Thursday, December 29, 2011

Which of these was a neighbor to the stranger in need?

Embedded within Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieślowski's Three Colors Trilogy: Blue/White/Red (1994) is a parable involving an infirm pensioner trying to deposit a bottle into a recycling station -- the opening of which is just out of reach. These brief scenes (one in each film) are a thread that connect what are otherwise disparate films. What do they mean?

In each scene the main protagonist sees, or in the first case fails to see, a stranger struggling to carry out a simple task. Their reactions say a lot about each character's inner state. You could even say it opens a window into their spiritual health (many critics and viewers have seen Kieślowski's cinema as an attempt to visibly represent invisible spiritual and metaphysical realities -- he himself was reticent to talk about his aims). Watching these clips together makes for a visual parable. Watch them in order and you'll see an interesting progression.

In Blue Julie (Juliette Binoche) is so wrapped up in her grief and solipsism that she doesn't even see the old woman.

In White down-on-his-luck Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) sees the old man, but only watches and smiles, as if to say "at least I'm better off than that guy."

In Red the breakthrough occurs when Valentine (Iréne Jacob) sees what is happening, and is moved to take action. Her small act of kindness is writ large against the background of these three masterful films from one of the greats.

UPDATED 12/30: In response to some pushback from a thoughtful correspondent I've amended the sentence in parenthesis (see italics). Though I would note that Kieślowski's screenwriting partner Krzysztof Piesiewicz says as much in an interview on the Criterion Blu-ray of White.

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