did for me. But you see, I'm like any other woman. I sweat. I cough. I have cavities. You won't miss me. I'm sure you realize that now. Shut the door when you leave." When leaving her home Julie purposely rubs her knuckles over the rough and rocky hedges causing them to bleed.
Julie closes up the house she lived in with her family and takes an apartment in Paris without telling anyone. She leaves behind all her clothes and possessions, taking only the chandelier of blue beads that presumably belonged to her daughter. When the apartment tenant asks what Julie does for a living Julie says, "Nothing." She decides to sign in as her maiden name, and when upon entering her new apartment she immediately hangs up her daughter's blue beads. When she enwraps the blue tinsel of a lollypop from her deceased daughter, Julie bites down and crushes on the candy with furious anger.
While attending a local coffee shop she listens to a street performer outside playing the flute and in the evenings goes for a nightly swims inside an indoor pool. One night Julie is awakened by men outside severely beating another man in the street. The man runs up to Julie's room and rings the bell and bangs on the door. Julie doesn't answer and when things quite down Julie courageously ventures out in the hallway as the wind blows shut her apartment door locking Julie out. While locked out Julie watches Lucille (Charlotte Véry) who is having an affair with one of the neighbors above the staircase, and rests there until early morning.
The next morning the tenant helps Julie get back into her apartment while Julie is asked to sign a waiver, because the apartment attendant is getting whores in the complex (referring to Lucille from the night before) but Julie refuses to sign.
While Julie is resting with her eyes closed out on the street an elderly women is trying to deposit a bottle in a street trash-recycling bin, but the slot is a little too high for her to reach. (These sequences of the elderly woman are a link between all three films in the Three Color trilogy).
Antoine, the hitchhiker who witnessed and reported Julie's accident wants to see Julie. When meeting up with Julie Antoine shows gives her a chained necklace saying he found it after the accident. "I'd forgotten all about it," Julie says, as it was a gift from Patrice. Antoine then explains to Julie that when he opened the car door Patrice was still alive and Patrice told Antoine: "Now try coughing." Julie starts to laugh immediately recognizing the reference saying to Antoine that Patrice was telling a joke: "It's about a woman who can't stop coughing, so she sees a doctor. He examines her and gives her a pill and she swallows it. Then she asks what it was. He says, 'The most powerful laxative known to medicine.' A laxative for a cough? 'Yes' says the doctor. 'Now try coughing!' It made us laugh. The car crashed that very moment. My husband would always repeat a punch line. You returned it. Now it's yours." Julie gives the chain necklace to Antoine and leaves.
Lucille drops by to thank Julie for not signing that apartment waver because the tenant needed everyone to sign for her to be kicked out.
Olivier has been searching for Julie for several months because no one knows where she lives. After asking enough people he finally locates Julie in a coffee shop and Olivier asks her if she was running away from him. Julie watches the street performer who plays the flute get dropped off to begin his normal musical performance and Oliver says to her, "I've seen you. Maybe that will do for now." Julie recognizes the tune that the flute performer is playing and asks the flute player how he knows that music and he tells her he makes a lot of stuff up. Before resting the flute performer says to Julie, "You gotta always hold on to something," but it's unsure if Julie heard him or not.
After a rat infestation in her apartment Julie can't bring herself to kill several baby rats nestled next to their mother, and Julie asks the tenant if he had another room, but he says that it could take a few months.
Julie goes to visit her mother who suffers from Alzheimer's disease and who believes Julie is her own sister Marie-France. (Emmanuelle Riva) "I'm not your sister. I'm your daughter," Julie tells her mother. "Mother, my husband and daughter are dead. I no longer have a home. You know, I was happy before. I loved them, and they loved me. Mother, are you listening? Now I have just one thing left to do: nothing. I want no possessions, no memories...no friends, no lovers...they're all traps." (While she tells her mother this the television screen shows a man bungee jumping from an airplane.) Julie then asks her mom if she was scared of mice as a kid. Her mother says, "You weren't scared. It was Julie who was scared."
Because of the mice infection Julie asks the apartment tenant if she could borrow his cat for a few days, as she sets the cat inside to her apartment to kill the mice and its babies.
Julie goes for a swim and runs into Lucille. Lucille notices Julie had been crying (one of the first times in the film) and Julie tells her she killed a mouse. Lucille assures her she will clean up her apartment for her.
One evening Lucille calls Julie asking to see her in the middle of the night. Lucille works as an exotic dancer and Julie goes to see her at her work. Lucille explains to her how she saw her father in the audience while dancing and then he left, and Lucille thanks Julie for coming. Suddenly they both see a picture of Julie on the television as Olivier appears in a TV interview (with the one reporter earlier in the film) announcing to the media that he shall try to complete Patrice's last musical commission.
Julie asks the woman who supposedly hold's her husband's musical compositions, "Did you watch TV today? Today on TV she showed the scores I came and got from you." The lady says, "After the accident, when everything was up in the air, I made a copy. When you came for the score, I knew you'd destroy it. So I kept the copy. I sent it to Strasbourg. That music is so beautiful. One can't destroy things like that."
Julie chases down Olivier and says, "I heard you're finishing Patrice's concerto." Olivier says he thought he might try saying, "I agreed to try. I don't know if I'll even finish. I'll tell you why. I told myself, 'It's a way.' A way to make you cry, to make you run. The only way to make you say 'I want' or 'I don't want.'" Olivier asks if Julie could see what he has done so far and that he will play it for her.
At Oliver's home Julie asks Olivier who that mysterious girl was that she saw on the TV program. But Julie already seems to have an idea, as she asks Olivier if that woman shown on the TV was his husband's mistress. Olivier confirms that Patrice had a mistress for several years and that she is a lawyer who lives near Montparnasse. "What do you mean to do?" Olivier asks Julie. "Meet her" Julie says.
Julie tracks down the her husband's mistress named Sandrine (Florence Pernel), at the courthouse and when walking into the middle of a court proceeding she is quietly told to leave. (This sequence is connected to the next film of the trilogy White.) She later confronts Sandrine in the restroom and discovers that Sandrine is carrying Patrice's child. "I found out after the accident," Sandrine says. "I never wanted a child, but it happened. Now I want to keep it. You want to know where we slept together? How many times a month? You want to know if he loved me?" Julie tells Sandrine that she now knows Patrice truly loved Sandrine as she notices a chained necklace around Sandrine's neck which mirrors the one Antoine earlier found at the car crash. Sandrine confirms that Patrice did indeed love her and when she asks if Julie will hate her now, Julie simply leaves.
Knowing if she would have originally gotten her way and the musical compositions were thrown out, Julie would have never discovered of her husband's affair. Realizing it is probably better this way, this provokes Julie to resurrect her late husband's last composition, which has changed according to her notes on Olivier's work. Julie also arranges for Sandrine to have her husband's house and recognition of his paternity for the child.
Julie shows Sandrine the house. Sandrine smiles and says to Julie, "I knew it. Patrice told me a lot about you. That you're a good person. Good and generous. That that's what you want to be. That people can always count on you. Even me. I'm sorry."
That evening Julie calls Olivier to inform him that the rest of the composition is finished. Olivier decides not to incorporate the changes suggested by Julie, stating that this piece is now his music and has ceased to be Patrice's. He says that she must either accept his composition with all its roughness or she must allow people to know the truth about her composition. She agrees on the grounds that the truth about her husband's music would not be revealed as her own work. After hanging up with Olivier Julie decides to call him back. She finally reaches out for him and asks him, "You really sleep on the mattress where we...? You never told me. Do you still love me?" Olivier says he still does and when she asks if he is alone she says, "I'm coming over."
In the final sequence, the Unity of Europe piece is played (which features chorus and a solo soprano singing Saint Paul's 1 Corinthians 13 epistole in Greek), and images are seen of all the people Julie has affected by her actions. Antoine the hitchhiker who witnessed the accident, Lucille at the dance club, Julie's mother at the retirement home, and finally Sandrine in the hospital with her round belly and Patrice's baby in her womb. The final image is of Julie, crying, the second time she does so in the film, as you see a slight smile of mourning.
Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski had made most of his early work in Poland during the Cold War, which includes his 10 one-hour film masterpiece The Decalogue which are ten separate stories loosely based on the ten commandments. In 1991 he than directed The Double Life of Veronique, which is a beautifully shot parable on the mysterious nature of identity, love and human intuition. Kieslowski than created one of the greatest, if not, the greatest film trilogy in the world with The Three Color trilogy. He shot Blue and White in September of 1992 and finished with Red in May of 1993, shortly announcing afterwards his retirement. Kieslowski tragically died of heart failure in 1996 at the young age of 54, and yet he is now listed with the same recognition as other legendary film directors like Bergman, Ozu, Bunuel, Fellini, Ford, Bresson or Chaplin. With just a short span of films, Kieslowski has created some of the most spiritual and life affirming films in the world, often dealing with such existential themes as illness, death, loss and morality.
Film lovers can embrace Blue as simply a stand alone film, or consider it as Three Colors: Blue, which is merely a first part of a monumental trilogy. Director Krzysztof Kieslowski created the Three Color trilogy with co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz, who also collaborated with Kieslowski on The Decalogue. Kieslowski’s Three Color trilogy corresponds to the three hues of the French tricolor, and also to the French national principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Kieslowski assumed that these colors responded to the French Revolution (liberty, equality, fraternity), only later did he learn that it was not the case, but kept the colors for the film titles. Blue, the first film of the trilogy is said to refer to liberty, and is generally said to be an anti-tragedy, just as White is anti-comedy and Red is an anti-romance. Three Colors: Blue redefines liberty, freedom, and its tense relationship to love, and how free can someone truly be if someone else has their heart. Kieslowski shot Blue and Red in Paris, which is one of the few locations where French revolutionary history can still be felt in the streets, while White was shot in Warsaw. Kieslowski collaborated with nine different cinematographers on the ten episodes of The Decalogue, and he used the same artistic strategy when making the Three Color Trilogy, uniting with three of his favorite collaborators, each directing one part.
The thematic and creative ideas that are Three Colors: Blue are artistically challenging as the audience is to emphasize and understand Julie, a woman who chooses to erase all traces of her former life and disconnect herself psychically and emotionally from family and friends. Three Colors: Blue presents a bittersweet and poignant tale that focuses on such themes as freedom, liberation and most importantly memory. Immediately in the opening sequence of the film, Julie's husband Patrice and daughter are killed in a car crash. This former life that Julie embodied is shown in just a few short images which involve her daughter’s hand holding on to a sheet of creased blue tinsel of a lollypop out of the car window, and of a medium shot of the daughter curiously looking out the back window as the car goes through a tunnel. After the horrific accident we watch Julie recover, and then coldly isolate herself from all connections and completely erase any trace of her former life. "Now I have just one thing left to do: nothing. I want no possessions, no memories...no friends, no lovers...they're all traps."
Julie’s unsuccessful attempt at suicide leads her to annihilate her entire personal history by removing all the materialistic possessions that made her who she once was. After a period of emotional paralysis, Julie decides to phone her husband’s old companion Olivier who had always been in love with her, and she decides to sleep with him, to see if sex will help her feel anything. It doesn’t work, and so Julie moves to an obscure apartment in Paris and tries to limit herself to the bare necessities. Julie's spare apartment is a pleasant refuge for only a short period of time, as the story explores such moral questions on love, living, and what brings people together. I find it interesting that memory is such a key theme in the film as Julie's own mother suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and doesn't even recognize her own daughter, believing Julie to be her own sister Marie-France. Ironic how Julie explains to her mother about wanting to erase all the people from her past, when her own mother through the disease of Alzheimer's, has already erased Julie. (Is it a mere coincidence that the actress who plays her mother is played by the wonderful French New Wave actress Emmanuelle Riva, who starred in Hiroshoma mon amour, where she played a woman obsessed with the fear of forgetting?)
This new identity that Julie adopts aggressively to isn't necessarily a way of being cruel or unsympathetic to others, but is more a reflection on Julie's fear of learning to cope and move on with her life. Her aggressive act of independence, not relying on others can be looked as an idea of feminism, of a desire to no longer be dependent on a family unit, or a male partner. Kieslowski brings up the themes on the proper and healthy ways that an artist should live, as the film remains ambiguous on who the true musical artist of the story was, and who was the actual composer of the music that we hear. This form of liberation and spiritual solace from Julie's former self will have the audience empathize with Julie's transformation, but her husband’s music will transport Julie back to the creativity of her dead family, and will have her discover an unknown part of her husband’s existence that she never knew he had. It is this sudden discovery that will once again bring a sense of clarity and recognition to herself, which will ultimately transform Julie for the better and she will try to again regain everything she once wanted to strip away.
The music in Three Colors: Blue presents itself as a spiritual presence and strikes at key moments throughout Julie's emotional state, and Julie seems unable to escape from it; (not even holding her head under water can drown out the music). Kieslowski also suffuses Julie in blue light, and on multiple occasions blacks out and then fades back in. The music that occurs in each blackout makes time stand still as it seems to last longer during each new blackout. The music in Three Colors: Blue also seems to illustrate Julie's unsuccessful efforts to be isolated from everything, as she cannot seem to do it, such as music cannot be made with a single note but through harmony with all others. Every character seems to suggest (or represents) a different kind of music, such as the union of Julie/Patrice had a special tone, which is quite different and more raw with the union of Julie/Olivier.
Like the other films in the trilogy, Three Colors: Blue makes frequent visual allusions to its title: numerous scenes are shot with blue filters or blue lighting, and many objects are blue. When Julie thinks about the musical score that she has tried to destroy, blue light overwhelms the screen. The film also includes several references to the colors of the tricolor that inspired Kieslowski's trilogy: several scenes are dominated by red light, and in one scene, children dressed in white bathing suits with red floaters jump into the blue swimming pool. Julie's face also becomes a visual form of canvas throughout many of the dramatic shots of the film, where light beautifully reflects on her, whether its water, rain or the chandelier of her daughter's blue beads.
The non-diegetic sounds in Three Colors: Blue makes for an entirely new character all together. The first image of Julie in the hospital is not directly shown, as you only hear her breath on a feather as she resesistates back to life, and the close-up of Julie's eyeball which reflects the doctor in a white suit. Other striking sounds are the crash of the piano lid right before Julie leaves the family home, the sounds of the cat that she allows inside her apartment to take care of the mouse problem, the flute performer that Julie comfortably listens to at the coffee shop, the knocking on doors and ringing of the bell of a man who is being attacked by strangers in the middle of the night, and the wind locking Julie outside her apartment when she finally has enough courage to venture out into the hallway. They're several circular images that Kieslowski also projects throughout its images, which include the tire of the vehicle in the opening sequence of the film, the stick-game Antoine is playing within the street, the beach ball which rolls out after the crash site, the image of Julie's reflection in a spoon, the windows of the courtroom when confronting Sandrine, and the musical scores which are rolled up, creating a series of Iris effects.
A symbol common to the Three Color Trilogy is that of an underlying link or thing that keeps the protagonist linked to his/her past, and it usually involves reflected surfaces, like the shiny chandelier which is a continued reminder of Julie's deceased daughter, her daughter curiously peering out of the back of the car window, several sequences of glass that stands between Julie and other characters which symbolizes the distancing of Julie and others, (she actually shatters glass in the hospital to divert the nurses attention when attempting suicide) the swimming pool which is a temporary emotional escape, and the reflection of TV screens; as one TV screen in a club is how Julie discovers her husband's mistress Sandrine. Both TV screens shown in the two sequences where Julie visits her mother seem to either involve people either sky diving or bungee jumping, as the director is careful in showing falls with no cords at the beginning of the film but as the story develops the image of cords becomes more and more apparent as a symbol of a link to the past. In the case of White the item that links Karol to his past is a 2 Fr. coin and a plaster bust of Marianne that he steals from an antique store in Paris. In the case of Red the judge never closes or locks his doors and his fountain pen, which stops working at a crucial point in the story. In one of the most beautiful and liberating sequences in the film is the final love scene where glass is directly related to Julie, as Kieslowski presents to the audience a surreal like moment where Julie is pressed right up against or under glass.
Kieslowski's creates one of the most poignant and moving final sequences in film history, in which the Unity of Europe piece is played (which features chorus and a solo soprano singing Saint Paul's 1 Corinthians 13 epistole in Greek), and images are seen of all the people Julie has affected by her actions. (This beautiful montage sequence reuniting all its characters seemed to later be lifted and used in Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko.) There is also a circularity theme to several of the images in this final montage, which include Antoine the hitchhiker and his circular alarm clock, Lucille and the rotating stage where she works, and finally Sandrine's round belly and the baby in her womb. The music and images bring together a beautifully feel of an epiphany, suggesting hope and forgiveness; as the final image is of Julie, finally crying, (the second time she does so in the film,) as you see a slight smile of mourning form on her face.
Another recurring image related to the spirit of the Three Color Trilogy is that of elderly people recycling bottles: In Three Colors: Blue, an elderly women is trying to deposit a bottle in a street trash-recycling bin, but the slot is a little too high for her to reach, and Julie does not see her (in the spirit of freedom), in Three Colors: White, an old man also in Paris is trying to recycle a bottle but cannot reach the container and Karol looks at him with a sinister grin on his face (in the spirit of equality) and in Three Colors: Red an old woman cannot reach the hole of the container and Valentine helps her (in the spirit of fraternity). Another scene features a link with the next film in the trilogy: spotting the lawyer Sandrine, her husband's mistress, Julie is seen entering a courtroom where Karol, the Polish main character of White, is being divorced by Dominique, his estranged French wife. (This film was released before Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, even though Pulp Fiction usually gets the credit as being one of the first films to intertwine several different story threads that link to one another.) Another fascinating part of the Three Color Trilogy, is that Blue's central character is a woman, White's central character is a man, and Red's central character is a man and a woman. This might have something to say about Poland, as it didn't produce as many lead actresses then France had produced at that time. The three films in the trilogy also could be just as easily distinguished by the color of each lead actresses hair, and call the films Brunette, Blonde, Redhead.
Juliette Binoche presents a exquisitely restraining and minimal performance to the character of Julie, and the film was released at a pivotal time in Binoche's career. Her breakthrough success came with starring opposite Daniel Day Lewis in Philp Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness of Being in 1988, and she became one of the most popular art-house actresses. Kieslowski had encouraged Binoche to wear her own clothes when filming Three Colors: Blue, and she presents an aggressively masculine and slightly boyish look. Julie isn't as cold and tough as she tries to be, especially when her apartment flat is infested with baby mice, borrowing the tenants cat to get rid of them, as she can't even view the horrific consequences. She speaks to her mother about coldly disconnecting everyone and all of her past possessions, but in the very next moment she fearfully asks her mother is she was ever afraid of mice when she was a young girl. Killing the mouse and its babies seemed to bother Julie so much that when Lucille comes to visit her at the indoor pool, she notices that Julie had been crying. (It's the only moment in the film where Julie cries, until the final montage sequence.) Lucille offers to clean up the mess for her, and Julie later rethanks her by attending to her needs after Lucille runs into her father as a customer while working as an exotic dancer. Discovering that Julie's husband was not who he seemed to be allowed Julie to become less hardened on who she was and how she presented herself to others. When Julie realizes that if she would have originally gotten her way and thrown out her husband's musical compositions, she would have never discovered her husband's affair and learned the truth. When making the shocking discovery that her husband not only had a mistress, and that she was carrying his child, but that her husband had truly loved her, (it is shown when Sandrine is wearing an identical chained necklace that Olivier once bought for Julie) it must come as an emotionally excruciating and heartbreaking experience. And yet, instead of reacting harshly and negatively to the news (I know I would), this unfortunate discovery somehow provokes the good in Julie. It gives her the inspiration to resurrect Patrice's last composition, which has changed according to her notes on Olivier's work. Julie also arranges for Sandrine to have her husband's house in recognition of his paternity for the child. Even though Julie presented herself throughout the film as a cold, aloof and complex individual, we come to the conclusion that she is really a loving, giving and generous individual. We can assume she was a loving and caring mother and wife, especially when Sandrine expresses Patrice's positive thoughts of her: "Patrice told me a lot about you. That you're a good person. Good and generous. That that's what you want to be. That people can always count on you." As much as Julie tried to liberate herself from the memory of her past, which involved destroying her husband's musical score, ridding herself of all her personal possessions, and rejecting a romantic relationship, Kieslowski seems to imply that true liberation is impossible, and love, compassion and human relationships are much more vital for us, especially if we want to live a better and more enriching life.