Movie Project #17: Three Colors: White [1994]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

Three Colors: White [1994]

Three Colors: White [1994]
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Screenplay: Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Krzysztof Kieślowski
Country: France/Poland/Switzerland
Genre: Comedy/Drama
Starring: Zbigniew Zamachowski, Julie Delpy, Janusz Gajos
Running Time: 92 minutes

Reason for inclusion: The Three Colors trilogy is widely considered to be among the best trilogies in history, and it has been a major blind spot for me. I had also never seen a Krzysztof Kieslowski film before this project.

Accolades: Silver Bear award for Best Director at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival

On the French flag, the color white is meant to symbolize equality. In Three Colors: White, widely considered the most “playful” of the trilogy, this concept is flipped into an entertaining revenge story.

Zbigniew Zamachowski stars as Karol Karol, a Polish man who is in the midst of a divorce from his stunning wife, Dominique (a very young Julie Delpy). This isn’t his choice, mind you. He brought her to Paris per her wishes and has desperately tried to keep their marriage alive by any means necessary. Yet Dominique will have none of it. During the divorce proceedings, Karol’s problems are highlighted, the biggest being his inability to consummate the marriage.

Three Colors: White [1994]

Karol loses everything in the divorce, including his business, his legal residency in France and all of his money. He begins bussing at subway stations, and a chance encounter with another Pole, Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos), seems to bring him hope. They conspire on a way to get Karol back to his home country. Their best idea? Stuff Karol in a suitcase.

Surprisingly, this plan works, though it does have its setbacks. The luggage containing Karol is stolen by airport employees, and he is badly beaten when discovered inside. No matter to him — he’s just happy to be home.

Three Colors: White [1994]

Karol goes back to his brother and begins working with him as a hairdresser once again. This quickly grows tiresome, however, so he begins finding other sources of income. Eventually he starts his own business — the exact means of which are unclear — and things start to look up for ol’ Karol. All of this hard work is for one ultra-personal goal: to extract revenge on the woman who hurt him most.

The means that Karol goes to hurt Dominique are nothing short of extraordinary, and the film goes into darkly comic territory in doing so. The tone is noticeably lighter than in Blue, and there are a number of genuinely amusing moments. Karol is a likable character, and it’s easy to root for him to get revenge in his rags-to-riches story. Dominique comes across as a cold-hearted bitch; it isn’t until near the end that we see her in a kinder light. This makes me wish that we did get to know Delpy’s character a bit better, as there seem to be many layers to her personality.

Three Colors: White [1994]

Once again, the titular color is all over the film, especially in the form of Poland’s snowy landscape. There is even a subtle reference to the first film — Juliette Binoche’s character briefly peeks her head into the courtroom during the divorce hearing (in Blue, we only saw her open and shut the door). Music does not play as big of a part, though Zbigniew Preisner once again provides the score.

White seems to be the most overlooked of the trilogy, and that is unfortunate. This film doesn’t go to the emotional depths as the other two, but that also makes it arguably the most accessible of the group.


12 thoughts on “Movie Project #17: Three Colors: White [1994]

  1. ruth says:

    This sounds like a hoot, Eric. Is this movie set in French? I know Delpy can speak the language. Interesting use of colors in films, surely.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      It’s a mix of Polish and French with a few lines of English thrown in. Part of the reason for Karol and Dominique’s divorce is Karol’s lack of understanding the French language — he fares much better once he gets back to Poland. 🙂

  2. Chris says:

    I think part of the reason I love this film is because I just feel sorry for the poor guy 🙂
    Theme of equality is interesting, for me, it’s kind of a universal truth that the person with the least interest in the relationship(Dominique), controls it. Though not that straight-forward, considering the mysterious ending.
    I agree it would have added something if we had got to know Delpy’s character a bit better.

    • Eric @ The Warning Sign says:

      Haha, yep I felt bad for Karol as well. He made for quite the entertaining character though.

      White’s ending kind of threw me for a loop at first. I had no idea what the sign language meant, but thankfully there’s a helpful video floating around where Julie Delpy explains its meaning. Really cool.

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