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4.0 out of 5 stars
Three Colours: White [DVD] [1994]
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 21 June 2016
Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colours White is the wonderful centerpiece of his equally wonderful Three Colours Trilogy. I loved it when I first saw it in the cinema in 1994 and repeated viewings over the intervening 22 years haven’t dulled its brilliance, indeed watching it repeatedly for this review has simply made it seem greater still. For reasons I can’t fathom this one is seen by many as the weakest of the three films. Perhaps its comedy and its entertaining event-filled plot make it appear slight and obvious when placed beside the polished ambiguities and plush visual sheen of both Blue and Red. All I can say is perhaps people haven’t looked hard enough, for this film is fully the equal of its companions. We should evaluate this Trilogy as three films belonging together first and foremost and if Blue and Red make up the heavy, deeply serious metaphysical bread of the sandwich, then White is the light and delicious, but no less deeply serious metaphysical meat that makes up the center.

The initial inspiration for the Trilogy came from Krzysztof Piesiewicz, Kieślowski’s writer-partner since No End (1984). Piesiewicz had also inspired the magnificent Dekalog series of TV films made on the Ten Commandments and the Trilogy started off with his idea to make a film where “the commanding dictums of Dekalog are understood in a wider context.” In the aftermath of the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe in the late 80s, this “wider context” was a West European society determined by the ideals of the French Revolution, namely liberty, equality and fraternity depicted in the French flag as blue, white and red respectively. “Why not try to see how the Ten Commandments function today, what our attitude to them is and how the three words liberty, equality and fraternity function today? – on a very human, intimate and personal plane” (Kieślowski). Kieślowski and Piesiewicz made the decision to make three films on these ideals, but understood audaciously as contradictions or even as impossibilities. In White equality is explored as an ideal sort after by its main protagonist, but who finds no such thing exists. As Kieślowski says, “I don’t think anyone wants to be equal. Everybody wants to be more equal.”

As with both Blue and Red, the key to understanding the hidden complexities of White lies in paying attention to the narrative structure and the way two sequences book end everything that lies in between. The film begins and ends with sequences in places connected with the legal process. It begins in the court of law in Paris where a Polish immigrant barber Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is fighting a divorce suit filed by his French wife Dominique (Julie Delpy). His entrance into the building accompanied by a pigeon defecating on his shoulder is intercut with a suitcase on a conveyor belt going somewhere in an airport. Blue and Red also both open on sequences which visualize the abstract mechanisms which course underneath our benign everyday lives and 20 minutes into the film we realize that the suitcase we saw at the beginning depicts Karol’s fate, that his court battle is doomed to failure. The grounds for divorce are humiliating. He is impotent and has not been able to consummate his 6 month marriage. This basic inequality is writ large by the divorce where he loses his liberty, equality and fraternity as an immigrant living ironically in the land supposedly representative of these ideals. He ends up destitute on the Paris streets and the opening court scene charts his complete humiliation. 85 minutes later at the other end of our narrative the film ends with a scene inside the grounds of a prison in Warsaw. This time it is Karol who stands victorious outside while Dominique resides defeated behind prison bars, the victim of his exquisitely planned revenge to regain his equality by ‘getting even’ with her.

The essence of this film’s narrative lies in a tit-for-tat exploration of what lawyers call ‘lex talionis,’ the code of justice which calls for punishment to be meted out to the transgressor in exact relation to the offense committed. An extreme example of this would be a murderer having to forfeit his own life. Here in White Karol responds to Dominique’s theft of his ‘equality’ by stealing hers in return. It is well to remember Piesiewicz is a lawyer first and foremost who was very successful in Poland during the late 70s and through the period of martial law. All his screenplays for Kieślowski involve ethical inquiry and legal conundrums centered on what is right and wrong in the conduct of everyday life. In this Trilogy the law gradually exerts its pervasive presence with increasing power as it progresses. In Blue we noticed Julie dealing with ethical matters of legal ownership and deploying a lawyer to settle her inherited estate. That film hinges on Julie’s discovery that her deceased husband was carrying on an affair with the lawyer Sandrine and there’s a key scene at the very same Paris law court we see in White in which Julie stumbles on Sandrine sitting beside Dominique as Karol begs the court for ‘equality,’ the two films briefly crossing over. We even notice the same low camera angle used to accompany both Julie and Karol rushing up the courthouse steps in their respective films. The law exerts a stronger grip on White with its courthouse/prison framing and its central depiction of lex talionis, and in Red its presence is suffocatingly omnipresent with a narrative centering on two judges and various legal questions in Geneva, Switzerland, the home of European law and the place where law is legislated for a whole continent. All of this is reflected in the way the three colours are used. As the Trilogy progresses and the law exerts its progressively stronger grip so the colour blue (liberty) disappears from view. The colour saturates Blue and the section of White which takes place in France. It is used sparingly with specific point when the film moves to Poland, but it is completely absent from Red which in visual terms is a symphony in red and white. As the law becomes stronger so freedom (blue) vanishes for the sake of the greater fraternity (red) that universal laws promulgate, the only equality (white) allowed being the one bestowed by the over-riding law maker rendered by Kieślowski as Judge Joseph Kern who on the highest level represents God Himself.

In the Trilogy it is important to grasp that behind the law lies religion, specifically Christianity. In basic terms Blue is centrally about the resurrection of Julie through a display of charity and a renunciation of liberty in favor of universal love. This is made crystal-clear by the use of words from the Bible (1 Corinthians 13: 1-13) in the concluding montage. To the best of my knowledge no words are quoted directly from the Bible in White, but the concept of lex talionis originated in Hebrew law as laid out by God through Moses in the Old Testament: “If there is serious injury, you take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise” (Exodus 21: 23-25). Karol’s enacting of lex talionis entails his resurrection, his return to potency and the wresting back of a sense of equality in relation to Dominique. The problem is he discovers at the end that he isn’t equal. He simply becomes ‘more equal,’ but a happy end is achieved partly because he never stops loving Dominique and party because he eventually refracts lex talionis as voiced by Moses through the revised wording of the same justice code in the New Testament. In the Sermon on the Mount Christ says: “You have heard it said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matthew 5: 38-39). Through the main body of the narrative Karol sets about exacting his revenge which involves faking his own death and jailing Dominique for the ‘murder.’ However, love intervenes and as he stands outside the prison window watching her mime her love to him and tears streaming down his face we know this man doesn’t go to Hong Kong as he was planning. Somehow he extricates his wife from jail and returns to his former identity together with her as we see at the end of Red. Karol learns to ‘turn the other cheek,’ to modify lex talionis as Christ tells us to. This makes White a very loose and irreverent Biblical allegory with Karol taking on some of the attributes of Christ Himself.

The film is no passion play, but we certainly notice the number of times Karol is referred to as ‘Jesus.’ When he makes his undignified return to his home country being dragged out of his stolen suitcase by thieves on a snow-bound rubbish dump overlooked by a church and to the sound of actual church bells, he announces his arrival, “Jesus home at last!” Then when he finally gets ‘home’ his brother Jurek (Jerzy Stuhr) greets him with the words, “Jesus! You’re home,” quickly followed up by “Too bad you missed Christmas.” Then later when the Polish mafia pay Karol a morning visit and threaten to kill him for beating them to buying land, he tells them that he has made a will in which everything gets left to the Church to which their response is, “Jesus..to the Church…We’re screwed.” The sequence that cements this Christ allegory for me is when Karol wakes up after spending the night in the house he has just bought. He looks at a picture on the wall which is of the Virgin Mary and Child. The picture is for a fraction of a second in clear focus before blurring to focus on Karol’s reflected face as he combs his hair back in a way that parallels Christ with his rebirth (his resurrection) as a nouveax riche entrepreneur who is now set to practice (and perpetuate) a new religion espousing equality, that is the religion of capitalism which looks set to put Poland on equal terms with the rich West European countries. Of course capitalism is all about men wanting to be ‘more equal’ than other men which ties in very closely to Kieślowski’s sardonic view of equality. We notice that Karol invites his Paris savior Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos) to run the company for him at Christmas time. Mikolaj has a Christmas tree on the roof of his car and presents in his arms as he is propositioned by the new look Karol who in addition to having slicked back hair also drives a burgundy red company car. The emphasis is very much on fraternity offered on the birth of a new venture/religion at the most appropriate time of the year – “Happy Christmas!” are Karol’s parting words to his benefactor.

Central to Karol’s enacting of lex talionis (and also adding to the Christ allegory) is his resurrection. In fact the film depicts two resurrections. They both take place underground in ‘entombed’ circumstances replete with angelic pigeons fluttering around. The first happens in Paris and has a destitute Karol living off making music from his comb (an ironic reference to his trade as a barber) on the ground of the Paris Metro. He is offered a return to life by the fellow ex-pat Pole Mikolaj who agrees to take him back to Poland in his suitcase in return for Karol killing someone. It turns out in Warsaw that this someone is Mikolaj himself so in effect in Paris both men are ‘dead.’ They do a deal to resurrect each other. Karol is taken back to Poland and his resurrection is kick-started by the two things he receives that night on the Paris Metro with Mikolaj. The first is a 2-franc coin which he demands from a Metro employee after his phone call humiliation at the hands of Dominique and the second is a bust of Marianne, the symbolic figure of liberty and of the French Republic itself. In fact Marianne appears on the reverse side of the 2-franc coin as well. Clearly his resurrection is achieved by following through two desires symbolized by these objects – to make money to put himself on an equal footing with Dominique (on throwing the coin into a river he discovers that money literally sticks to him) and to win her back physically through love. We notice that the bust of Marianne becomes Dominique for him and perhaps we should read Marianne/Dominique as representing all three ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity which had been robbed from him in the Paris law court at the beginning and which he will retrieve by the film’s closure. The second resurrection on the Warsaw subway has an even greater Biblical air about it as Karol descends the stairs to those spooky white lights typical of Kieślowski (we last saw them play on Julie’s face near the beginning of Blue) and the ethereal fluttering of pigeons. Unlike in Paris Karol is very much alive here as he meets his ‘victim’ Mikolaj who is dead in spirit. In firing a blank he performs a miracle (emphasized through slow motion) by bringing Mikolaj back to life in the manner of Jesus reviving Lazarus. Possibly the most ecstatic moment of the film has the two fooling around on a frozen river in celebration of their new-found equality as resurrected souls. Here the picture is completely white (the river, the sky, the snow on the ground) as the two figures cavort with each other as drunken black silhouettes. To cap off all the Biblical references (at least the ones I have ferretted out – there are probably a lot more which would be more obvious to Polish people familiar with their strain of Catholicism) as well as playing Lazarus Mikolaj also plays Judas at the end. As Jesus instructs Judas to betray him in the Bible so Karol instructs Mikolaj to make the phone call to the police and nail his disappearance and Dominique’s responsibility for it.

Placed in the context of Blue and Red we also see that those films feature resurrection as Julie, both judges and Valentine are all dragged back from the dead in one form or another. Karol’s dark hair (highlighted by his profession) sits neatly beside that of the two ‘saints’ in the outer films (Julie and Valentine) and offsets the blond hair of the less than ‘Holy’ characters whose behavior both causes and relieves the central crises our main protagonists face. In Blue it is the discovery of Sandrine’s affair that humiliates Julie but also drags her back to life. In Red it is Judge Joseph’s fixing up of Karin with a new boyfriend at a trial he has called that sets the young judge Auguste free and on course to meet the rootless and lonely Valentine in the aftermath of the ferry disaster. In White of course it is Dominique’s bitchy initial behavior that kick starts Karol’s desire for equality through resurrection and it is her tears shed at his funeral which ensures Karol does eventually ‘turn the other cheek’ and engineer a complete reconciliation which we don’t see fully until the end of Red.

The visual treatment of all three films is remarkable and it has been remarked that both Blue and Red are noticeably plusher than White, the dominating blues and reds of the former standing out more with the latter seeming to be altogether more pallid and less sophisticated. Edward Kłosiński had a tougher time in White as the colour is notoriously difficult to photograph. In fact it is not even a colour, Kieślowski observing that it’s more a ‘non-colour.’ White is however extremely accomplished visually in my book and as in Blue and Red it’s fascinating to observe how the three colours in question are combined to suggest different ideas. Of course the film is very ‘white’ with both blue and red given minor but fascinating roles. Indeed, to highlight the whiteness (suggesting mainly Karol’s obsession with seeking ‘equality’ with Dominique) black is accentuated both visually and in the script which works as a dead pan black comedy. In the opening 20 minute section the colour scheme is much the same as Blue with all three colours appearing at the same time. We notice most of all perhaps the car park of the law courts with its mixture of red, white and blue cars. Karol’s loss of liberty is expressed by the loss of his credit card (coloured blue of course). When he and Dominique meet in court both are wearing burgundy red sweaters (they are not divorced yet) and this is echoed later in Poland when the resurrected Karol drives a burgundy red Volvo to express fraternity of a ‘company’ kind. The severe black and white compositions especially of the first scene after Karol’s escape from the suitcase and the celebration on the river between the two resurrected souls (the sky is always white in this film) highlights the inequality which he is setting about correcting. He does so through a combination of self-help and the fraternal help of others. The deal with Mikolaj is subtly expressed through coloured scarves. When Mikolaj offers to help the destitute Karol he is wearing a red scarf (he is offering fraternity), but when he meets Karol later to gain his ‘liberty’, his scarf is blue. Also offering fraternity is Jurek whose neon sign above his barber shop is noticeably both red and white (the fraternity of brothers who are now equal), but the film’s dominant black and white highlights Kieślowski’s concern with the ‘get rich quick’ materialism that swept Poland in the aftermath of the end of Communism, everyone wanting extra-equality with Poland’s new European ‘friends’ as well as each other. The colour white literally blinds us on three occasions – twice on a repetition of a flashback (which could also be a flash-forward) to Karol’s wedding to Dominique where they are ‘equal’ before the Lord and once when Karol finally succeeds in bringing Dominique to orgasm. But this equality is both brief and illusory, the ideal proving to be as impossible to achieve as liberty was in Blue and fraternity will be in Red.

I have focused on White as a visualization of lex talionis and as a Biblical allegory mainly because most people have accused it of being too light and inconsequential when set between Blue and Red. This is the risk a filmmaker runs when he dares to make a comedy, even a sardonic black comedy like this one and I’m sure Kieślowski was well aware of this when he was making it. Of course if the humour suits your taste the film works wonderfully well as a comedy very much along the same lines as Dekalog 10 which also saw Zamachowski and Stuhr playing brothers. I love the opening 15 minute humiliation of Karol, the poor guy facing humiliation after humiliation to such an extent that we can only laugh – the bird defecating on his shoulder, the pathetic way he is left on the court steps by his icy ex-wife (that reptilian wave), the expression on his face as the bank teller cuts up his card, the busking scene where he meets Mikolaj (“Your fly’s undone”) and the way we follow him in the suitcase as it teeters perilously close to falling off a luggage truck à la the ending of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. In Poland the comedy continues mainly in the comic duo between brothers, Jerzy’s efforts to get Karol to cut the hair of ladies who no longer want his services and then Karol’s sudden kiss of Jerzy which elucidates a hilarious reaction. The jet black comic situations centering around death, buying a corpse, faking a death, the idiocy of Polish peasants (the guy who dreams of burying his newly gained money), launching a probably illegal import-export business, and so on are all spiced up with Zbigniew Preisner’s music (the delightful lop-sided tango especially noteworthy) and ensure that we remain thoroughly engaged throughout. There are also several delicious performances to really savor. Apart from Zamachowski’s absolutely brilliant central turn which bears comparison with Juliette Binoche’s performance in Blue there is Stuhr’s big-hearted brother and Gajos’ haunted Mikolaj which is every bit as nuanced as the father he played in Dekalog 4. Julie Delpy has a very unsympathetic role which she carries off well. Without the final sign language declaration of love from behind the bars she would be a complete monster and the film may indeed be as misogynistic as some have claimed it to be. As it is Kieślowski gets away with it, but only just.

This last scene was a late addition shot separately in a Paris studio and points to the only problem I see with this film. As tidily as the legal locations book-end the narrative and as clearly as the progress of lex talionis is rendered, the ending requires some swallowing for it rests on several implausibilities. How is it Dominique’s passport shows she was in Warsaw the day of Karol’s ‘death’? Karol’s death certificate is procured before Mikolaj calls Dominique to come for the funeral. Karol observes his own funeral and then that night presents himself to Dominique in her room. The next morning he disappears and the police end up at her door thanks to Mikolaj’s phone call. We hear that Karol is supposed to be in the air en-route to Hong Kong, but instead we are shown him saying goodbye to Jerzy and being sent off with a blue shopping bag. This man doesn’t look like he’s going on a long trip. He is then let into a prison that evening (how does he manage this exactly? Prisons just don’t open like that) to find Dominique presenting herself conveniently at her cell window for her to mime her love. This is all very unlikely and shows the director wanting to tie the ends of his film together poetically rather than realistically. He wants the prison finish to mirror the law court opening and he wants the ‘crying through a window’ scene to tally with the way both Blue and Red end. The presentation is very elliptical and we are unsure how much time passes though Jerzy’s talk of identifying the corpse does suggest that everything is happening very quickly within just a couple of days. As it stands the film suggests Karol does ‘turn the other cheek’ by softening his attitude, by not going to Hong Kong, by not giving up his name. The possibility of true equality between him and Dominique is left there, and possibly cemented at the closure of Red, but within the span of this film, true equality is shown only fleetingly in the two flashbacks/flash-forwards to their wedding (as seen by both of them individually) and in the brief moment of orgasm in the hotel room. This has been cleverly built up by two flash-forwards as Karol earlier decides his plan to a girl opening a door and crossing a room which we only later realize is of Dominique at the moment Karol sees her from her bed. The film ‘feels’ like it has reached its completion and arguably we should simply give in to the poetry after the brilliance of so much of what has passed before. The ending shouldn’t be so overwhelmingly moving, but the fact that it is bears tribute to Kieślowski’s considerable skill at accessing the inner lives of his protagonists and reaching the spirit through poetic means entirely his own.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 19 June 2016
White is a kind of allegory on the idea of equality, in this case, meaning revenge. The tone is that of a black comedy, and Kieslowski relies, I think, on the audience going with the central character, Karol, who is so sorely treated by his wife Dominique. At the same time, it encourages a certain detachment. Events oscillate between desperately sad and comic, in tone. It works to some extent because Karol is such a touching creation, an innocent abroad, quite literally, as he finds himself in a divorce court in Paris, barely able to speak the language, and humiliated by Dominique whose divorce claim is based on the marriage being unconsummated. He lives as a down-and-out as she piles on further cruelties, then returns to Poland in a suitcase, gets involved in killing someone who no longer wishes to live, possibly, and becomes a grabbing entrepreneur all in the interest of getting his own back. When he does this, things spiral out of control a bit - what he is actually feeling during the final 15 minutes of the film doesn't seem to stand up to scrutiny, as the revenge motif seems to have blackened his soul beyond all rescue, as hers was from the beginning. Then comes a final twist that, even allowing for a certain ambiguity, left me feeling dissatisfied. But this is just a personal reaction, I think …

The actual visual language of the film has less flight than other works by Kieslowski. It seems to be more focused on telling the tale than opening out constantly into moments of truth and spiritual grandeur. I did like a pigeon in the Paris metro early on; also, the fact of Karol's distinguished career as a hairdresser is well chosen, his certificates being allowed by him to roll onto the train lines, in his despair. Back in Poland, the snow adds the white element needed, filling the screen in an aesthetic opening-up, but without the intangible beauty you find in other of his films. In general I found it lacking in the humour that would save it - if you laugh, the film is a success, but if you cry with Karol, metaphorically, you are likely to end up feeling not so enthused.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 March 2016
Is there a bit of sexist snark at the bottom of "White," the middle movie of Kieslowski's "Three Colors" trilogy? When a man can't perform his marital duties, so to speak, and the woman takes charge (or tries to), nobody's happy. But if the man can recover his get-up-and-go, then all might yet be well. So it seems in "White" -- though the circumstances of that "wellness" at the movie's close are ironic, to say the least. How we are intended to process that irony (if indeed we are) isn't entirely clear. Is it a problem with the movie that the direction of the irony isn't clear? I tend to think not, if for no other reason than that the movie is clear in other ways and is also absorbing to watch. Most importantly, the story is clear: Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is the disappointing husband, in Paris, with his wife, Dominique (Julie Delpy), who is in the process of divorcing him, for non-consummation of marriage, as the movie opens. In some sense, it could be said that they still love another, but to no avail, and Karol returns to Poland, in a marvelous comic scene, with the help of Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos), another Pole whom he meets is a Paris subway and who offers to pay him to kill a man who wants to die but can't bring himself to commit suicide. Back in Poland, Karol finds a very different economic climate from the one he left -- Communism has fallen, and Poland is "Europe" now, which means that it's an economic free fire zone. (Need a dead body? No problem -- we can get one shipped from Russia!). On meeting up with Mikolaj, we learn that the man who wanted to die was Mikolaj himself. The scene in which the contract is met is richly comic, mainly because Mikolaj changes his mind, and he and Karol go into business very successfully. Zamachowski's performance as the new, confident Karol, bustling to prosperity in the wild West of the new Polish economy is quite marvelous. He now wants Dominique back and constructs a bizarre plan to win her -- about which I'll say no more, just in case any readers haven't seen the movie.

The question about irony that I raised earlier might be rephrased as a question about whether the movie is a kind of parable -- but if so, of what? Of the relation between economic success and sexual success? Or is it a political parable about old and new economic forces in Europe? The ending is a surprise, and that's what raised my original question about sexist snark, but it seems to me at least as likely that Kieslowski has chosen a dated, cliched vision of sexual relationships on which to hang a story that is more of a satire on a notion of freedom that can thrive in an economy open to capitalism for the first time in decades. Fetishism and commodification thrive in such an atmosphere, and the dated cliches of love are what perhaps work to make that comically and a bit painfully clear to us. So -- well worth seeing, definitely not boring. My sense of what the film is pointing to might be totally wrong, but it'll puzzle you into coming up with an account of why it seems, for all its oddness, to make sense.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 20 February 2013
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.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 18 May 2012
There is so much to admire in this second film in Kieslowski`s trilogy, not least an uncharacteristic element of near-farce, and a gallery of offbeat types more often to be found in one of Aki Kaurismaki`s mordantly droll films, that its shortcomings may seem less important.
From the word go, White is a film that mixes the emotional with the humorous. The central character played by Zbigniew Zamachowski is a ferrety, pasty-faced Pole who is in the process of being divorced by his beautiful young wife - the suitably ravishing Julie Delpy radiant in an early role - on the grounds that the marriage is unconsummated. Here the problems begin.
I found it hard to believe that a woman so obviously gorgeous, and so apparently self-possessed - though in truth we find out little about her, this being a very `male` film - would look twice at such a seemingly insignificant man. His lack of libido appears, the more the story gets under way, to be connected with his physical displacement (a Pole in Paris) as well as, one guesses, his sense of powerlessness, of not having achieved much on his own terms. His vaunted prowess as a prize-winning hairdresser is just one detail that is never quite explored in this highly entertaining if frustrating film.
His unorthodox, and literally unbelievable, relocation to his snow-laden homeland is the cue for more drollery, as he gradually becomes a hotshot (these scenes also require a hefty suspension of disbelief) and plots a darkly devious revenge on his ex-wife, whose mock-funeral she is duped into attending. What happens in the rest of the film is not only lacking in credibility but left a bad taste in at least one viewer`s mouth.
A big problem I had is that (unlike some of my fellow reviewers) I did not find the main character at all lovable, or even particularly likeable. He starts the film as a self-pitying washout and ends it as a preening cock-of-the-walk - until the final scene, in which we are led to believe the two leads are both in prisons of their own. Well, possibly...
There is a performance which stands out for me, and made me wish the film had been about him rather than our petulant Pole. The fellow countryman named Mikolaj whom the latter meets in Paris, who effects his "removal" back to Poland, and who shares with him two telling scenes underground, is played with doleful restraint by Janusz Gajos (who looks like a more crumpled cross between Engelbert Humperdinck and comedian Dave Allen!) and lends a gravitas to proceedings which the film`s unsteady mix of Mr Bean knockabout and emotional frailty sorely needs.
There are visual echoes of the previous film in the trilogy, Blue, including early on a brief glimpse of Juliette Binoche as her character from that film, in a
"mirror image" of a scene we saw in Blue, one reason these three films are best seen in sequence.
Despite all its arguable faults, its bracing dark humour, the excellent performances, and the director`s mastery of the form, all make the film well worth seeing. I still find aspects of it less than credible, and Delpy is to my mind ill-used, but there is enough in this odd little film to keep one watching.
7 out of 10.
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on 17 January 2016
I came to this film not as a 'serious' student of film (which was possibly a mistake), but as someone seeking out something different, thoughtful but ultimately entertaining. It achieved one of those. Krzysztof Kieslowski is revered as a director. Well sorry but for me on this offering I don't see why. OK the story was original and as with so many European films, beautifully shot. It is almost a single handed piece with the 'hero' Zbigniew Zamachowski seldom out of shot. He plays his character well though my mind kept leaping to Bob Mortimer (a British comedian). Sorry Zbig.

Forget the word comedy on the DVD packaging. It isn't. The main fault was that story was poorly defined. Major plot elements were dealt with in few seconds of film or a single line of speech. SPOILER from the reviews I have since read Zbigniew/Bob was out for revenge on his wife. I didn't pick that up at all. I thought he was trying to win her back. The cameo by Juliette Binoche was a nice touch but added nothing to the enjoyment of the whole film. The ending was baffling.

Three Colours Red awaits me. I hope its better than this.
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on 7 July 2005
Blue was the first... It was bleak, it was moody, and held a lot of weighty issues dealing with loss, grief and personal liberation. Red was the final... It was rich in colour, deep with emotion and, had a multi-layered plot that drew comparisons with Kieslowski's earlier hit, the Double Life of Veronique. It was also his final film.
Somewhere in between those deep, thoughtful meditations on the nature of life and love came the second film in the trilogy... White. Maybe because this film - which for all intensive purposes is about gaining equality - is less emotionally rigid than the two films that act as bookends - or perhaps because the issues analysed here are less weighty - White has always been somewhat overlooked and undervalued by the majority of fans and critics. I think this is a bit of a shame really, because for me, the film represents something of a pleasant change of pace for the director, allowing him to create characters that are much more lucid and three-dimensional (away from the anguished, metaphysical ciphers in Red and Blue), as well as offering him the chance to use moments of comedy and kind pathos to undercut the more thoughtful or reflective moments of drama. The characters here are wonderfully rendered, with our central protagonist Karol Karol - the most perfect example of a tragi-comic hero this side of the silent age - trying to find his place in the world after a bitter divorce and an embarrassing court procedure leave him uncertain of who he really is.
The rest of the film charts his journey from nobody, to somebody, right back to nobody (with some devilish twists along the way), whilst also touching on notions of power, personal equality and the all consuming power of love. The relationship between Karol and his wife/ex-wife Dominique is one filled with paradox and contradiction, which to me seems a lot more realistic and believable than some critics at the time would suggest. Both characters profess a love for one another, but then go on to do absolutely vile things to try and subvert the power and equality between themselves. Ultimately, the film comes down to a simple equation... would you destroy yourself and sacrifice everything in the name of true love? Although filled with dark humour and a number of actions and rationalisations that seem to be brimming with bitterness, White is really an inspirational film... one that fills you with a sense of hope and makes you believe that anything is possible.
The ending of the film, like the endings to almost all of Kieslowski's works, is a one that transcends everything that went before and subverts every nuance of the characters and their relationship throughout the film (making you want to go back and experience the whole thing again. As final scenes go, the closing moments of this film are amongst the most sublime and beautifully melancholic depictions of enduring love and hope that I've ever seen, managing to be both touching and emotionally moving, without relying on cloying sentimentality.
The visualisation of the film is stunning with Kieslowski - as he had done with Blue and Red - utilising the colour of the title to give us a film that is both cold and neutral. His depiction of Poland in the later scenes of the film - replete with icy lakes, towering buildings and roads caked in snow - owes more to his defining Decalogue than the autumnal setting of Veronique, with the locations really going against the obvious actions of the film to give us the internal realisation of Karol and Dominique's true feelings (cold and emotionally barren). Kieslowski has just as firm a grip on his actors, with both Zbigniew Zamachowski (no, I can't pronounce it either!) and Julie Delpy giving great, multi-layered performances that manage to convey the loving, internal warmth, hidden beneath the cold, icy exteriors. Equally as impressive is Janusz Gajos as Karol's Polish confidant Mikolaj, who here plays an important part in much of the plot.
Although this is a film rich in visual poetry and dense in symbolism, it is by no means a heavy film. In fact, it's the lightest and most enjoyable of the three, with Kieslowski and his co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz crafting a witty and anarchic film filled with moments of dark comedy and interesting drama. I even think it's a better film than the gloomy, though no less critically acclaimed Blue... but that could just be a matter of personal taste. At any rate, White is an enjoyable, interesting and greatly rewarding film that deserves to be seen in it's own right (as opposed to being evaluated alongside Blue and Red)... Get the box set and enjoy all three.
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on 31 May 2011
This is the second part in Krystof Kieslowski's Three Colours trilogy, looking at the idea of equality. The story focusses on the fall and rise of Karol, a Polish hairdresser whose world is destroyed when his French wife divorces him, leaving him homeless and broke in Paris.

He is given a mote of hope of returning to Poland when a man identifies the tune he was playing on a piece of paper and a comb as being Polish, and offers Karol passage back to Poland, on the proviso that he kill a man who wants to be killed but lacks the courage to commit suicide. Karol, faced the moral dilemma, agrees to the deal, and smuggles himself inside a suitcase.

In a slight swipe at the airline industry, the suitcase gets lost and Karol finds himself home, but isolated. I shan't spoil it by telling you what he ultimately does with regard to the moral dilemma, though the story does progress beyond this. Through some new found-cunning, he engineers a windfall for himself and establishes a good business, though also creates some enemies at the same time. His enduring love for his ex-wife remains and he finds a way of bringing her to Poland so that she can share in his success. But she too is left with a moral dilemma (the details of which I shall not spoil) and she can show that she still loves him by an act of self-sacrifice, or she can leave him in Poland as she previously left him in Paris. The final scene of the film portrays the consequence of her decision in a wordless series of images that speak a thousand words.

At all times, the film is whisper, rather than a shout, and so the experience of watching this compared to a Hollywood blockbuster is like the difference between sitting by a quiet lake and sitting on a roller-coaster. It will not be everyone's taste, though I enjoyed it immensely.
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on 27 January 2011
Three Colours White
Director Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1993, Polish and French with English subtitles
(certificate 15)

Extraordinarily judged story of Equality, meaning here not equality of rights, though that is included, but absolute equality on all levels. This is the central film of three, each to illustrate one of the feted slogans of the French Revolution. Here Equality is clinical, without mercy, and as supportive a religion as any replacement of Catholicism can offer. There is no sentimentality in the sentimental ending, only love, which is both essential and equally irrelevant.
Karol is a Polish hairdresser in love with his beautiful French wife who is in love with him. The film begins when she annuls the marriage on the ground of non-consummation and wreaks on him a terrible vengeance, passionate and unstoppable on every front. Everything else that happens shows how Karol, back in Poland, turns each whim of fate into an instrument to slake his thirst for Equality in the revenge he plots to take. There is barely a predictable moment throughout and the setting of the action in economically creaky Poland is a treat of ingenuity, a source of great lines and a totally riveting reinvention of what can actually be funny. Though billed as a comedy, this brilliantly scripted and closely observed film has a truly impressive intellectualism. There are many ghosts of Polish history if one looks carefully - the Central European theme of the little man that survives, the sheer professionalism and cheerful business-sense of the Russian occupying mafia, the vibrancy of vodka, the sly yet ignorant face of peasantry, the pre-paper society, the poetic melancholy of the man with the photographic memory who forgets nothing and can barely live with it all, the militarism of the final prison and the pain that accompanies success.
Of course Equality is white - it is the colour of a wedding in post-Revolutionary France and the symbol of Poland's gripping and intermittently disastrous marriage with Western republicanism and her intermittent foreign conquest.
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VINE VOICEon 23 August 2012
A droll.black comedy that talks of the personal and political adjustments of the new Europe."We're European now" Karol's(Zamachowski) brother tells him when he gets back to the post-Soviet capitalist Poland,and sees a flashing sign now outside the hairdresser's.After the uplift of Blue this film is very deadpan,sardonic and edgy with its predominant character Karol's(Charlie after Chaplin)need to overcome impotence,language barriers(Dominique his wife is French,he's Polish) and divorce while still in love with Dominique(Delphy).White stands in the tricolour for personal and political equality.We get flashbacks to the wedding scene with Dominique emerging from Church dressed in white and the pigeons all flying up,we also get some very snowy landscapes in Karol's native Poland,there's also an alabaster figure which reminds him of Dominique,which gets chipped and broken.The couple are estranged and apart and we get to see little of Delphy as a character as this is more about the effects she has on Karol's life.Karol is a hairdresser and gets back to Poland in a suitcase with the help of Mikolaj(Gajos),a man who offers him a job to put an end to a would-be suicide's life.Karol transforms himself from destitute to powerful yet warm-hearted: his aim to get Domique back as in get back together with her and to get even with her.He reawakens Dominique's love through a cunning scheme.Kieslowski lays bare the impoverished ethics of the new money-obsessed Poland and also suggests one can never go back.This is a cruel film whose coolness yet harbours some embers of humanity and a lyrical admission of the power of love.Zamochowski is brilliant.Preisner's score is superb.
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