Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs trilogy is not only his cinematographic tour de force, but is also a collection of well-choreographed objects. The mélange of objects that star in the film build bridges of memory through color and shape and place. Because of the blur of blue, white, and red that appear throughout, this essay employs a series of circular charts derived from the cataloguing of all of the objects that appear in the films.
But first, have a look at a scene from each part:
An Alpha Romeo crashes into a tree in the countryside. This accident immediately starts a series of actions and objects in motion. Smoke pours from the hood of the dark grey car, a dog runs across the road, a beach ball blows across the field (blue-white-red-white-yellow-white), and white papers spill into the humid air. Sorrow and desolation hang in the atmosphere, but for Julie they will not last forever.
Karol gazes at the shape of a white portrait bust of a woman across the room. Half eaten toast remains on a white plate with a knife, next to an unfinished glass of wine. He bends to the floor and picks up the receiver of a white telephone. All he wants is to hear her voice, but she hangs up. He’ll have to do something drastic now.
Valentine receives a phone call: an invitation to go bowling. While she tosses a red ball down the red-walled lane, a couple leaves. A broken glass of beer, a crumpled and empty cigarette pack, and the last cigarette smoldering in the chrome ashtray are the only items that remain from the couple’s night out.
Critics say there is an overwhelming number of blue, white, and red objects in all of the films. It’s true: there is an intense amount of symbolism and complexity in the placement of every coffee cup and the timing of every car that passes. But Kieslowski has not overdone it. Rather, he has carefully assembled the elements to form experiences that feel like personal memories for the audience, as if these events are happening to them and not on the screen.
With Bleu, the audience is crushed by the weight of the beginning sequence (as described above.) Sadness hovers over the main character, Julie (Juliette Binoche), for a majority of the film. Melancholy clouds her vision. The number of blue objects in the film is not the focus here, rather the magnitude of blue feelings is the more persistent element: the vastness of the blue pool, the memories associated with a blue candy wrapper, the cloudy blue light that appears whenever Julie hears music in her head, and the overwhelming power of blue reflections from a crystal chandelier. The list of items is short, but their meaning is highly important to the tale.
Objects in Bleu
Since the color blue stands out so insistently, red and white objects also have greater impact. It is also interesting to note, as the chart here demonstrates, that the number of white objects, in this part of the trilogy, far exceeds the number of blue and red objects.
To interpret the meaning here, it is important to understand the symbolism linked to each color.
Blue = Liberty or Freedom
White = Equality or Fairness
Red = Fraternity or Interconnectedness
These colors are equally represented in the French flag; Kieslowski wanted his trilogy to be symbolic of their meaning.
In applying these definitions to the context of the film, it is clear that Julie tries to separate herself from the belongings and memories of her former life. However, in the process of trying to achieve true independence from her past, she soon learns that her life cannot continue without making connections to the people around her. The message here is: complete freedom is impossible to achieve, because our connections to others and our responsibilities eventually unify us.
Dissimilar from Bleu, Bialy (“White,” in Polish) begins with a different kind of crash, one that is erratic and frustrating. The main character, Karol (played by Zbigniew Zamachowski) suffers through divorce proceedings with his French wife Dominique (Julie Delpy) after which he loses his home, his assets, and the woman he loves. After his tragic loss, he maneuvers through a series of comedic and peculiar tactics, all for the purpose of getting even with his ex-wife.
Objects in Bialy
The over-arching presence of the color of white is highly understandable in this film, whose plot not only deals with legality from start to finish, but also takes place in the snowy Christmastime of Warsaw, Poland. Purity and sterility are also a part of the symbolism of whiteness, but it is the build-up of an unexpected plan that makes it possible for a homeless hairdresser like Karol, to become a wealthy businessman in what seems to be a few short weeks. Kieslowski shows that anything is possible in an environment of equality.
In Rouge, the audience watches Valentine (Irène Jacob) and Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit) through a series of peeps into their apartments and onto the street that separates them. They do not even suspect how their lives will eventually intersect. But the viewer, or rather the voyeur, knows that somehow they will come together. It takes the involvement of books dropped in the middle of the street, a collision with a German Shepherd, a spying judge, an unfaithful girlfriend, and a ferry in the English Channel to finally link the two main characters who are already neighbors living in Geneva.
Objects in Rouge
Rouge is the culmination of the trilogy, both in message and literally in the conclusion. From the beginning, the film emphasizes chance, transportation, and communication through a series of images of telephone wires, repeated locations, and cars on the street. In this piece, Kieslowski uses so many red objects and so much symbolism that it is impossible to miss the meaning of the emblematic, even fetishistic, imagery.
The core of the trilogy is to draw attention to the colors of the French flag. At first glance, this may seem a bit odd for a Polish director. It is likely that Kieslowski’s obsession with France has more to do with the French government funding his films than any sense of connection he has to France or French people. However, it can be deduced that he found the French government far superior to the disorganization that fell upon Poland in the years after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Objects in Trois Couleurs
In its entirety, Trois Couleurs employs the use of at least 190 blue, white, and red objects. In number, the red and white objects are more prevalent—one wonders if this was the intention of Kieslowski. Overall, Kieslowski employs all three films to draw attention to the importance of interconnectedness and equality. Additionally, it is important to consider the colors of the Polish and Swiss flags. Poland’s flag consists of two equal stripes of white and red while the Swiss flag is red with a white cross at the center. Counting each color equally in each the French, Polish, and Swiss Flag, that graph looks like this:
Colors in French, Polish, and Swiss Flags
It’s impressive how similar the last two graphs are to one another.
Another way to assess meaning behind the colors is to measure the significance of the most important objects in the films, including all colors involved. This study incorporates the following objects:
“Karol” flashing light sign @ salon
Suspenders (2 – red + brown)
Bottle of pear brandy
Bouquet of daisies
Door of the dispensary
Doors in veterinary office
Glass wall of Julie’s hospital balcony
Kitchen chairs (2 – red + white)
Painting in Olivier’s apartment
Papers (flying out of the crashed car)
Phone wires + circuitry
Ribbon on TV antenna
Rita’s leash + collar
Sculpture of woman’s bust
Unfinished glass of…
Word on box (Blanco)
Necklace with gold cross pendant
In graphic form, these significant objects look like this:
It is clear that the red objects appear most often.
Overall, this series of charts demonstrates how Trois Couleurs emphasizes the importance of interconnection and brotherhood. Although it is possible that the director got carried away in using blue, white, and red objects, especially his use of red toward the conclusion, knowing the careful eye of Kieslowski was usually so calculating and well planned, it seems unlikely that the balance of blue, white, and red objects could have happened by chance. But Kieslowski probably wanted it to seem this way.
Trois Couleurs: Bleu, Bialy, Rouge were released in 1993, 1994, and 1994, respectively. Krzysztof Kieslowski co-wrote the films with Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Both Krzysztofs were natives of Warsaw, Poland. Kieslowski died in 1996 during open-heart surgery following a heart attack.