Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Classic Throwback: Trois Couleurs: Rouge (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1994)

As the third and final film in the Trois Couleurs Trilogy by Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski, Rouge is a magnificent achievement and is arguably the most moving and inspiring of the trilogy. Shortly after making this film, the 53 year-old Kieslowski announced it would be his last. His sudden death in 1996 made this extraordinary film even more significant. Rouge, like Blue and Blanc preceding it, examines one of the French revolutionary ideals. It is about ‘fraternity’, exploring the way that lives can become randomly connected through ‘coincidence’ and ‘chance’ and the unlikely bond between two people who seem to have little in common. 

It may be influenced by my love for Irene Jacob (The Double Life of Veronique), but Rouge has always been my personal favourite of the trilogy. The conclusion always leaves me with chills, and following my most recent viewing (I have seen it on five occasions now), it remains one of my favourite films ever. Rouge’s plot, while intricate, detailed and rich with philosophical meaning, is actually quite concise and easy to follow. To delve into each of the meanings Keislowski deftly squeezes into scenes will likely spoil the delight of the experience, so I will try and keep this analysis relatively brief.

The central character is professional fashion model, Valentine Dusot (Irene Jacob), who lives a busy life in Geneva, dividing her time between catwalks and chewing-gum campaigns. But, she also lives a lonely life separated from her infantile and possessive boyfriend (currently working abroad) and her troubled family. Her younger brother has recently been experiencing drug problems and her telephone calls with her lover are brief, strained and unsatisfying. Though she lives in an adjacent building, Valentine shares a street with Auguste, a legal student studying to become a judge. Seemingly oblivious to each other’s existence, through their comings and goings, their lives curiously cross by 'chance' on several occasions.

Valentine’s life takes a turn when, distracted by her faulty radio, hits a dog with her car. She takes the dog to the veterinarian and tracks down the owner, a retired and world-weary judge, Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who reveals to Valentine that his sole remaining passion is to spy on his neighbours through recorded telephone surveillance. He claims to have been doing this his entire life, but now knows where the truth lies. One of the couples he is spying on happens to be Auguste and a blonde woman he is dating; but it is of Kern’s opinion that they will soon break up. After initially reacting to the embittered old man with disgust, Valentine returns to his home on several occasions and shares philosophical discussion, with the man offering guidance in her life by revealing to her his intriguing past. These reflections mirror Auguste’s personal story. He is similarly betrayed by a woman he loves and purely through coincidence, but simultaneously as if it was destined to be, Valentine and Auguste make an unexpected connection at the conclusion.

There are some exquisite early shots of the street, which see Valentine (in her black car) and Auguste (in his red one), coming and going, barely missing one another and remaining oblivious. Auguste is smitten with a blonde-haired woman, while Valentine is waiting for the return of her boyfriend, Michel. Strangely, it is as if dual time lines are running in parallel. Auguste’s story seems to replicate Joseph's account of a tragedy from his youth; when he was betrayed by a woman he loved. Instead of meeting someone else, he gave up on love, but declares that Valentine is the woman he was destined to meet but never did. For Auguste, his destiny is different; shared with Valentine, who experiences several inexplicable coincidences that drive her towards a future life with Auguste. The daring denouement doesn’t just unite the various plot strands in the film, but it also brings in the main characters from the preceding two films. While it may come across as a little contrived, in the scheme of the whole trilogy, it is a completely satisfying way to end Kieslowski’s career. 

In addition to the creative genius of Kieslowski, the fine work of his talented cinematographer, Piotr Sobocinski, and Preisner's powerful score, the film benefits greatly from the remarkable performances from its two stars. Jacob, whose beautiful performance in The Double Life of Veronique won her the Best Actress Award at Cannes, gives another stellar, nuanced performance. She relies on subtle tics and facial expressions to reveal her despair at her hapless relationship, the initial disgust she feels towards the judge and later, her delight in sharing secrets with him and discovering his attendance at the fashion show. Once again, she is completely compelling. Trintignant is also engaging as the crusty, cynical and world-weary judge, challenging viewers to desire to dig deeper into his intriguing character. The film’s meditative pace; which makes it easily digestible and re-watchable, effortlessly engrosses the audience through its creation of these intriguing characters and the compelling mystery surrounding the way they are connected.
This is a film that makes you feel alive as you are watching it. How much do we value the influence of chance and coincidence in our lives? What would have happened if Valentine had never hit the dog and her and Joseph had not stumbled across one another? What would have happened if Valentine’s lock hadn’t been blocked with gum that day, or if Auguste’s book had not opened on that exact page when he dropped it? But each of these things did happen, and that is extraordinary. It feels completely natural, it makes you feel like every single event could have special significance, and this is what make this one of the most delightful film experiences you will ever come across. Rouge is a virtually flawless masterpiece from a legendary auteur who finished his career at the peak of his craft, and a timeless classic I will enjoy visiting again and again.


  1. When I first saw it, I wasn't into it as I thought I would be but repeated viewings made me love the film even more. I also love Preisner's score including his "Bolero" score theme is just among one of his best. It's also a great ending and it's a shame Kieslowski died three years afterwards. At least he went out with a bang.

  2. This is the only one in then trilogy I was able to see completely. Needless to say it blew my mind. I have a special affinity towards the colour red, and in usual films I love it when it pops out of nowhere...and in this, it was breath-taking. Irene Jacob was gorgeous too. It's been about 3-4 years since I've seen it, and the one thing that keeps coming back to me is the ending of this- with her against the red.

  3. Agin Mr B, another amazing write up of a film i have not seen. Yes I know you keep telling me to get it done and watch the trilogy. I will try. It is hard to fit everything in though,.

    Thanks for sharing my friend

  4. Excellent review Andy. The last paragraph sums up this magical film perfectly.

  5. @ Steven - The scores in all of the films have been brilliant. I think my favourite might have been in Blanc, though! Yeah, truly spectacular end to his career.

    @ Nikhat - It's a breathtaking final shot isn't it? Thanks for commenting :-)

    @ Custard - Thank you very much! I know, but they are certainly well worth the time!

    @ Bonjour - Cheers! I hoped I could find the words to describe how it makes me feel. It's a profound experience thats for sure.

  6. coincidence certainly plays a big part in the final chapter, the way they meet, and the ending obviously. I couldn't help feeling sorry for the lonely judge, even if he is spying on his neighbours.
    I just posted my review of Red today, should you be interested ( :

  7. I like this one a lot, the core relationship, the idea of happenstance/fate, the idea of loneliness, the invasion of privacy and more weave this into a complicated and compelling feature.

    I still like Three Colors: Blue more, but it's a strong film and one of Kieslowski's best.

  8. @ Movies and Songs 365 - I look forward to reading your review. Haven't had the chance yet because I have been away all weekend. I too felt a little sorry for the judge, but the idea of happenstance and coincidence and how it can effect your life is a theme that really interests me.

    @ James - It does weave in a ton of themes and ideas while remaining free of convolution. While I have never experienced anything as profound as this, I am always intrigued by why events transpire as they do. Much like Veronique, this is a theme essential to Rouge.