Three Colors: Red

Three Colors: Red ★★★★½

The Criterion Challenge, 76/100
1994 Ranked

The final entry into Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy and also the final film he directed in his lifetime before his untimely death two years later, Red explores fraternity. In particular, the interconnectedness of the world around us, the desire to be with someone, and the bonds that we form in our lifetime. It is entirely perfect that Irene Jacob stars in this film and in The Double Life of Veronique by Kieslowski, as both films share a connection in how they explore the unspoken draw to another person. In Veronique, it was to a doppelganger. In Red, it is to anyone or anything that fills the world with some kind of purpose. As in that film, Jacob is absolutely magnetic, staring as Valentine, a part-time model and student who meets a retired judge named Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant). As this retired judge spies on his neighbors via tapping into their phone lines, the pair meet after Valentine accidentally runs over Joseph’s pregnant dog (who survives and has her cute puppies, thank God). Meanwhile, a man who lives around the corner from Valentine, Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit), lives a life that is notably similar to the elder Joseph, though he never interacts with either he or Valentine. Rather, he just sees Valentine run to her car when the alarm goes off while Valentine sees Auguste exit his car and leave the lights on. Yet another excellent work from Kieslowski, Red is both a fitting conclusion to the trilogy and a terrific final note on his career.

As Valentine and Joseph come together and eventually continue to hang out together despite no shared interests or anything beyond the dog, Red is able to explore this power of togetherness. After the hatred that fueled White and the betrayal and loss that fueled Blue, Red is as fueled by passion that one would anticipate. While Joseph’s hobby of listening in on phone calls is quite reprehensible, he does give it up and turn himself in when he sees that Valentine is positively repulsed by his activity. When they first meet, Joseph is jaded. He hates the world, viewing humanity as only doing things to somehow further themselves rather than out of the goodness of their hearts. In the case of the injured dog, he thinks Valentine only helped the dog to save herself the guilt, a statement that she has trouble refuting though she undoubtedly wishes her actions were wholly altruistic. Yet, through their interactions with one another, they begin to somewhat grow. Joseph confronts his own demons from the past, explaining how he became so cynical and disconnected from the world, viewing Valentine as somewhat of his connection and bridge back into the world. Valentine, meanwhile, finds comfort in both his company and his visions of the future that see her as a happily married woman in her 50s.

By the time the boat accident occurs, one only has to look into the eyes of Joseph to realize what Valentine now means to him, as he stares at the screen hoping to get reassurance that she is one of the few people to survive. Coupled with him even going so far as to check the weather for her trip without her knowing, the genuine connection and love he feels for her - he admits that he had given up his belief in love after the love of his life cheated on him, but that Valentine restored his belief - shines through. The same goes for Valentine, especially as Joseph shares his story of romance and heartbreak as she drifts into an entirely different place, being transfixed by his worlds and hanging on each as her eyes well up into tears. For two people who had a rather rough relationship at first, the growth they share together as both friends and confidants is beautiful to watch, while being wholly uncynical. This is a film often described as an anti-romance, but not because it shows the negatives of romance entirely (it does in part). Instead, it explores love without sexual connotations, just two people coming together and caring for one another so deeply that they are moved to tears. It is an uplifting film in this regard, capturing that theme of fraternity quite beautifully as Kieslowski shows the way a connection and bond with another person can complete someone in wholly unexpected ways.

This interconnectedness is also explored in a way very similar to The Double Life of Veronique as Auguste lives on the outskirts of Valentine’s life. They never recognize one another, but they consistently cross paths, both at home, at the bowling alley, or even on the boat. Meanwhile, Auguste’s life heads down the same path that Joseph’s once did. He is in love with a woman, Karin (Frederique Feder), who is a blonde and who he would describe as radiant. He becomes a judge after passing his test thanks to luck itself shining down upon him. Purely by chance - for Joseph, it was while in a theater and for Auguste, it was as he crossed the street - he dropped one of his textbooks and it opened to a random page in the middle. On that page was the exact answer they would need to pass the test. Except, as with Joseph, his life is thrown into turmoil shortly after becoming a judge. After Karin stops answering her phone or her front door, Auguste is curious and concerned so he opts to climb outside her window and look in, where he sees her having sex with another man. A very similar scene played out for Joseph, as he saw his love having sex in a mirror rather than a window. Joseph’s love also largely wore white, whereas Karin largely wears black, so there is some divergence. Yet, the similarities are unmistakable and wholly intentional. In a way, one can almost see it as both time repeating itself and as yet another way in which we are connected with one another. Though our lives are our own, fate and destiny are never in our control, while there is no guarantee that the life one leads is wholly original. Rather, it could have been lived in a very similar way by someone who is almost connected to you, except you have no idea they even exist. This idea was probed by Kieslowski in Veronique and once again in Red, both being just as captivating and confounding as possible.

There is undoubtedly a religious kick to the film as well, especially when dealing with judges, guilt, and stones. After Joseph outs himself for invading people’s privacy, upset residents start to literally throw stones into his home, while Joseph admits he would do the same. He, in saying this, also recounts a few tales of his time as a judge. In one occasion, he acquitted a man only for the man to be guilty and live a good, wholesome life with a family and three kids. In another, he was the judge for a case involving the man who slept with his girlfriend, finding the man guilty because he was guilty. In these, it is not hard to see the religious element but it also ties in nicely with the film’s overall look at fate or destiny and people being constantly connected with one another. Not only does he run into a man who had a large impact on his life - though the man does not know it - but he also frees a man who should have been freed only for it to work out for the better. Was he supposed to free the man? Was he supposed to be the one to judge the man who had wronged him so greatly? Can anyone on Earth truly judge, or is that reserved only for God? Even if everyone has sin, can they still throw stones or should they restrain themselves?

The final entry in the Three Colors trilogy, Red is another great film from Kieslowski. It also has the funniest conclusion of the trilogy with only seven people surviving the yacht crash with two characters from each of the film surviving. It also captures the fate element of the film brilliantly, thrusting Auguste and Valentine next to one another - and also recreating the advertisement that Valentine posed for - and leaving the audience to wonder whether or not they will actually form a relationship with one another or just remain on the peripheral of one another’s existence.

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