Three Colours Trilogy: Blue White Red - Criterion Collection Blu-ray Review
Blue, White, and Red are presented in their original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The new high-definition digital transfers of Blue and White were created from 35mm interpositives, while the new high-definition digital transfer of Red was created from the original 35mm camera negative. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS, while Image System’s DVNR was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
The whole trilogy looks vastly better on Blu-ray than it has ever done before, particularly on its problematic DVD releases. White was always the poorest in terms of quality, but has been given a significant upgrade, leading to high detail throughout, with strong clarity, little softness, and no overt signs of digital defects or unruly DNR usage. Blue was always a step up, and succeeds better on Blu-ray too, particularly benefiting from a more vivid, vibrant (intentionally so) colour scheme, with the palette rendered lovingly throughout. Red has, and likely will always be the best looking of the three, benefiting once again from the vibrant red tones that punctuate its narrative, but also having the most refined image quality, and the best grain structure – both the long shots and the close ups hold up strong here. All three look very good on Blu-ray; sure the productions were never likely to be polished enough to make for demo quality material, but they look better here than ever before, and these presentations should please all fans of the trilogy.
The original 2.0 surround soundtracks were remastered at 24-bit from the original 35mm magnetic tracks. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using ProTools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.
All three films comes with DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 tracks in the respective movies’ original native language audio (French for Blue and Red, and Polish, with some French, in White). Dialogue, and important mainstay, comes across clearly and coherently throughout, largely dominating the frontal array for the most part, with no sign of any distortion or clipping. Ambient observation is surprisingly good, even on such a technically restricted track, and tiny atmospheric ticks come to the forefront, exactly as was intended, with the lead character’s breathing in Blue, the comb-playing begging in White and the shutter-clicking photography of Red all highlighting the importance of minute background effects. Of course the score is of paramount importance, and gets keen treatment across all three films, although perhaps most stunningly in Blue, where it is directly, though not diagetically, intermingled with the narrative. Whilst neither bombastic nor sweepingly dynamic, these soundtracks perfectly represent the material on offer, and veritably bring the Three Colours trilogy to life in aural terms. Stunning.
As you would only expect from a Criterion Collection release, the film studio has once again gone all-out to provide us with the most comprehensive selection of extras you could ever imagine – each film having more extras than most entire trilogies, and all of them well worth your time.
Three Colours: Blue
The following video essay was written and narrated by film studies professor Annette Insdorf, author of Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski.
This 21-minute Featurette is well-researched and very informative, with Insdorf giving us both an overview of the films and then a detailed examination of each instalment in turn, with reflections on Kieslowski’s intentions, the symbolism, the stylisation and the impact. Whilst the content is very interesting, at times it feels like the narrator is just reading her notes, which makes it less enjoyable than it should be. Still, to a certain extent, this revealing offering makes up for the lack of a full length commentary. (In English)
Kieslowski’s Cinema Lesson
In this piece from 1994, director Krzysztof Kieslowski discusses a scene from Blue, and specifically his idea behind a close-up shot of a sugar cube.
This brief 8 minute Featurette has Kieslowski himself reflecting on some of the symbolism in Blue, namely, the use of close-ups to show just how isolated the main character has made herself: she is focussed on the little things (like a sugar cube slowly absorbing coffee) and has blocked out everything else. Presented in a fairly scratchy, grainy video, and in its original Polish with fixed French subtitles running beneath the English subtitles, it is still well worth checking out to hear from the late, great director himself.
In this audio commentary from 2004, actor Juliette Binoche revisits selected scenes from Blue.
Although billed as a ‘commentary’, this offering only runs at just 25 minutes in length, but it is still well worth your time, with Binoche reflecting on turning down the lead role in The Double Life of Veronique, noting her early encounters with Kieslowski, and how she got involved with Blue (rejecting Jurassic Park – she says, a tiny bit pretentiously – “I’d rather play a dinosaur than one of the humans in that film”), as well as the work that they did together on the movie. Perhaps the most heartfelt moment is where, through tears and sniffles, Binoche reflects on how the funeral scenes in the movie remind her of attending Kieslowski’s own funeral, and a rather interesting incident there when she thought to herself “Krzysztof, give me a sign if you’re ok out there” right before a huge truck drove past, honking its horn for an extended period of time. Another nice, honest offering, this is well worth checking out. (In English)
In this interview, recorded by the Criterion Collection in 2011, composer Zbigniew Preisner recalls his harmonious collaborations with director Krzysztof Kieslowski on the Three Colours trilogy, No End, The Decalogue, and The Double Life of Veronique.
This 22 minute piece, the first to contain actual video interview footage, has the Polish composer, and long-time Kieslowski-collaborator, reflecting on their work together. He talks about how working with this director was very different to working on any other project: rather than just giving him the first cut of the movie and asking him to compose music for it, Kieslowski would involve him in the entire process, through the various drafts of the script, and filming, discussing the ideas along the way, and fully integrating the music into the production. He offers some insight into the evolution of the films during Kieslowski’s career and this makes for yet another must-watch extra. (In Polish with English subtitles)
Reflections on “Blue”
In the following program, film critic Geoff Andrew, actor Juliette Binoch, filmmaker Agnieska Holland, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, film studies professor Annette Insdorf, and editor Jacques Witta reflect on the production of Blue and the questions posed by Krzysztof Kieslowski in his work.
This 17 minute featurette has a series of contributors reflect on Blue, noting symbolism, ideas and motifs throughout the movie, dissecting the characters, the key scenes, the musical integration and the director’s intentions. Another worthy piece, this one yet further reveals more about the background to this first chapter. (In English)
Kieslowski: The Early Years
In this interview program from 2003, film critic Geoff Andrew, filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, film studies professor Annette Insdorf, and actor Irene Jacob examine Krzysztof Kieslowski’s formative years and the political and social circumstances that shaped his director and philosophical choices in cinema.
This further 15 minute featurette, a nice companion-piece to the previous Reflections on “Blue” (with many of the same contributors), looks back at the early stages of Kieslowski’s career, his health, his formative years, his interest in books, and how he got into films almost by accident. It’s a great introductory piece, perhaps best watched prior to all of the other featurettes. (In English)
Two Student Films
While a film student in Lodz, Krzysztof Kieslowski made the 1966 silent short The Tram, about a flirtatious boy and a pretty girl. That same year, he portrayed a tortured artist in his classmate Piotr Studzinski’s short The Face. Both films are presented here courtesy of the Polish National Film, Television, and Theatre School in Lodz.
The Tram is a 5 minute silent Short Film in black and white, which is fairly low quality and often hard to make out in terms of detail, but which still hints at some of talent that would later be refined into what we know and love the director for. The fine object observations, the nice smiles and nods between the lead players and the clever shots all bring some tangible style to this early work.
The Face is a 6 minute Short Film in black and white which, whilst not silent, is devoid of dialogue and is mostly driven by a frenetic score alluding to the lead character’s mad dreams which may or may not betray some kind of psychosis. Kieslowski himself plays the lead character, and whilst the film may have been directed by one of his classmates, you can see, in his acting, hints of what he sought to bring out of his chosen actors in his movies decades later.
This first disc is rounded off by the 2-minute original Theatrical Trailer.
Three Colours: White
The following video essay was written and narrated by film critic and festival curator Tony Rayns.
This 22-minute Featurette, following suit from the preceding On Blue featurette, attempts to dissect and detail the background into the second instalment, White, looking at Kieslowski’s own history in Polish cinema, and how White reflected the changing situation in Poland after the fall of Communism. Interestingly, the narrator notes how the director was obsessed with making movies against Communism, and now he no longer had that political statement to make, the irony being that his Polish movies were state-funded, and, without that funding, he had to go overseas to continue filmmaking. Another worthy watch. (In English)
Kieslowski’s Cinema Lesson
In this piece from 1994, director Krzysztof Kieslowski reviews the opening scene from White and reveals how it was shaped in the editing room.
Here we get an 11 minute commentary on the beginning of White, with very poor video, and with the director talking about the changes that he made to the opening sequence, the interspliced images of the luggage belt and the ways in which he immediately introduced the lead character as being a fish out of water in France. Another great reflection on the movie, from the director himself, these Cinema Lessons only make you yearn for a full-length commentary from the man. (In Polish with forced French subtitles and English subtitles)
Zamachowski and Delpy
In this program, produced by the Criterion Collection in 2011, Polish actor Zbigniew Zamachowski and French actor Julie Delpy share their memories about the making of White and discuss their admiration for director Krzysztof Kieslowski.
This 18 minute offering has Delpy (speaking in English) discussing how she auditioned – unsuccessfully – for The Double Life of Veronique, how she was always a fan of the director’s work, and how she got involved with White after turning down the lead in Blue; whilst Zamachoski (speaking in Polish with English subtitles) discusses how his involvement with The Decalogue and the Three Colours trilogy marked the high points in his film career. Another great little background offering, it’s great to hear from the lead players here, and nice that Criterion went to the effort of putting together these new interviews.
In this interview, recorded by the Criterion Collection in 2011, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, cowriter of the Three Colours trilogy as well as a defence attorney and politician, discusses his long friendship and collaboration with director Krzysztof Kieslowski.
A further 21 minutes here with the cowriter of these films offers up great insight into the director’s motivations and influences; his ideas and ideals; the intentions behind the stories, the socio-political commentaries and the impact of the work that they did together. It’s interesting to hear yet more into the director’s private life, as well as the co-writer’s history, and how their backgrounds helped forge the film works that they would later collaborate on. (In Polish with English subtitles)
The Making of “White”
In the following behind-the-scenes program, director Krzysztof Kieslowski discusses some of the key narrative details in White and the challenges and pleasures of shooting in Poland.
This 16-minute behind-the-scenes Featurette has some great footage of the shots being filmed by the director, the background work done to bring the film to life, choreographing the fight scene, and the locations selected for the movie, with the director on hand to talk about filming using the theme of ‘white’, as well as dissect the footage of the scenes being shot. Although not great video quality, and again is presented in Polish with forced French and English subtitles, it is well worth checking out for further background into the production and into the director’s work.
Krzysztof Kieslowski made more than twenty documentaries, including the following two shorts. Seven Women of Different Ages (1978) subtly portrays a range of ballet dancers, one each day of the week; and in Talking Heads (1980), Kieslowski poses the questions “What year were you born”, “Who are you?” and “What do you most wish for?” to forty different people, ranging from an infant to a one-hundred-year-old-woman.
Before he started work on feature films, Kieslowski’s forté was in documentary work, and here we get to see two of his documentaries, exemplifying the insightful style of his work, and the symbolism and commentary that would underpin his latter feature films.
Seven Women of Different Ages is a 16 minute documentary in black and white and in Polish with English subtitles, looking at various ballet dancers being ordered around by their aggressive dance instructors. We see the ballet dancers both in class and outside, juxtaposing their free spirits with their constricted instruction, and it’s interesting to draw parallels between the treatment of some of the younger girls and the equivalent beauty pageants in the US. I really don’t see how this almost military treatment of girls could have been in the least bit beneficial, and I’m hoping that was Kieslowski’s whole point.
Talking Heads is a further 15 minute documentary which skips across the ages and across the generations, posing the same questions and therefore reflecting upon the way in which our dreams, ideals and self-perception changes with time. Some of the teenagers show surprising insight, even at a young age, and obviously the tragedy comes when hearing from the older contributors, who talk about the dreams that didn’t come true.
The second disc is also rounded off by the 2-minute original Theatrical Trailer
Three Colours: Red
The following video essay was written and narrated by film writer Dennis Lim.
This 22-minute companion piece is narrated by a markedly more tedious narration, which offers some interesting background but is plagued by being delivered by a far less charismatic host. Still, it is worth checking out for the nice reflections both on this entry, and on the trilogy as a whole. (In English)
Kieslowski’s Cinema Lesson
In this piece from 1994, director Krzysztof Kieslowski discusses the final editing of the scene from Red where Rita, the dog, runs away, which he refers to as “the first critical moment in the film”.
Although it would have been nice if this third and final ‘cinema lesson’ from the director would have focussed on the closing scene from Red, which ties up the whole trilogy in its entirety, it is still nice to hear from the man, talking here about a scene which he felt was one of the more integral moments in the film. (In Polish, with forced French and English subtitles)
In this interview, recorded by the Criterion Collection in 2011, actor Irene Jacob discusses her experiences working with director Krzysztof Kieslowski (she also appears in his film The Double Life of Veronique), and talks about her and co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant’s tightly choreographed performances in Red.
It’s great to spend 16 minutes with Irene Jacob, talking in English about when she met the Kieslowski, how she got involved in the production, what the film’s – and the director’s – intentions were: the human connections, the duality of Kieslowski’s own perception of himself, and comparing the relationship with his own daughter with the relationship between the two lead characters in this movie. Another great addition and well worth checking out.
In the following interview from 2001, Marin Karmitz, producer of the Three Colours trilogy, recalls the making of Red and the insistence in Hollywood that the film be considered for the Academy Awards.
Narrating several sequences in French, Karmitz provides a 10-minute commentary on some of the symbolism in Red, with his own thoughts and reflections on the production; as well as dealing with the impact of both this film and the trilogy as a whole.
In this 2001 interview, Jacques Witta, editor of Blue and Red, reveals why certain scenes (and parts of shots) in Red were ultimately removed, and shares anecdotes about director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s process in the editing room.
This 12 minute offering has Witta commenting on certain key scenes from the movie, reflecting on the decisions made to leave certain scenes which were in the script out of the movie itself, whilst also showing us a few nice deleted moments and extension of existing scenes (albeit talking right over them). We get to see Valentine’s brother, more from the Judge and the dog (with its puppies) and hear extensive background into the editing decisions made. More informative than seeing just a selection of deleted scenes (he explains how a key scene where the young lawyer returns to get the dog he abandoned was left on the cutting room floor, despite the inconsistencies with the end of the film) it is still a shame that the scenes themselves cannot be viewed without commentary, and a pity that we don’t get the same treatment for the other instalments. (In French with English subtitles)
Behind the Scenes of "Red"
The following piece juxtaposes footage of Krzysztof Kieslowski directing Red with the corresponding scenes as they appear in the film.
This is an interesting blend of final footage with behind the scenes shots of the very same scenes being shot, running at 24 minutes in length and being of very poor video quality, but still worth dipping into to see the filmmaker at work.
Kieslowski Cannes 1994
This short documentary, shot at the time of Red’s world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, includes interviews with director Krzysztof Kieslowski and actors Irene Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant, as well as footage of Kieslowski announcing his retirement from filmmaking.
Here we get to hear from the man himself, briefly glimpsed between meals, and commented on by his actors, who all, understandably, held him in great esteem. This fifteen minute offering is rounded out by him announcing his retirement at the Festival itself, which was quite vague in itself, as you get the impression that, whilst he was tired of the filmmaking process, he would have been (and, indeed, was) drawn back into further projects. (In French and Polish with English subtitles)
Krzysztof Kieslowski: I’m So-So...
In 1995, a small video crew interview Kieslowski at his home in Poland; Red had been released the previous year, and the director had retired from filmmaking. Presented here is the fifty-five-minute documentary based on those interviews, in which Kieslowski reflects on his life and work. Originally broadcast on Danish television, I’m So-So... was completed less than a year before Kieslowski’s untimely death at the age of fifty-four.
A fitting tribute to the great filmmaker, this comprehensive, mammoth documentary closes out the proceedings with the director himself retrospectively looking back at his life and his work, his religious upbringing, his childhood experiences, working in Poland, the fall of communism, the graduation to European cinema, and the stress and impact of his work.
We also have the original 2-minute Theatrical Trailer to Red.
The entire package is rounded out by another fantastic Criterion Collection booklet, this time an 80-page collection of essays that makes for perfect coffee-table, or bedside table, reading, including: “A Hymn to European Cinema” by Colin MacCabe; “Blue: Bare Necessities” by Nick James; “White: The Nonpolitical Reunifications” by Stuart Klawans; “Red: A Fraternity of Strangers” by Georgina Evans; Kieslowski on Three Colours; and Shooting Three Colours. Well worth reading.
Three Colours remains one of the greatest film trilogies ever created, the ultimate example of the talents of the late, great Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski. The three films work beautifully together as a study of the human condition, and of the connections between us all. Whether you enjoy the beauty and melodious symphony of Blue, which rides through an emotional torrent of tragic loss and shock revelation-upon-revelation; the shift in nature of White, which drifts into both black comedy and loose fantasy territories on its journey to explore the nature of (in)equality and, effectively, revenge to redress the balance; or the ethereal sentiments of Red, which glides around on fleeting emotions and uses almost fairytale-like fantasy to expose the true irony of a fateful existence, all three are artistic masterpieces; perfect blends of visuals, dialogue and sounds, attuned to the relevant themes of their respective narratives, and carrying you on the very same voyage through Revolutionary motifs, political allegories or simply reflections on elements of the human condition.
Coming to US Region A-locked Blu-ray courtesy of the Criterion Collection we get very good video, excellent audio, and a stunning, weighty selection of comprehensive extras (including several of the director’s early Short Films and Documentaries) packing out all three discs. Fans of the trilogy should already have this release in their shopping basket – or should be considering an upgrade to a Region Free player to enable them to do so – and newcomers are strongly recommended to pick up this collection; there’s a whole world of beauty, tragedy, drama, fate, romance and political allegory to discover in Kieslowski’s Three Colours trilogy, one of the most important back-catalogue releases of the year.
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