The legendary director Krzysztof Kieslowski said he did not care about the cinema, only about audiences and the ways in which films could utterly move them. Three Colors: Red unfortunately was his last film, and yet it couldn't be a more beautiful and farewell parting gift. 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, as each film brilliantly and sublimely punctuates moments of infinite possibilities, and that our lives are connected and interconnected in mysterious and wonderous ways that we will never fully grasp. Blue, the first film of the trilogy is said to an anti-tragedy, just as the middle addition White is an anti-comedy, and the final film Red is an anti-romance. To me, Three Color: Red is the greatest of all the three films, a poetically rich and perfectly constructed story of coincidence, chance and fate, that can be embraced as equally as a stand alone film, or the concluding ending to one of the greatest cinematic trilogies in the world. In 1989, the Communist rule that had dominated Eastern Europe since the end of the Second World War collapsed with astonishing rapidity. In a remarkable burst of creative and artistic energy from 1988 to 1998, Polish and French cinema came together as Kieslowski directed fourteen films, including The Three Color Trilogy, a feat for which there are few parallels in the history of the cinema. Kieslowski in this period went from being a well-respected filmmaker within his own country to being one of the all time greats of world cinema, now being listed with the same recognition as other legendary film directors like Bergman, Ozu, Bunuel, Fellini, Ford, Bresson or Chaplin. The Three Color Trilogy itself almost defies belief, as it was written, shot, and edited in less than three years, screening in succession at Venice, Berlin and Cannes, so that for one year, Kieslowski completely dominated art-cinema as no one ever had, or likely ever will again. Shortly after Three Colors: Red Kieslowski's announced his retirement, tragically dying of heart failure in 1996 at the young age of 54. 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 and transcending themes as illness, death, loss and morality. The story of Three Colors: Red is of a young model and university student named Valentine, who accidentally hits a dog with her car, thus beginning a strange and complex relationship with its owner, a retired and bitter judge played by the extraordinary actor Jean-Louis Trintignant. Unlike other third installments in trilogies, Three Color: Red doesn't necessarily bring the other films to a close, and instead seems to ambiguously lead all three films to a larger whole, as all of its key players will grow from an isolated alienation to a heightened sense to their links to one another and of their profound place in the world.
The film begins with clips that track a telephone call between London and Geneva, where the camera races down the telephone wires under the English Channel in an exhilarating surge, only to encounter a busy signal at the end. The camera then introduces the audience to Valentine Dussaut, (Irène Jacob) a young model and university student, and her neighbor Auguste, a graduating law student.
As Auguste begins to take his dog for a walk the camera crosses the street to a café and up one story to an open window of an apartment where Valentine enters the frame just in time to pick up her boyfriend Michel's second phone call, as Michel immediately attacks her with paranoid accusations of infidelity. (Valentine emotionally infantile and possessive boyfriend Michel is only heard off-screen and never shown.) Michel asks Valentine that he just tried to just call and the phone was busy and Valentine says that the agency was on the line about a photo shoot.
Michel is vacationing in Poland and says his car and all his material items were stolen, and that the embassy gave him money to get home. Valentine tells Michel that she felt lonely the other night and slept with Michel's jacket. "I'd like to be with you," she tells him.
While Auguste calls his girlfriend Karin who works as a personalized telephone weather operator, he drives off in his red jeep, just missing Valentine as she heads to the coffee shop to play the slot machine. (There is a subtle quick moment of the character of Karol stuck in the white phone-booth from Three Color: White while Valentine enters the coffee shop.)
Valentine afterward heads off to her photo shoot. Valentine is currently working for a chewing-gum campaign and during the photo shoot the photographer Jacques asks her to look very sad. "Sadder. Think of something awful," he says. (Which is an interesting contrast later when Kern asks Valentine to smile.)
After attending her dance class, Valentine downs a bottle of water outside a church, and later participates in a runway show. "I almost fell," she says when returning backstage. While Auguste is walking back home he drops a set of law books, notices that a particular chapter of the Criminal Code was open at random, and concentrates on that passage.
While driving back to her apartment Valentine is distracted while adjusting the radio which seems to be emitting a strange signal, and accidentally runs over a dog. Valentine picks up the injured dog and places her in her car. The dogs tag says her name is Rita and Valentine tracks down the owner of Rita who is a reclusive retired judge named Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant).
When knocking on the door, no one answers and so Valentine decides to walk inside. When seeing Kern Valentine says, "Excuse me. The door was open. I'm sorry. I think I ran over your dog. Rita. A German shepherd. She's in my car alive. I don't know what to do. Would you like me to take her to a vet?" Kern seems unconcerned by the accident or the injuries sustained by Rita, and so Valentine asks him, "If I ran over your daughter, would you react the same way?" Kern says to her, "I don't have a daughter, miss. Go away. Don't close the door!"
Valentine takes Rita to a veterinarian, where she learns that Rita is pregnant. (Valentine also quickly reacts to one of the veterinarian's whose name is Marc, because Valentine's own brother is named Marc.)
Back at her home Valentine is talking on the phone to Michel telling him she now has a dog but Michel angrily demands that she immediately returns Rita. While Valentine's car alarm begins to go off Auguste underlined the passage in the page that opened to him the other day, while happily looking out his window to see his girlfriend Karin approach his apartment.
Valentine looks over the chewing-gum photo stills and chooses her favorite pictures that Jacques should use for the campaign. Jacques tells Valentine that they will be using the slogan "A Breath of Life" for the advertisement. When Jacques turns off the light in the darkroom he tries to kiss Valentine, but she rejects him. "Not you," she politely tells him.
The next day Valentine enters the coffee shop and plays the slots. When the slot machine comes up as three cherries, and she wins a customer asks if it is a bad sign. Valentine says, "I think I know why I won."
Back at her apartment, Valentine makes a discovery that her brother Marc was in the newspaper. (It seems he has checked himself in a rehab facility for heroin use.) A neighbor comes by to give Valentine a payment from Kern by mail for taking Rita to the vet. The neighbor asks if that was her brother that was shown in the newspaper, and she simply states it is someone who looks like him. Valentine tries to get a hold of her brother Marc, but he isn't there.
When walking Rita the next day, the dog runs away and Valentine drives around Geneva searching for her, chasing the dog in a church and eventually finding Rita back at Kern's house. Valentine tells Kern he over paid her giving him the money back. Kern gives Rita to Valentine and she asks Kern why he doesn't want her. Kern says, "I want nothing." Valentine says, "Then just stop breathing." Kern says, "Good idea."
When Kern turns and walks into his home to give Valentine her change Valentine waits outside for a few moments, calling out "Have you stopped breathing?" She eventually walks into the home. While roaming inside Valentine makes the discovery that Kern is eavesdropping on his neighbors' private telephone conversations. The one that she overhears involves a man talking romantically to another man (quite possibly this is the cause of the disruptive signal on Valentine's radio) and she quickly turns it off.
When Kern appears Valentine asks what all this is and Kern says he is eavesdropping: "Listening in on my neighbor's phone calls. You shouldn't have turned it off. It was getting interesting. You don't seem amused." Valentine says that's disgusting and Kern directs her to the exact neighbor that he was listening in on. Valentine threatens to denounce Kern and initially goes to inform the neighbors, but upon entering the neighbor's house she decides against it when noticing that the daughter is listening in on her father's calls.
When returning to Kern's he asks if she told and Valentine tells him she didn't. She only came back to ask Kern to stop listening on other people's calls and Kern says, "I've done it all my life." Valentine asks Kern if he was a cop and Kern says, "Worse: a judge. I don't know if I was on the side of right or wrong. Here at least...I know more or less where the truth lies. You have a much better vantage point than in a courtroom." Valentine doesn't agree and says that people have a right to their secrets. Kern asked what stopped Valentine from telling the neighbors saying, "The fact that he has a nice wife who's devoted to him, and a sweet little daughter who loves him? Is that why you couldn't do it? Were you seized by remorse or just afraid to cause harm?" Valentine says, "Maybe both." Kern states to her, "Let me tell you. I can eavesdrop on them or not. You can tell him or not. But sooner or later, he'll jump out the window or she'll out everything. Someone will tell their daughter and their lives will be a living hell."
Valentine says that this reminds her of a boy she knows who found out he wasn't his father's son. "That man's daughter," Valentine says of the neighbors, "she knows too." Kern turns the dial on the radio and Valentine overhears a phone conversation between Valentine's neighbor, Auguste, and his girlfriend, Karin. They discuss if they should go bowling or if Auguste should study for his law exams. Valentine covers her ears but from the very little she hears she concludes that they love each other. Kern disagrees saying "He hasn't met the right woman yet." Valentine asks Kern how he knows and Kern says, "I watch them sometimes from my window." Kern asks Valentine if she thinks he is a bastard and she simply says "yes."
Kern is watching another neighbor from the window talk on a telephone from Japan that uses a different wavelength. Kern says, "My radio can't pick it up. Too bad. I suspect he controls most of the heroin trade in Geneva." Valentine asks for that man's phone number and when Kern calls the man up Valentine impulsively says to him, "You deserve to die," which greatly frightens the man. (The reason why Valentine probably reacted furiously like this is become her brother Marc is a heroin user.) Valentine can't believe what she had done as Kern gives her the man's phone number and says, "If you get the urge to assault him verbally again, don't be shy." Kern bitterly explains to Valentine that most people are bad detailing an elderly woman who he routinely listens in on, who fakes heart attacks just so her daughter will see her, and now no one will believe her when she really does have one; Including the elderly woman herself. Valentine doesn't want to hear this and tells Kern, "People aren't bad. It's not true. They may be weak sometimes, but.." Kern asks about the boy Valentine knew who found out his father wasn't his father and asks if that was Valentine's boyfriend or brother. Valentine confirms it was her brother Marc and Kern has the correct intuition that her brother is shooting up. Valentine almost in tears says, "Once can only feel pity for you," and quickly leaves but not before letting Kern know his dog Rita is going to have puppies.
When returning home Valentine calls up her brother Marc who is now in a rehab clinic. After the phone call Valentine is waiting by the phone hoping Michel will call. When it does ring it's her employer Jacques who invites her out bowling to celebrate Valentine's poster billboard which was placed up at a Geneva intersection that evening. She accepts and goes bowling while the camera pans down the isles showing a table with a broken beer glass and a burning cigarette. (Which symbolizes Auguste's and Karin's deteriorating relationship.)
One afternoon while on the Geneva expressway Auguste sees the advertisement poster of Valentine and smirks. Meanwhile Valentine can't get into her apartment because someone jammed gum in her apartment lock (as a prank because of the exposure of the gum poster ads). When getting inside Michel calls and Michel obsessively asks why he couldn't get ahold of Valentine. She states that her door lock was jammed, and when brining up her photo-shoot Michel furiously tells Valentine that she shouldn't be doing that work and that she is being taking advantage of. Michel starts jealously asking if there is another guy because she hasn't been answering his calls. Valentine says there is not and she just wants some time alone. Michel says he is heading to Hungary that evening and Valentine says she is going to bed. Michel angrily tells her to go then and hangs up. "It's starting again..." Valentine says to herself. Michel calls again to rudely annoy Valentine and this time she simply hangs up on him.
Auguste is overjoyed when he successfully passes his law exam and it is confirmed he will become a judge. Karin asks him if he was asked any questions regarding the article that was open when he dropped his law books in the street and Auguste says "yes." Karin gives Auguste a fountain pen as a gift and he wonders what the first judgment he signs with it will be.
That evening, Kern writes a series of letters to his neighbors and denounces himself as a eavesdropper and the community files a class action. At the law courts, Kern sees Karin meeting another man before his trial begins.
Valentine is at a music store listening to music all the while Augusta and Karin are there as well but neither of them see one another. Valentine goes up to the front counter to purchase a CD of Van den Budenmayer, but the clerk informs her he just sold the last one. (Auguste is seen purchasing the CD of Van den Budenmayer with Karin immediately before Valentine reaches the counter to ask for it.)
While at her dance class Valentine reads the news in the paper about a retired judge that spied on his neighbors, and rushes to Kern's home to tell Kern that she did not give him up and tell a soul. "Not a soul. Not the police or anyone," she says. Kern knows Valentine didn't and confesses that it was him that turned himself in, and did it just to see what Valentine would do, knowing she would probably come back.
Kern invites her in and shows Valentine that Rita has had seven puppies. Kern opens a Pear brandy to celebrate the occasion. Kern says, "Before leaving the other day, you spoke of pity. I realized later it was disgust. You cried the other day. And I turned off my radio. And I sat at my desk. The fountain pen I used all my life was out of ink, so I took a pencil and wrote letters to my neighbors and to the police. I mailed them that same night while you were sound asleep." Valentine says she wasn't asleep, and that she went out bowling. Kern asks if she seen her neighbor Auguste, since he was planning to go out bowling that very same evening and Valentine thinks and says, "Perhaps."
Valentine remembers that Kern didn't like August's girlfriend Karin and he confirms that he was right and that the relationship is almost over between the two of them. "Because of my eavesdropping and my trial, the girl met another man," Kern tells her. Valentine says that Kern seems pleased with himself, that he was proved correct, and Kern politely asks Valentine to smile. Earlier Auguste had missed a call from Karin and tried to call her back but for some reason cannot get ahold of her since graduation. Valentine opens up to Kern about her brother Marc and mother. She tells Kern that she scheduled a trip to Europe to see her boyfriend Michel, but she believes by leaving she is abandoning her family. Valentine wants to know a way to help her family and her brother but doesn't know how. Kern assures her to go on this trip to England, telling her "It is your destiny. You can be. Be. That's all: BE." Kern then suggests to Valentine that if she likes to fly to take the ferry.
Kern tells Valentine that it is his birthday today and reminisces that 35 years today he acquitted a sailor, now realizing he made a mistake and that the man was guilty. A bulb burns out and Kern replaces it. He continues his story about the sailor explaining that the man later married, had children, grandchildren and lives peacefully and happy. Valentine says that Kern did what he had to do, but Kern wonders how many other people that he acquitted or condemned might have seen a different life had he decided otherwise. "Deciding what's true and what isn't now seems to be to show a lack of humility," Kern says. "Vanity?" Valentine asks. Kern agrees and says, "Vanity." Valentine wonder's if she went to court, if there would still be judges like Kern. Kern says, "You won't go to court. Justice doesn't deal with the innocent."
A rock which is one of many gets thrown into Kern's window (because of the public accusation of his eavesdropping) and Kern just asks Valentine to place in on the stove next to the others. Valentine asks if Kern is afraid and Kern says if he was in their place, he'd throw stones too saying, "And that goes for everyone I judged. Given their lives, I would steal, I'd kill, I'd lie. Of course I would. All that because I wasn't in their shoes, but mine." Sensing Kern's bitterness and coldness Valentine asks him if there was anyone he ever loved and Kern says, "Yesterday I had a dream...I had a dream about you. You were 40 or 50 years old and you were happy. It's been years since I've had a really pleasant dream." Valentine asks Kern if most of his dreams ever come true.
Meanwhile, Auguste has still been unable to reach Karin and so he goes to her place to see her. Having a feeling she has company, Auguste climbs up the side of the window and sees her having sex with another man. Distraught, Auguste quickly leaves and heads home.
Valentine tell Michel that she will be arriving in England on Wednesday to see him. Valentine then asks Michel if he loves her and Michel says, "I think so." When Valentine asks if Michel does or he thinks so Michel arrogantly believes they're the same thing.
That evening, Auguste sees Karin and her new boyfriend in a restaurant as Karin is admiring pictures of her new lovers boat, and Auguste gets Karin's attention by tapping on the restaurant window, but when she rushes outside to look for Auguste he hides in a walkway below her.
Karin is employed to provide a personalised weather service by telephone. Kern calls and esquires about the weather in the English Channel knowing of Valentine's upcoming trip to England. When Karin laughs Kern asks her why she is laughing and Karin reveals to him that she is about to take a trip there on a yacht with her new boyfriend who owns a boat.
Heartbroken by Karin's infidelity Auguste ties his dog by a quayside and abandons him. The day before Valentine leaves to England, she sends an invitation to Kern asking him to attend a fashion show where she is modeling.
When receiving the message, Kern decides to go taking his car out of his garage and drives to the fashion show. (Like Auguste he stares up at the large billboard of Valentine while driving.) After the runway show ends and everyone leaves the auditorium Valentine sees Kern waiting for her. Since she is leaving to England tomorrow Valentine wanted to say goodbye and the two sit down for one last discussion.
Valentine asks Kern, "I'd like you to tell me in detail about that dream you had." Kern says: "You were 50 years old, and you were very happy." Valentine asks in this dream if there was anyone else and Kern says, "You woke up and smiled at someone next to you. I don't know who." Valentine says, "I feels like something important is happening around me and it scares me."
Kern explains that when he was a law student he used to attend the shows a lot, pointing to the place that he dropped one of his law books and that the book had opened to a random page. He read a few sentences and it was the question on the law exam. A storm begins to brew blowing the auditorium windows open and so Valentine shuts them. Karin now understands Kern and tells him of a woman that he once loved when he was a younger man. But he was betrayed by her, and he never understood why. Valentine asks what the woman was like. Kern explains to Valentine the heartbreaking story:
"She was two years ahead of me at the university. She was blond, delicate, radiant with a long neck. Her clothes were light-colored, and all her furniture was too. In the foyer there was a mirror in a while frame. It was in that mirror one night that I saw her white legs spread wide with a man between them. That man could give her all she wanted. His name was Hugo Holbling. They left. I followed them. I crossed France and the English Channel. I felt humiliated. Until the day she died in an accident. I've never been involved with another woman since. Yes...I stopped believing. Or maybe I never met the woman. Perhaps I just never met you...A while ago I was assigned a difficult case. On the file was the name of the defendant: Hugo Holbling. Back then I'd wanted to kill him. And I would have, if it would have changed anything. But now he waited my verdict. He'd been building a covered market that caved in. Several people died. I found him guilty. It was a perfectly legal sentence. After that I asked for an early retirement."
When leaving Kern gives Valentine a bottle of Pear brandy that they had drank at his place, and she promises she will visit him when she gets back to Geneva. On the street that evening an elderly woman cannot reach the hole of the recyclable container and Valentine helps her. (These sequences of the elderly woman are a link between all three films in the Three Color trilogy).
Valentine takes her ferry to England, and Auguste is also on the ferry clutching the dog he had abandoned, (probably following his girlfriend Karin, which also mirrors the story of a young Kern) although Valentine and Auguste again never quite see each other. Suddenly a storm arises which blows down Valentine's poster in Geneva.
The next morning while Kern is at his home tending to Rita's puppies, he walks outside to get the morning paper which reads: "Tragedy on the English Channel. Seven survive." He turns on the news. The horrific storm that occurred the night before sinks the ferry killing hundreds, including the boat of Karin and her boyfriend. As rescuers are pulling up hundreds of bodies, many are still missing as the news reporter lists the names of the seven survivors which brings to a close all three films of The Three Color Trilogy: "The widow of a French composer who died last year Julie Vignon. Steven Killian an English citizen, bartender on the ferry. Polish businessman Karol Karol. Dominique Vidal, French citizen. Frenchman Olivier Benoit. There are also two Swiss citizen among the survivors. Auguste Bruner, a judge and a young model, a student at the University of Geneva, Valentine Dussaut."
As in the previous films, the film's final sequence shows a character crying - in this case, Kern when hearing the news of Valentine's miraculous survival as the final image of Valentine on the television replicates the iconic chewing-gum poster of Valentine.
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.
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. 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.
Red was not only the final installment of Kieslowski's brilliant Three Colors Trilogy, but it also marked the end of the directors short but extraordinary career. Unlike other third installments in trilogies, Red doesn't necessarily bring the other films like Blue, and White to a close, but seems to lead its films to a large whole, a complex network of congruence, symbols, signs, rhythms, motifs, themes, parallels and synchronicity that Kieslowski explored all throughout his extraordinary body of work; Kielsowski suggests what isn't necessarily seen but sensed. Three Colors: Red does not necessarily explore a heartwarming vision of humanity, nor does it clearly preach the socialist politics that we may naturally associate with the titular color. Instead Kieslowski called Three Colors: Red, a film about the conditional mood, and of the communication that disappears through a utopian vista of 'what could have been,' and 'what still could be'. The theme of fraternity, the opposite of solitude turns out to be the main subject and theme throughout Three Colors: Red. Kieslowski's refusal to answer certain existential questions is his professed desire to not be seen as a moralist, and of his rejection of the idea that politics can answer life's most important questions. These unanswered questions that seem to linger throughout all of Kieslowski's work is a quality that brought charges of mysticism from those who felt he was betraying his earlier social commitment in pursuit of glossy aesthetics, most famously with his 1991 one film The Double Life of Veronique. In fact, Kieslowski's move from Poland was partly motivated because of the limited resources available there, which occurred after the end of Communism. It is certainly true that Three Colors: Red is much more of a lavish production than his early Polish work, making use of expensive locations and elaborate cinematographic techniques, which include the famous opening sequence of telephone wires, and the moment that the camera mimics a falling book in the theater, which weren't entirely typical of Kieslowski's style.
The character's in Red all move from a profound alienation to a heightened sense to their links to one another and of their place in the world. What better setting for these parables of isolation to reach their conclusion than Geneva, as Kieslowski put it, "An island in the heart of Europe." Red's subject is fraternity as Geneva is the settling where all his primary characters throughout the Three Color Trilogy will ultimately reunite. Kieslowski uses the chromatic themes of color with each film intimately in how we see, feel, and understand the complex world around us, as the director had experimented with color filters and palettes early on since his work on The Decalogue. In Three Colors Blue: its color floods the screen as it emulates the moods of the main protagonist. In Three Colors: White the color's used are much more naturalistic and barren. In Three Colors: Red, the color is much more intense than the other two, and much more ambiguous, as it is the color of love, hate, life and death. Red is used through objects whether it's the huge advertising banner featuring Valentine's facial profile, tail lights, traffic lights, blood of an injured dog, items of clothes, theater seats, and the Ferry ticket that Valentine purchases. The insistent reoccurrence of this symbolic color could suggest a divine order, a large ambiguous meaning that remains just out of view and an optimistic and sublime way of looking at the world with a sharpened sensitivity of the rhymes, echoes and patterns embedded in the fabric of the every day.
Many of the key themes of Three Colors: Red is of the difficulties of interpersonal communication, as it is most famously established in the first few shots of the film as the audience tracks a telephone call between London and Geneva, where the camera races down the telephone wires under the English Channel in an exhilarating surge of luminescent red fiber-optic cables, through walls, underwater and underground, only to encounter a busy signal at the end. The camera then introduces the audience to Valentine and her neighbor Auguste, as he begins to take his dog for a walk and the camera crosses the street to a café and up one story to an open window of an apartment where Valentine enters the frame just in time to pick up her boyfriend Michel's second phone call, as Michel immediately attacks her with paranoid accusations of infidelity. The camera also portrays a failed connection physically throughout the film as Valentine and Auguste cross paths repeatedly, but never so much make eye contact until the very last frame.
It is later discovered in the story that the judge Kern is eavesdropping on telephone calls, which unveils a sad world of deceit and loneliness as he observes with detachment, despite the fact that the people he hears are his immediate neighbors. Valentine seems to be no exception to this dispersed social existence, as she is constantly dashing to answer calls from Michel who happens to be in England, and who can't even directly answer if he loves Valentine or not. Modern existence is portrayed by Kieslowski as a condition of simultaneous disconnection and proximity mirroring the anti-technological view of telephones, which are communication devices that serve mainly to forestall and obstruct communication. Miscalls signal the beginning of the end of Auguste and Karin's relationship, as Karin operates a personalized telephone weather service and is Kern's neighbor. Valentine's most important relationship with Michel and her mother and brother Marc is conducted entirely by telephone.
Telephone communication is important throughout, and so is broken glass as when Kern reveals his eavesdropping his neighbors throw rocks through his windows, and the end of the film Kern watches Valentine and Auguste on the news while watching the outside world through broken glass. Also, when Valentine is bowling, the camera moves down the isles to where there sits a broken glass next to a packet of Marlboro cigarettes, which is the brand that Auguste smokes, which symbolizes Auguste and Karin's deteriorating relationship. (Whether the two actually went bowling or not is left ambiguous.)
The one thing that Valentine and Auguste unwillingly have in common is the judge named Kern, who is the one that ultimately brings them together on the ferry. The two young character's being completely oblivious to one another is a stark contrast to the character of Kern and his apparent awareness of everyone and everything around him. He is a form of peeping tom and voyeur, encompasses many of the ideas of the mysterious guardian angel who hovers in The Decalogue. The Judge's profession and past time suggests a harsh scrutiny of an Old Testament God, a wounded soul preaching seemingly divine insight and earthly vice, urging Valentine to take the Ferry to England because 'it is her destiny.' And yet they're many moments in the film which Kern projects human frailty, sadness, and bitterness, an arrogant and tortured individual who was emotionally betrayed and spiritually destroyed at a young age, by a woman he truly loved. Kern has a deviously sense of pessimism, and greatly enjoys playing God and effecting the fate of his neighbors around him. Valentine's child-like innocence provokes an almost sexual acting out in Kern, as when he snaps his suspender strap, or empties a kettle onto the floor when Valentine declines his offer of tea.
A common theme to the Three Color Trilogy is that of an underlying link or thing that keeps the protagonist linked to his/her past. In the case of Three Color: Red is that Kern never closes his doors or gates, despite the fact that he wants to be cut off from everything, and Valentine is often framed in open doorways when in Kern's home as if perched on a threshold. Kern makes an obvious point of leaving doors open as his final words to Valentine after their first meeting are: "Don't close the door!" Also relevant are fountain pens, in a seemingly unconnected scene Auguste gets a fountain pen as a gift from Karin after successfully passing his exams and he wonders how many destinies he will change with the pen. Later in the film Judge Kern is about to write letters to his neighbors denouncing himself as a spy and his pen stops working and he is forced to write his letters with a pencil. Characters are often juxtaposed on different physical levels throughout the film, and in several of the scenes at Kern's house it almost never presents the characters on the same level: Valentine either stands above Kern or sits below him. When Karin searches for Auguste, he hides on a walkway below her. During the climactic scene in the theater, Valentine stands on the stage, towering over Kern who is in the pit below.
Kieslowski's cinematography is also instrumental in tracing the disconnected relationship between Auguste and Valentine. In long fluid shots that seem the preserve an entity of time and space the two's souls exist as particles that never seem to touch. Often when one of them is in the foreground, the other passes through the background, while each is visible from each other's windows. When they board the ferry they don't run into each other even when they are only in a few feet from each other. They're several juxtaposition threads that encompass around the stories of Valentine, Kern and Auguste, as the stories of the secondary characters interweave with those of the central pair, likewise suffer fractured and unstable relationships and lives.
Throughout the story the relationship between Kern and Valentine begins to grow which take on the tenderness of true empathy, mutual understanding, and the weight of moral and philosophical dialogue. Kieslowski explores a rebirth for his three key players and how each character will start anew as the director toys with such aspects as obsession, fate, randomness and a succession of near misses and chance occurrences. As for Kern and Auguste who never meet, Kern begins to realize that Auguste is repeating the course of his own life down to the last detail, as it can be looked at as a form of mirroring; Auguste is a younger version of Kern, who unlike Kern still has the opportunity to change the course of his future. It's the coexistence and convergence of these three souls which traverse space and time in several different ways that give the film its metaphysical and philosophical meaning. These parallel lives between Kern and Auguste propose the form of Fraternity, and it's up to the audience's interpretation on these striking similarities and connections, while Kieslowski obviously is expressing Kern and Auguste as a form of kindred spirits.
In the beginning of Valentine and Kern's relationship, they become weary adversaries, as Valentine is put off by Kern's voyeuristic behavior and perverse actions and he in turn challenges Valentine's rectitude, selflessness and moral high ground. Kern casts doubts on Valentine clear-sighted morality and of her motivation of rescuing his dog Rita. Over time Kern is effected by Valentine's decency and innocence and senses a person with genuine warmth and empathy, something he use to embody but unfortunately lost decades ago. Valentine recognizes a form of loneliness in Kern's life and in the end they become friends on equal terms as Kieslowski presents two plastic cups filled with the same amount of coffee in their last meeting. Before they part in the end Kern replays a dream he had of Valentine the other night, as she was a middle age woman in which she wakes up and is happy. A premonition perhaps about a second life about to begin, or more sadly a case of wishing her into his own past. Three Colors: Red is looked at as the anti-romance, a romance that is 40 years too late and could never be, as we see in the final shot together their hands together but not quite, pressed up on either side of the car window.
Interviewed by Danusia Stok, Kieslowski elaborated on this theme stating: "There's something beautiful in the fact that we can give something of ourselves. But if it turns out that, while giving ourselves, we are doing so in order to have a better opinion of ourselves, then immediately there's a blemish on this beauty. Is this beauty pure? Or is it always a little marred? That's the question the film asks. We don't know the answer, nor do we want to know it. We're simply reflecting on the question again."
Color and light are linked throughout all three films of the Three Color Trilogy, especially in Three Color: Red from the switchboards of the busy signal, to the stage lighting of flashbulbs at a fashion show. The conversations in Kern's home progress the levels of lumination, and are marked by the appearance and disappearance of light both natural and artificial. In one uncanny sequence Kern alerts Valentine to the passing sun overhead which is about to flood through the windows, and he asks her to hold still. "The light is beautiful," Kern says. In another, as the day turns to-night, a blown bulb is replaced momentarily allowing a glare to fill the room before the lampshade softening it to a glow. The films brilliant cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski who had worked with Kieslowski on The Decalogue received an academy award nomination for Three Colors: Red, and like Kieslowski died too young from a heart attack in 2001 at the age of 43. A few times in the film the camera comes alive, most obviously is the sequence when it mimics the trajectory of a falling book in a story that Kern is telling Valentine. Or interrupts the conversation at Kerns for a mysterious detour in another room landing on a cryptic image of a broken jar. (This seems to be an illusion to the dialogue in the script about Kern once shooting a billiard ball into a jar which was left out of the film.) When Valentine ventures into Kern's house for the first time the camera seems to assume her point of view, but all of a sudden she wanders in afterwards which indicates that the camera has in fact hurried ahead of Valentine.
The uncanny similarities throughout Three Colors: Red reveal themselves gradually throughout the film, constructing the film as an accumulation of signs leading small even subliminal clues that make a larger sense only in retrospect. The red cherries on Valentines yogurt cup are rhymes with the slot machine cherries, the arch dancers back on the portrait of Auguste's wall parallels Valentine in her dance class. The church in the background when Valentine downs the bottle of water is the very location that the dog Rita leads her to shortly after. Music plays a part in this echo chamber effect, intertwined with motifs, as a form of doubling, diagetically sounding especially on Valentine's car radio, and it builds to its final peak during the final fashion show. Valentine and Auguste are seen listening to music at a store, and when Valentine goes to purchase the CD of Van den Budenmayer, she is informed it had just been sold, suggesting Auguste purchased it right before.
They're several parallels and underlying links that repeat themselves in all three films of Kieslowski's Three Color Trilogy. There are the themes of memory and identity that keeps the protagonist linked to his/her past, as in the case of Three Color: Red, Kern never closes his doors or gates, and of its use of fountain pens. In the case of White are of Karol's 2 Fr. coin and a plaster bust of Marianne that he steals from an antique store in Paris. In the case of Blue it is a lamp of blue beads of Julie's deceased daughter and a recurring image of people falling. Another famous recurring image throughout all three movies is that of elderly people recycling bottles; in Blue, an old woman in Paris is recycling bottles and Julie does not notice her (in the spirit of freedom); in 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 finally in the case of Red the same old woman in Blue (What is she doing in Geneva?) cannot reach the hole of the container and Valentine helps her (in the spirit of fraternity underlying the film). While all the predecessors refused or were unable to help, in Three Color: Red Valentine finally offers her assistance which might seem like a simple small act of kindness, but when reverberating across time and space through Kieslowski's world it takes on a cosmic significance. Each films ending shot is also of a character crying. In Blue, Julie cries looking into space. In White, Karol cries as he looks at his wife who is imprisoned. And finally in Red, Kern cries as he looks through his broken window out at the camera. 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. The three films in the trilogy also could be just as easily distinguished by the color of each lead actresses hair, and one could simply call the films Brunette, Blonde, Redhead.
They're several scenes in Three Colors: Red that link itself with the other stories within the trilogy: There is a subtle quick moment of Karol stuck in the white phone-booth from Three Color: White while Valentine enters a coffee shop before heading off to her photo shoot. And finally the infamous climax of the film as Kieslowski ends Three Color: Red on a grandiose and fitting finale befitting to Kieslowski, which at the same time is a tragedy and a miracle. There is a horrific and catastrophic storm which sinks the ferry on the English Channel killing hundreds onboard leaving only seven survivors: Julie and Olivier from Three Color: Blue, Karol and Dominique from Three Color: White, Julie and Auguste from Three Color: Red and an unknown barman unknown to audiences. (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.) These miraculous rhymes and parallels, in Three Color: Red is rigged to trigger a cosmic sense of déjà vu, an unexplained feeling of imminence power and destiny. This final scene that reunites and converges all the main character's throughout the trilogy, is what finally seals each of their separate threads, as audiences finally learn the outcomes of their romantic destinies: Julie and Olivier have indeed become a couple, Karol and Dominique have ultimately forgave and reunited (How Karol was able to have Dominique bust out of prison is a wonder). And last but not least, Valentine and Auguste have finally locked eyes with one another, and one can only hope they meet and the rest is history. It's no doubt they would greatly connect with each other, as they both are two genuine and faithful individuals, (and the film even hints that they share the same common taste in music, as Auguste is seen purchasing the CD of Van den Budenmayer right before Valentine tries to purchase it.) The final freeze frame of a rescued Valentine in profile shows a red jacket filling the background which provides the films most resonant image harking back to the red chewing gum billboard of Valentine. The important prominence of the banner throughout the film sets of the force of that final shot, as we seen Valentine pose through it with wet hair against a bold red backdrop, and the ad looms over a Geneva intersection, viewed at different points by Kern and Auguste.
The appearance of each of the main character's of the trilogy on the rescue boat, might strike some as contrived and somewhat outrageous, but it seems less so when taken as a starting point. The ferry accident was the first thing of the trilogy and Kieslowski filmed before principal photography began on Three Colors: Blue. The Three Color trilogy could be seen as a story of six people who all happen to survive the same ferry disaster, just as The Decalogue told the stories of people who all happened to live in the same housing complex. Kieslowski said he had initially planned to start each episode of The Decalogue by suggesting that the protagonist as been elected by the camera at random, the implication being that every one has a story. Which probably explains why one of the seven survivors of the ferry is a barman that is unknown to audiences. His character could be another film and another fascinating story for a director to explore. Kieslowski's influence has only grown since his death, most famously with his influential themes of intertwining narratives which later spawned others like Pulp Fiction, Amores Puerros, Magnolia, and Crash, which also involve such similar themes as chance, freewill and fate. Kieslowski describes the story of Three Color: Red as the 'missed' relationship between Valentine and Kern, in ways that suggest that the world has a hidden design, asking such existential questions as: Is it possible to repair a mistake that was committed somewhere and sometime long ago? This idea that there is an invisible but fallible authority presiding over the world immediately suggests that the judge Kern is an Old Testament like God, who seemingly preaches divine insight, and earthly vice. "Who are you?" Valentine asks him, and Kern simply replies, "A judge." Valentine seems to interpret Kern's dream as a supernatural form of intuition, rather than simply a dream and tells him, "I feel something important is happening around me. And it scares me."
As skilled as Kieslowski was at pulling the strings when directing he never stopped questioning the filmmakers god-like prerogatives, just as he never pretended to have a big answer to any of the questions his films raised. Actor Jean-Louis Trintignant asked why his character Kern wanted to see Valentine's ferry ticket before she set out for England, and even Kieslowski said that he did not know telling him: "In poetry, there are shadowy areas. You don't understand everything, but you understand a lot, and it's still wonderful." Three Colors: Red has much in common with The Double Life of Veronique, which recounts the mysterious connection between Veronique in France and Poland, two women with no knowledge of one another, exploring themes on memory, freewill and doppelgangers, including also being acted by the beautiful Irene Jacob. No one knew Three Colors: Red would be Kieslowski's last film, even though he declared at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival that it would be. Before his death he did infact begin a new project with his coscriptwriter Krzyztof Piesiewicz, which was a trilogy on the subject of heaven, hell, and purgatory. The producer of the Three Colors trilogy, Marin Karmitz has gone on to support the early work of director Michael Haneke, hoping to foster a continuation of Kieslowski's European vision. The Columbia University professor and film critic Annette Insdorf, who knew Kieslowski personally often translated for him, stating, "It's rare that you say about some film director, 'What a good man.' But he was. Very by-the-way, emotional, very non-sentimental, dry in his wit and in his bearing, but he really made an impression." Kieslowski almost never made a film about characters who lacked choices, and Kieslowski's would explore how these characters would arrive at such choices, and the profound effects that they would make. Three Colors: Red considers its theme on fraternity as it reflects its sense of a hidden pattern underlying the everyday lives of its character's, and invites the audience to experience such miraculous elements of doubles, echoes, and symbolism, and a form of cinematic afterlife which expresses that history and the universe is a small part of a bigger mechanism that we simply cannot intellectually comprehend or answer. Despite dabbling in what many look at to be spiritual, metaphysical, existential and philosophical themes, symbols and ideas, Kieslowski remained an Agnostic to the end. There is no substitute for Kieslowski, as cinema to him was limitless with possibilities with him stating, "to capture what lies within us, but there's no way of filming it. You can only get nearer to it." Kieslowski had a humanism to his films, as his belief that people in different times and places can have the same thoughts and stories, and can live out the same stories, ultimately leading to an assertion that shared experiences and freewill is a basic fact of human co-existence. The problem with many films that seek to prove our essential connectedness is that they make the world seems smaller. It is quite the opposite in Kieslowski's hands who made the world that his character's inhabited a more richer, mysterious one, rife with wonderous possibilities.