Film: Three colours: White
A biography book of Krzysztof Kieslowski, great Polish director, is sitting on my table for months now (well, it’s actually a chronological collection of interviews). It’s cooking up for the right time to read it. Anyway, a fair warning: Later in this text, I couldn’t help but retelling the entire film in details. This might ruin watching the movie to someone who intends to see it soon, specially for its unexpected story. I don’t think so, I watched it a lot of times, I liked it every time the better, even though I knew the story. But a fair warning is in order.
Even though it’s inseparable from other two parts of the “Three Colours” trilogy, I have to take “White” into special consideration; It’s to this day one of my favourite films, also one of the films that influenced my look at films as it is now. Back when I was attending film workshop, it was one of the films that we watched slowly, with a lot of pausing, scene by scene, just learning about how good a film can be, and why. Back then it was still relatively fresh film and a good showcase that film industry isn’t in such desperate situation as it seemed from the most of cinema hits.
Singling out “White” – that’s ok, Kieslowski liked to group his films anyway. After a start as a director of documentaries, he spent a period of 1984-88 in making a series of hour long TV movies, each based on one of Ten Commandments, followed shortly by a pair of films “Short film about love” and, for him unusually violent, “Short film about love”. These were actually extended versions of “Thou shall not kill” and “Thou shall not commit adultery” parts of “Decalogue”. These were followed in 1991 by a single movie, “The double life of Veronique”, with theme similar to the one of the later and better known, Peter Howwit’s “Sliding door”.
And then there was “Three Colours” trilogy: “Blue”, “White”, “Red”; Colours of the French flag: liberty, equality, fraternity. All three films were shot at the same time, which Kieslowski largely used for many intersecting scenes. In each of these movies, according colour was accented; so, for instance, in every single frame of the “Red”, there is at least something red.
Not long after the release of these films, he announced retiring from filmmaking and two years later, died.
Started as a director of documentaries, Kieslowski remained a documenter of ordinary life; In his movies, characters need not to do something the entire time. They can just walk, think, or sit at the corner of the street watching some equally ordinary sight (like character of “White” does near the beginning). A lot of scenes seem needless, but they form a fine net of motives, actions, characters, that is visible in whole only at the end of the movie. Kieslowski enjoys throwing some strange scene or detail in front of us, only to explain it scenes later; He often throws in a short cut of the scene from much later in movie (and, yes, it’s our job to connect those two scenes. Kieslowski’s films, although filled with everyday situations rather than philosophy or metaphorical charge, require active thinking for their full understanding). The result poetry in a film form.
For instance, “White” starts with a cross-cut sequence of Polish hairdresser Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) entering courthouse in
Other side of the national coin is Karol, impotent for no other reason but homesickness. We see this later when his potency returns upon returning to Poland; Poland might not be much, as we see later in the movie, but he’s deeply attached to it (how much biographic is there, being that Kieslowski was a Polish living in France at the time? To some extent probably, but not entirely. I don’t like to project characters of films to the authors – art psychoanalysis seems a very cheep discipline to me). He met Dominique years earlier on a hairdressing competition and the love was instant and mutual. But after some time spent in
(Worth mentioning, during the courtroom scene, we can see Julie from “Blue” (Juliette Binoche) peeking into the courtroom for a moment. In “Blue”, we can actually see Julie peaking into the wrong courtroom at one moment.)
Now, the thing is, since Dominique kicked him out of their house, he is forced to live in the street with nothing but a giant suitcase full of diplomas for winnings on hairdresser fairs. Playing Polish folk songs on harmonica in metro station, he gets to meet a landmate Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos), businessman who offers him a job: one man he knows wants to commit a suicide, but needs someone to do it so that it looks like murder, for the life insurance purposes. Karol declines but the friendship is instant. Another idea incoming: Karol empties his suitcase and gets inside: Mikolaj is going to smuggle him into the
Yes, it is the suitcase from the beginning, and yes, it is the same airport. We realize: at the beginning, we were watching his parallel entering the courthouse and
Now, a small ironic plot-twist, the likes of many that Kieslowski enjoys to throw into his movies. Upon arriving at
Now, Karol has no problem finding the house and hairdressing shop of his brother. Soon he starts working in his brother’s shop and, being an awarded hairdresser, the waiting line for his chair is long. But seeing an ex-Communist
So he finds Mikolaj and tells him that he accepts the murder job that Mikolaj offered him earlier; Things are as Karol suspected from the sorrow in Mikolaj’s eyes: he is the one to be murdered. Karol has a moral choice to resolve: whether to murder his recent but close friend, or not? What follows is one of the best and most emotional scenes I’ve ever seen, so read closely (if you don’t have a chance to look at the film. If you do, better see it first – there’s a lot of spoilers here):
Karol and Mikolaj meet in an abandoned metro station; Karol has a gun, Mikolaj has the money. Karol asks Mikolaj if he’s sure. Mikolaj nods. Karol raises the gun to Mikolaj’s chest. The scene is shot from the side, in dark, almost unemotional in its distance from characters and lack of movement.
Karol shoots. We see muffled bang and some smoke. Mikolaj falls on his knees and stays there. At that moment, we can feel his fear. Karol says: “This one was blank, the next one is real. Do you want to continue?” A cheerful violin tones slide secretly into the scene.
White flashes unexpectedly into our eyes as the violin music increases and fills the air. We see Karol and Mikolay sledging on ice, joyful as if they were little kids. We see a celebration of life. We see film-language poetry.
After it brought tears to our eyes (mine at least – I don’t cry often at movies, but this scene gets the best out of me), film returns us to earth. In quick and informative sequences, we see Karol’s plan revolving, thanks to Mikolaj’s money. But we also see Karol, transforming from a modest hairdresser into a slick businessman, with a greased hair.
There’s a lot of
Next, another unexpected move, but something that Karol seemed to be planning all along: without much trouble, he buys a corpse on black market and fakes his own death and funeral.
Dominique travels from
Evening later, Karol appears in her hotel room. She is scared, but old passion overcomes, and they make love. Love-making scene fades into white (of course). A morning later, Karol had disappeared, and Dominique is accused of his murder by Polish police. She is honestly confused and disoriented, claiming that Karol is alive and that she had just made love with him the other night.
A perfect revenge.
Dominique is in a cell in mental institution. We see Karol, standing in the backyard, a shady person looking at her window. We see her seeing him, and, in a single, sliding shot, giving him hand signals. A string of hand signals that I assigned to her mental state first time I saw the movie, until someone pointed a meaning of those movements to me. Their meaning is: “When I come out, I will not go away, I will stay with you”.