#588: KIEŚLOWSKI, Krzysztof: Three Colors: Blue (1993)

THREE COLORS {Spine #587}

KIEŚLOWSKI, Krzysztof (France)
Three Colors: Blue [1993]
Spine #588

In the devastating first film of the Three Colors trilogy, Juliette Binoche gives a tour de force performance as Julie, a woman reeling from the tragic death of her husband and young daughter. But Blue is more than just a blistering study of grief; it's also a tale of liberation, as Julie attempts to free herself from the past while confronting truths about the life of her late husband, a composer. Shot in sapphire tones by Sławomir Idziak and set to an extraordinary operatic score by Zbigniew Preisner, Blue is an overwhelming sensory experience.

98 minutes
2.0 Surround
in French
1:85:1 aspect ratio
Criterion Release 2011

Kieślowski was 52 when he directed Blue.


Kieślowski’s earliest films were documentaries. Four are included on the three discs of this trilogy: The Face (1966); The Tram (1966); Seven Women of Different Ages (1978); and Talking Heads (1980).

He began to win prizes at film festivals, and No End (1985), though controversial, brought him further international notice. He also began relationships with two collaborators who would remain with him for the rest of his career: the composer Zbigniew Preisner and trial lawyer Krzysztof Piesiewicz, who co-wrote this, and all of Kieślowski’s future screenplays.

In 1989, he made Dekalog (Spine #837) — one of the finest film cycles of all time.

His final four films (The Double Life of Veronique [1991] and Three Colors: Blue [1993], White [1993], and Red [1994]) -- all made with French and Romanian-born producer Marin Karmitz's money -- cemented his fame.

The Film

Blue opens with a rush of high-speed traffic, filmed from the bottom of a car! Juliette Binoche is Julie Vignon (de Courcy), the wife of the composer, Patrice de Courcy (Hugues Quester). Only Julie survives the upcoming car crash. (Take note of the extraordinary sound design in this opening section).

She is emotionally paralyzed by the tragedy, but it soon is revealed that both her and her husband were having extramarital affairs; she with Olivier (Benoît Régent), he with Sandrine (Florence Pernel). Charlotte Véry plays Lucille, a prostitute who becomes involved in Julie's life.

Preisner's music (written by de Courcy in the film, of course -- or perhaps by Julie!) is omnipresent throughout the film. The actual notes on manuscript paper are often shot close-up. Preisner and Kieślowski shared a private joke by including a line crediting some of the music to a Dutch composer -- "Van de Budenmayer" -- their private nom-de-guerre of Preisner, which shows up in several of these late films.

The music is supposedly a concerto -- a cantata, perhaps? -- for the Unification of Europe (something that was happening contemporary to the making of this film). It's quite 19th-century, tonal, a bit boring, with a chorus, singing the text of 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 ("Love is patient") in Greek. A Greek Chorus. We get it. One might think someone like Karlheinz Stockhausen, who actually composed music for many groups spread across different cities, might have been more appropriate. Wouldn't have made it past the first producer, though ...

Kieślowski in no way tied himself to the color schemes which name these wonderful last films (the colors of the French flag; a likely nod to his French benefactors). Obviously, there is a built-in color logic which many filmmakers use to maintain an ever-changing palette built around one particular color -- and Kieślowski certainly does so in these three films. The color is obsessively built into the fabric of the film for example:
  • 0:00:48 The blur of blue is gradually revealed as the roadway, tinted blue and filmed from ground level (astonishing)
  • 0:01:24 A human hand holds a candy wrapper — blue on one side, silver on the other — rippling in the wind outside the car
  • 0:02:09 The car, Anna’s dress
  • 0:02:25 ECU on gas leaking from a tube connected to a metal receptacles, strongly shaded blue
  • 0:11:08 This establishing shot has a small rectangle a window of blue glass, seen in close-up in the next shot which segues into the stunning shot of Julie awakening to the music, which Kieślowski showers with blue light
  • 0:12:14 A voice (“hello”) brings her back to reality. The next cut switches the POV, as we first see the journalist (Hélène Vincent), screen right, Julie screen left and a nice big CU of a pane of a the bright blue glass. The awnings on the building across the street are blue
  • 0:13:29 The folder which holds de Courcy’s manuscripts and photos
  • 0:14:14 Anna’s blue room and crystal hanging
  • 0:16:34 Julie sitting alone, blue streaks of light playing across her face
  • 0:23:29 She eats the blue candy from her purse
  • 0:30:04 A row of blue binders behind her apartment agent
  • 0:34:16 Swimming pool
  • 0:37:56 Shawl on Lucille’s shoulder
  • 0:38:53 Locked out of her apartment, sitting on the steps, the music returns. Kieślowski again plays shapes of blue across Julie’s face
  • 0:40:44 A very old woman in a dark blue coat is slowly making her way to a bottle recycling machine. She is unable to push the bottle into the receptacle. This scene will repeat itself in both White and Red
  • 1:06:48 The strip club is mostly red, but small rectangles of blue light emanate from the television screens
  • 1:08:32 Julie is watching Olivier and the journalist on television. He wears a blue tie and the background is all blue
  • 1:09:43 Still watching the television program, she sees photos of Olivier and Sandrine, who is wearing blue
  • 1:15:35 No blue, but once you’ve seen all three films, you’ll be surprised to see Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) from the next film in the trilogy — White — in this scene. If you look very carefully, you’ll also see Dominique (Julie Delpy). This exact scene will be shown in White from a different perspective
  • 1:26:34 The blue pen Julie uses to compose (or correct?)
  • 1:35:33 As Julie finally cries, just a tinge of a blue reflection on her face.
The FTBs (fade-to-black):

Kiešlowski inserts five FTBs at various points in the film:
  1. 0:12:01-07 [6 sec] Julie is snapped out of her reverie by a woman saying “hello.”
  2. 0:43:37-49 [12 sec] Julie is sitting with Antoine (Yann Trégouët).
  3. 1:02:42-52 [10 sec] Julie is in the pool talking to Lucille.
  4. 1:14:37-50 [13 sec] Julie decides to meet Sandrine.
  5. 1:30:05-19 [14 sec] Hearing the music in her head.
Film Rating (0-60):


The Extras

The Booklet

Seventy-eight page booklet featuring essays by film critics Colin MacCabe, Nick James, Stuart Klawans, and Georgina Evans; an excerpt from Kieślowski on Kieślowski; and reprinted interviews with cinematographers Sławomir Idziak, Edward Klosiński; and Piotr Sobociński.



Cinema lesson

With director Kieślowski.

Concerning the ECU of the sugar cube soaking up the coffee. An ecstatic image — one of the greatest in modern cinema. Kieślowski talks about how long it took to find the exact type and shape of sugar cube that would turn brown in “exactly five seconds.” Even more fascinating, is his reasoning about how shots like this dramatize the interior acting of the Binoche character, who, having just dismissed her lover, is now focused on the smaller things in life — like this sugar cube.

Video essay

By film studies professor Annette Insdorf.

Video interview 1

With Three Colors composer Preisner.

Selected scene commentary

Featuring actor Binoche.

Video interview 2

Reflections on “Blue” and Kiešlowski: The Early Years; interview programs featuring film critic Geoff Andrew, Binoche, filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, cinematographer Idziak, Insdorf, actor Irène Jacob, and editor Jacques Witta.

Short films

The Tram (1966), a student short by Kieślowski, and The Face (1966), a short starring Kieślowski.

Theatrical trailer

Extras Rating (0-40):


57 + 36 =


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