Three colours: blue, white, red

video, 135 min, 2012


Analysis of the colours of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s film trilogy. The films have been dismantled into separate frames, the mean colour of each frame calculated and then the single-coloured frames rearranged back into films.
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A three-point support is said to be the safest of all. It is all the more noticeable in the case of an uneven surface, like cobble-stones, sand or imagination. Insects walk by moving three of their legs while the other three stay firmly on the ground. Land surveyors use tripods; orators also love trinities. From Caesar’s ‘veni, vidi, vici’ tricolon to the title of the classical Latvian trilogy by Anna Brigadere, ‘God. Nature. Work’, succinct combinations of three words possess special power and create an effect of artistic completeness. They are guaranteed to work on the listeners’ emotions, even if we sometimes realise that not everything is quite right about them.

One of the most inspiring examples, the ‘freedom, equality, fraternity’ slogan is still topical – as well as controversial. Which is what it is said to have been from the word go. While the concept of freedom can been more or less agreed on, there certainly remain questions regarding equality: equality in what sense and in front of what? As for the third entity of the triad, there have been different versions, and sometimes it has been completely left out.

Perhaps it was for the very reason of this complexity that Kieslowski chose the French tricolour as the totem for his most famous cycle of films. It features an abundance of difficult relationships and a wide range of high emotions, including fear of one’s own emotions. Binoche’s character says: ‘I don’t want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. Those are all traps.’ What would it be like to live without emotions, without form, with content alone?

The director is said to have noted that, had the three films been financed by some other country instead of France, the cultural connotations would also have been different. And yet the movies themselves would have remained the same. Does that mean that blue-white-red could have as convincingly been black-red-yellow, or, in a more lucky parallel universe, red-white-red? As I recall the emotional response to watching the films, the colour codes do take the spotlight, whether I like it or not. The blue chandelier of the first film and particularly the red accents of the last one left a striking impact on me. Eventually, my memories of the storylines became blurred; the particular visual images still linger.

Was it only make-up, a catchy motto, a costume easily changed? Or perhaps ‘Blue’ was not blue at all, no more than ‘White’ was white or ‘Red’ was red, and what had actually happened was me falling into a trap of emotions set by a clever rhetorician? Is the visual no more than a simple setting for something else, something very important and quite self sufficient?

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