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.