Thursday, July 28, 2011

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

Blanc is the second film in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s acclaimed Trois Couleurs Trilogy, adopting the trait of ‘equality’, represented by the white of the French flag. Often considered to be the weakest of the Trilogy, Blanc is still a great film in its own right. While there are subtle crossovers shared by the three films, each one contains its own unique messages, symbols and use of the title colour and adequately stand alone. As Blanc is the lone film in the trilogy to centre its story on a male character, a little misleading considering Julie Delpy’s presence on the DVD cover, the tone of this film is very different from Bleu, functioning more as a dark comedy than a drama. While none of Kielsowski’s films would be considered romances, they all touch on the protagonist losing someone they love and then renewing that love in a different way. Blanc again features Kieslowski’s brilliance at capturing humanistic qualities through fleeting, random situations, his skill at drawing impeccable performances from his cast and his technical wizardry.

The film opens cross cutting between the arrival of a nervous-looking Polish man at a Paris divorce court with seemingly irrelevant shots of a large brown suitcase on an airport carousel. If you know a Kieslowski film, he rarely presents something on screen has no importance. The man, Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), awkwardly asks the court guard for directions, stating he has been ‘summoned’. Summoned to an embarrassing humiliation. Struggling to speak French, Karol is informed that his beautiful wife Dominique (Julie Delpy) no longer loves him and has taken her proposed divorce to court on the grounds that he was unable to consummate the marriage.

Not only does Karol lose his wife, but also his profession (a beauty salon they jointly owned), his residency in France, his passport and the rest of his cash. The latter is revealed in a pair of amusing sequences, which sees one card eaten by an ATM and the second cut up by a bank attendant. Penniless and with nothing but the contents of a single suitcase, he resorts to the life of a beggar, performing songs on his comb at a Metro station. Talk about being down on your luck. All seems lost until he meets and befriends a fellow Pole, Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos), who offers him a strange job – to kill someone who wants to be dead but lacks the courage to attempt suicide – and proposes an ingenious way of sneaking Karol back into Poland. There, Karol returns to working as a hairdresser at his brother’s salon, and seeks out Mikolaj to complete the proposed job. There his moneymaking schemes and personal agendas take an odd turn. 

Blanc is never laugh-out-loud funny, but it is a consistently amusing little film. There are a number of bizarre sequences, and Karol’s success is inspiring in the vain of taking control of ones life when down on luck and spurred by an agenda. I think more knowledge about European National affairs in the early 90’s (especially in France and Poland) would assist in understanding this film more, because I sense that Karol’s successful dealings on the Black market; his abilities to negotiate deals on property and his swift rise to wealth, is demonstrative of a rejection of Communism and embrace of Capitalism. Blanc has been called ‘anti-comedy’ and there is an underlying dark sense-of-humor to the screenplay, almost as if Kieslowski is in tongue-in-cheek mode. The premise of revenge against the ex-wife does lack logic. Though, it is such good fun, that it doesn’t really deter from the experience. Karol’s life is like the dual sides of a coin; one side meaning he has no luck and loses everything, the other meaning he has luck on his side, and is set to gain everything he desires. One balances out the other. 'Equality' if you like.

The acting, again, is strong. Zbigniew Zamachowski's performance reminded me of a slapstick routine a little bit. He was so bumbling and awkward at the beginning, relying on this dumbfounded look and an inability to communicate through language. Eventually he walks around with newfound confidence, his head held high, his hair slicked back and his fancy suit. He is a completely different person. His radical change is accentuated to amusing levels. Karol is much more complex than you initially believe, and he expresses evident sadness and regret about his prank. While he wished to humiliate his ex-wife, who in some ways deserved her come-uppance, his love for her is so strong that he nearly can't bring himself to do it.

Julie Delpy's role is relatively brief, but she was excellent as the cold-hearted young woman, whose strange sexual urges (especially their brief fling in the salon) transcend meaning. Part of what makes this film so quirky, are these relationships. Just as bizarre is the charming friendship between Karol and Mikolaj, who assign one another odd tasks, to say the least. Another feature of the film I would like to mention is the score. As much as I loved Zbigniew Priesner's scores in both The Double Life of Veronique and Bleu, I think this is my favourite work of his so far. I found it to be really catchy and uplifting. Blanc is probably the lightest of the trilogy to watch, and as a result is also the least emotionally resonant. But, at a brief 88 minutes, it is a real treat and the perfect accompaniment for the Bleu and Rouge.


  1. I know people often regard this as the weakest film but it's better than lot of sub-par films in many trilogies. In fact, I thought it was great and refreshing after the heaviness of Bleu. It was really funny but not like what you said but at least it's consistent in its dark humor. Can't wait for Rouge.

  2. Oh, it's still a great film! Hugely entertaining, and perfectly separates Bleu and Rouge, which have heavier, more melancholy themes. Looking forward to watching Rouge again, but I will hold off until I watch a couple of new releases. We have five (also including Tucker and Dale vs. Evil) out today!

  3. I watched this one last and I think I was mostly disappointed because I was expecting another film centered on a beautiful woman. But it is still a very good film and story.

  4. Yeah, I was initially thrown by the male protagonist too, but it is still a really good story, just not as affecting, or as beautiful as Binoche or Jacob haha. It's funny though!

  5. I am such a shocking film lover. I haven't seen any of this trilogy. I really need to sort this out. Although with a wife who likes to watch brainless fun films mostly (I am not adverse to them either) it does get hard to persuade her to come along for the ride!!

    Ah well, great write up Mr Buckle, you are a star!!


  6. You should check them out my friend. Very powerful series. Thanks for reading and the kind words! Much appreciated!

  7. I too found the relationship between Karol and Dominique interesting, tough to figure out what their true feelings are, especially Dominique, I'll try and talk about this some more in my upcoming review of White.

  8. Agree on so many counts. I think a lot of people miss that this is a black comedy, but not nessarily one with constant jokes.

    Karol is the main reason that I love this film. You think you've got him figured out, but as the film goes on, he becomes a complicated character and by the end I'm not sure how I feel about him.

    The score is fantastic. I like Veronique and Blue more, but it is another fantastic soundtrack by Presner.

    Great review, you hit on just about everything I love about White.

  9. @ James - I remember not being a huge fan of this when I saw it years ago, but I enjoyed it so much this time around. Karol is such an interesting character, and it was great to see him surprise you frequently as a viewer. Thanks for reading man.