Last week, Theresa May called for a “red, white and blue Brexit,” which was very European of her considering those are famously the colours of the French Tricolore. Based on the three ideals of the French Revolution, the colours represent liberty, equality and fraternity. In 1993-4, Polish director Krzysztof Kieślowski made a trilogy of films based on each of these themes: the Three Colours trilogy, a name parodied by Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg’s Three Flavours (Cornetto) trilogy.
The first of these films is Blue, and I’m not just talking about sex. In this case, blue stands for liberty; emotional liberty, rather than political liberty. It follows Julie (Juliette Binoche) as she moves to Paris following the death of her husband and daughter in a car crash. We learn that her husband (Hugues Quester) was a famous composer and that she herself helped write some of his most celebrated pieces. Desperate to shut herself off from the pain of grief, Julie destroys his works and isolates herself from the music and people around her. She takes an apartment in Paris where she can move on, like Marlon Brando in Last Tango in Paris but with more mice and less dubious directing.
Through haunting performances, aesthetics and music, Kieślowski composes a beguiling rhapsody in blue. The colour washes across the screen, accompanied by a striking orchestral score to amplify Julie’s painful memories. His detailed close-ups of Julie’s face capture an enigmatic and expert performance by Binoche, who resembles Audrey Tautou from certain angles. Every character feels complex no matter how brief their screen time, including Julie’s friend Lucille (Charlotte Véry) and mother (Amour‘s Emmanuelle Riva) who has Alzheimer’s; her memories are confused while Julie’s are agonising.
Like Amour there’s an emphasis on music, but Blue does not move us in the way Michael Haneke’s film so elegantly managed. It has a more inscrutable quality, achieved by Kieślowski’s strange direction and Julie’s unpredictable behaviour; which is to say she behaves like a person in the throes of grief. At times it feels almost Lynchian in its abstraction, with a scene at a nightclub that literally contains a nice touch.
Blue in mood as well as colour, the film casts a subtly seductive kind of spell that’s slightly similar to last year’s Carol but more… French. And by that I mean beautiful women doing not very much in Parisian cafés and spacious homes. It features a little sex, a lot of death and even the occasional French joke: “They told me you were dead. You seem fine.” Or this sidesplitter: “I need to talk to you, it’s important,” to which Julie replies, “nothing’s important.”
An endlessly fascinating French film, this is a quietly audacious mediation on grief; a mature character study of a woman attempting to rebuild a shattered life, who seeks liberty in isolation but finds it in art; a deeply layered story of mice and memory.