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Kieslowski's Red brilliantly concludes French trilogy

Krzysztof Kieslowski (left) directs Jean-Louis Trintignant and Irene Jacob in a scene from Red.


Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski.

Written by Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Krzysztof Kieslowski.

Starring Irene Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Frederique Feder, and Jean-Pierre Lorit.

Sony Nickelodeon.

By Scott Deskin
Arts Editor

Those unfamiliar with Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski's style may be put off a bit at first. Kieslowski's "three colors" trilogy is one of the more ambitious cinematic statements by a major international director. Kieslowski's films are suited to the art-cinema crowd, but his stories convey genuine emotions in a larger social context. The three films that suit this context, Blue, White, and Red, deal loosely with the French ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity, respectively.

Blue, the first and moodiest piece, describes the adjustment of a composer's widow who must deal with her husband unfinished symphony and her own unfinished plans for a family. White, a comedy, concerns a Pole who becomes estranged from his French wife, becomes bankrupt, and eventually loses his dignity: He travels back to Warsaw where he plans his financial and marital retribution. But the last film in this trilogy, Red, is at once the most enjoyable and accessible of Kieslowski's works.

It's about a young Swiss model and student named Valentine (Irene Jacob) who runs over a dog with her car: When she returns the dog to its rightful owner, a cantankerous, retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant), he acts indifferent. In their first encounter after the dog is patched up, she feels pity for the old man's sadness in solitude, but she is filled with disgust by his hobby of spying on neighbors. He explains that he needs to be in touch with the truth, something that was inaccessible to him as a judge. As he forces her to reveal some of her own personal demons, he confides in her some of his own, memories that have haunted him for decades. Over time, a bond grows between them that suggests an affectionate father-daughter relationship.

A parallel story develops that involves a recently graduated law student, Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit) and his girlfriend, nicely complementing the relationship between the model and the judge. It's not long before we realize that the young judge's experiences reflect the old judge's misfortunes as a young man. It's also no coincidence that Auguste lives across the street from Valentine: Kieslowski sets up a visual connection between them from the very beginning of the film.

The resolution of Red is pretty fantastic, in which all of Kieslowski's ambitions and characters (inclusive of the previous two films) are brought together in a neat package; but, Kieslowski's film is more of a social meditation than an exercise in realism, so we can forgive the director for this.

This movie is inviting and very watchable. The performances of all the cast members, especially Jacob and Trintignant, are superb and filled with pathos. Although we get the feeling that the world of the film is unrealistic, the characters all appear tangible and emotionally true. To offset some of the drama, Kieslowski makes tongue-in-cheek references to the other films in the trilogy, and he bathes the surroundings in a warm, reddish hue (just as the other films seem permeated by their title colors).

Red is the best film of the series and is one of the best films of last year. It has little to do with the vague symbolic notion of the French virtues that are supposed to make each film cohere, but it is enjoyable and emotionally satisfying. This film may be Kieslowski's personal valentine to the French poetic realist tradition, but from the perspective of a world-wise Pole who happily looks forward to the next century.