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Kieslowski's Brilliant Black Comedy,
This review is from: Three Colours: White [DVD]  (DVD)
This was the second film in Krzysztof Kieslowski's masterful Three Colours Trilogy, and (loosely) matches up to 'equality' in the French national motif. Unlike the other films in the trilogy, Kieaelowski sets up White as (on the surface) a quirky black comedy and sets much of the film in his Polish homeland, allowing him to introduce themes around Poland's relationship with the rest of Europe (and, in particular, its entry into the EU). The film's comedic content, whilst at times hilarious in its own right, acts as a mask for White's underlying messages of love, humiliation, ambition, vengeance and regret, whose portrayal here is (for me) as poignant and effective as anything this director ever did (certainly placing the film at least on a par with the generally more highly rated Blue and Red).
At the heart of the film is Zbigniew Zamachowski's brilliant portrayal of shy, (temporarily) impotent, Polish hairdresser Karol Karol, whose marriage to Julie Delpy's ravishing Dominique is on the verge of dissolution on the grounds of non-consummation. The way Kieslowski sets up this (failed) central relationship is superbly done, as Karol's nervous loser shuffles along the Parisian street, is dive-bombed by an unwelcome pigeon (a scene of humiliation which, according to Kieslowski, can be seen as a microcosm of the entire film), (in court) stares longingly into Dominique's eyes, before failing once again in his husband's duty (and last chance). Thereafter, down-and-out and penniless, Karol, whilst busking with comb and paper in the metro, happens upon fellow Pole Mikolaj (played with great understatement by Janusz Gajos) whose promise of cash in return for a 'hit' on one of Mikolaj's suicidal 'friends', leads to the two returning home to Poland, disillusioned with 'the west' (and with Karol hell-bent on seeking revenge on his ex). Of course, Karol's mode of transport is less than conventional - revealing to the audience the meaning of the shots at the start of the film of the large trunk on the baggage carousel - whilst Karol's arrival, post-mugging, to the snowy desolate Polish landscape ('Home at last') carries on the film's tone of dark hilarity. In fact, these early sequences remind me very much of early Polanski films, with Zamachowski's performance as Karol particularly reminiscent of Polanski's acting turn as Trelkovsky in The Tenant.
Back in Poland, Karol's time is split between exploiting the country's burgeoning black market economy (which transforms him from bumbling loser to 'new kid on the block' entrepreneur) and (still) yearning for Dominique, as he kisses his Paris-purloined Marianne figurine in remembrance. Karol's dichotomy of his (apparently) doomed love for his ex-wife and his need to mete out revenge is brought into sharp focus by his intricate entrapment plan for her - and the film's closing close-up of Karol's tear-streaked face is simply devastating.
A final mention should go to Zbigniew Preisner who composed the film's (and indeed, the trilogy's) soundtrack, which provides a brilliant mix of sweeping and haunting classical themes.