Three Colors: The Best Blu-ray release of the past year

I walked into a bar in Galway eight years ago next week, took a empty chair, ordered a Guinness, and met one of the finest men, and most faithful friends I’ve ever known. Colin and I were at a wonderful little film festival devoted to the works of Krysztof Kieslowski; a film festival the quality of whose art was matched by its warmth of spirit. A community emerged over that weekend, experiencing the transcendence of Kieslowski’s work in the presence of some of his co-creators; filling the spaces between us with shared glances, glistening eyes, and listening noises.

Once Colin and I had spent enough time together with our eventual mutual friend John O’Donohue – another mystic artist – to consider ourselves friends for life, we coined the phrase ‘better than Kieslowski’ to denote anything we liked – ice cream, whiskey, art, music, even the way a cup of coffee tasted, but mostly just the depths of friendship. One of the last conversations I had with John touched upon how he considered love of this director to be almost a prerequisite for friendship!

Kieslowski is best known for two film series – the Decalogue, an abstract rendering of the Ten Commandments in contemporary life, and the three films that make up the Three Colours Trilogy – widely acclaimed as among the greatest films of the 1990s, taking as their theme the three facets of life represented in the French Tricolor flag – liberty, equality and fraternity. John loved these films – for their author seemed to know something about life that eludes the technojargon-dependent world in which we live: The meaning of freedom, partnership and family as outlined in the ‘Three Colours’ films is both attractive and sometimes difficult to understand – which, for John, meant it was worthy of attention.

So I was delighted when the Criterion Collection released the trilogy on Blu-ray and DVD recently. Criterion is exactly the right home for Kieslowski – the care and attention they devote includes offering special features that invite the viewer to take a long time to work with the grain of what we’re seeing. The Criterion edition of Three Colors is nothing less than one of the best home viewing collections ever released.

In ‘Blue’, the first of the trilogy, Juliette Binoche plays a recently widowed character, who in grief comes to learn the need to let go of the things that hold her back from being truly free; but realises that happiness is not real unless it is shared.

Along the way, Kieslowski shows us through some of the most delicately beautiful imagery in cinema (a child’s face lit within a traffic tunnel, a doctor reflected in a woman’s eye, the light on a woman’s face as she watches an elderly person try to recycle a bottle) what he feels about the world:

• That giving to others is what makes you free.

• That we need to learn discernment in a world which teaches us that television is reality.

• That the only thing people really want to know is whether or not someone loves them.

• That there is a relationship between the cross of Christ and love between human beings.

• That the political unification of Europe may hide some unpleasant truths, but is a miracle given that only fifty years before the film was made, European nations were battling each other for the soul of the world.

• That sexuality can be used both to heal and to sever.

‘Blue’ is a film about brokenness and the imagination of what new things could come to us if we let them. John would often ask the question ‘If it is true that nothing good is ever truly lost, what would you like to have back?’ The corollary to this, of course, is that there are some things that are worth letting go of. From the need for Europe to let go of its former enmity, to the old woman’s need and desire to do good by letting go of the bottle for recycling (an image fundamentally related to making the world better for future generations, and a reminder of what this woman’s generation suffered and struggled through in the Second World War era), to the central character’s profound dilemma – grief and what to do with it, the images and themes in ‘Blue’ deserve sustained attention. It is such a rich film for times that often feel impoverished.

The Three Colors Trilogy is available from the Criterion Collection.


5 responses to “Three Colors: The Best Blu-ray release of the past year

  1. I remember well the 2003 Visions festival of Kieslowski. My website then carried the news of it.

    Kieslowski once said, “I think that cinema is a kind of communication – some kind of conversation. If you want to talk, you have to talk about what people are interested in. It’s difficult to talk about what people don’t care.”

    With regard to what people want to believe, I find that few people today are genuinely interested in asking themselves the deep questions that Kieslowski was asking of his audience by means of his films. Some of those who voice the greatest admiration see his films as ‘art’ – something to admire or to be interpreted for some personal meaning for their lives. Others have used his films to reinforce their own long-held beliefs about God or their church or religion or their observance of the Ten Commandments citing the Decalogue as an example of Kieslowski wanting to remind people to obey God’s commandments. Some give recommendation of Kieslowski’s films saying that he was heading in the right direction toward God – ‘their’ direction, in fact.

    Maybe Kieslowski was searching for truth during his life. Related to searching for truth, if anyone does any superficial research on say, the origins of Christmas, The Nativity Scene, The Three Wise Kings, The Cross or Easter they can determine that rather than the hand of God directing such ‘traditional beliefs’ of Christendom, it is clear that the legends associated with these beliefs originated a long time after Christ and his apostles and were much embellished from the events that really took place.

    One only need take the example of the Three Wise Kings.

    Three? Nowhere in scripture is mentioned the number of those arriving from the east. Wise? Well, they were duped by King Herod to find the boy, who by that time was up to 2 years old as evidenced by Herod enquiring of the astrologers as to when they had seen the star in the east, so that he could work out the age of this supposed threat to his Kingship and then order the killing of all the boys in Bethlehem and surrounding districts of 2 years of age and under and yet in the Nativity Scene they are seen greeting a little baby in a manger. Kings? The original word ‘Magi’ is more accurately translated ‘Astrologers’ which is, after all, is what they were doing; looking at the stars for their meaning.

    Despite the church later making these pagan astrologers into ‘Saints’, centuries later, there is no scriptural mention of the pagan astrologers becoming Christians. They were not likely to have been believers in either a Messiah or a God of the Jews. They were pagan astrologers! It is only speculation as to what happened to them later. Christmas? Did Christ really want people to remember his birthday, even if it could be proven that he was born on the 25 December? He asked his disciples to remember his death, not even his resurrection back to life. So what’s has bunny rabbits, easter eggs and spring fertility rites got to do Christ’s wishes concerning his remembrance?

    If people do ask themselves really deep questions, of themselves and not of others, then I believe Kieslowski’s tremendous efforts to move his audience in the field of cinema may not have been in vain.

    Alexandre Fabbri

  2. Felim Mac Dermott

    Hi John/Alexandre,

    Felim here – one of the organisers of the festival. So nice to see friendships borne from, and continuing long after that special week in Galway many years ago.

    My best to you both.


    • garethihiggins

      Hi Felim – Gareth Higgins here; glad that you found my blog. What a magnificent weekend that was. I’m now involved in a US-based spirituality, justice and arts festival – check it out, it’s here:

      I have to acknowledge the debt that Wild Goose owes to the Kieslowski festival. I’d love to see another Visions festival in Ireland – any thought of doing something similar in the future?

      Thanks, peace, Gareth

  3. Felim Mac Dermott

    Thanks Gareth. Yes, Visions was very special to me. A once off labor of love really. Best of luck with Wild Goose by the way – it looks amazing!

    Hope we meet again!


  4. GARETH! Hello and how are you?
    Felim connected with me (thanks Felim) and lead me to this blog entry and then I saw that you wrote it!
    What a great surprise.
    I remember Visions like it was last weekend. It was a very moving weekend. I remember my eyes welling up when the lights went out in the theater and the films started.
    I show Tram (trolly/Tramwaj) to the students in my film class, and I saw it first at Visions. I am in Pennsylvania, so if you come up this way, let me know.
    Take care!