Movie Project #18: Three Colors: Red [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: Red [1994]

Three Colors: Red [1994]
Director: Krzysztof Kieslowski
Screenplay: Krzysztof Piesiewicz and Krzysztof Kieślowski
Country: France/Poland/Switzerland
Genre: Drama/Mystery/Romance
Starring: Irène Jacob, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Frédérique Feder
Running Time: 99 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: Three Oscar nominations (Best Director, Best Cinematography, Best Original Screenplay), Palme d’Or nomination, Best Foreign Language Film from National Board Review, five César Award nominations, four BAFTA nominations, entry in Roger Ebert’s Great Movies, Criterion Collection

In closing out the Three Colors trilogy, Red follows the French ideal of fraternity. Here we have a number of individuals that are all connected in some way, often without them truly knowing it.

Valentine Dussaut (Irène Jacob) is a beautiful young woman who stays busy by modeling and taking ballet lessons. One night while driving home from dance practice, she accidentally hits a German Shepherd with her car. Valentine finds the owner’s address on the dog’s collar and drives in that direction (presumably the owner is closer than an animal hospital). She notifies the owner, an old reclusive ex-judge named Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant), though he seems completely ambivalent to the incident. He tells Valentine to keep the dog, which she does, and promptly takes it to the vet.

Three Colors: Red [1994]

Later, the dog, now fixed up thanks to the vet, runs away, ultimately going back to the judge’s house. Valentine rushes over there and discovers that Kern is eavesdropping on his neighbor’s telephone conversation. Apparently this is his post-retirement hobby, ad he has been doing this illegally for years. Valentine is appalled by his behavior, and she leaves with her dog, vowing never to return.

Yet there is something that keeps bringing these two together, and they form a platonic friendship despite their obscenely different views on voyeurism.

Another important relationship comes in the form of Valentine’s neighbor, Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit), and his girlfriend, Karin (Frederique Feder). They are seemingly in love, but little problems keep popping up between the two of them, as is wont in ill-destined relationships. Auguste’s life is startlingly similar to that of a young Kern, and he keeps ending up in a series of near-miss encounters with Valentine.

Three Colors: Red [1994]

Fate is continuously acknowledged via these coincidences. Perhaps Valentine and Kern would have made a great couple if they had been able to meet at the same age; after all, they seem to be kindred spirits. It is possible that it is now her destiny to be with Auguste, who is currently going through a series of events similar to those that eventually made Kern a recluse.

The performances here are fantastic — the unlikely friendship between Valentine and Kern feels effortlessly authentic thanks to Jacob and Trintignant — and there is certainly a lot of depth to the film. Red asks the most questions out of the trilogy, and there are so many layers that it is impossible to unravel them in just one viewing. My gut reaction was an appreciation of the film, but I didn’t fall in love with it like I did Blue and, to a lesser extent, White. I suspect that this may change on later viewings, as now I know what to expect, and I can pick up on the subtle clues that Kieslowski drops throughout the film. I would love to revisit this sometime down the road, but as it stands now, this ranks third in the trilogy for me.

8/10

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.

8/10

Hoop Dreams [1994] Movie Review

Hoop Dreams [1994]

Hoop Dreams [1994] 
Director: Steve James
Genre: Documentary/Drama/Sports
Language: English
Country: USA

People always say to me, “when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me.” Well, I should’ve said back, “if I don’t make it to the NBA, don’t you forget about me.”
– William Gates

Hoop Dreams is a documentary about two Chicago inner-city African-American kids, William Gates and Arthur Agee, who eat, breathe and sleep basketball, and aspire someday to play in the NBA. The movie follows them through their high school years as they attempt to lead their teams to the championship all while keeping their heads above water academically.

Both students are recruited to the famous St. Joseph’s High School in Westchester, Illinois. These guys make the rough 90-minute commute every day because of the school’s reputation; after all, this is where Isiah Thomas played during his youth. An early scene shows Thomas visiting his alma mater, and it is fun to watch the kids sitting there in awe while listening to their hero. Both teens struggle with their new school at first — it takes some time to adjust to a racially diverse school considering their home neighborhoods (Cabrini-Green and West Garfield Park). When Agee struggles to play up to his potential at the school, he is dropped from the program without so much of a blink of an eye. All of a sudden Agee’s family is left with a large tuition bill that they cannot afford. This doesn’t happen to Gates. He becomes the star of his team and gets financial support from a wealthy old white lady, simply because he has been able to better utilize his talent on the court. These types of discrepancies are all too common, and Hoop Dreams brings attention to this light.

Perhaps what I loved most about this documentary is that it is wildly unpredictable. I didn’t know anything about either kid beforehand, so I had no idea what to expect. It’s easy to see in the beginning stages of the movie who is more likely to succeed, but there are always twists that can hamper anyone’s path to their dreams. Both teenagers have immense basketball talent, yet both fight hardships along their way.

Make no mistake: even though this movie is about basketball, it is so much more than that. This is a film that tackles important issues in American life, problems with racial and economic divisions, class and our educational system, not to mention the pursuit of the American Dream. This is a movie about families, and how important it is to stick together.

It should be noted that Hoop Dreams is a three hour film. There aren’t many movies of this length that have kept my interest throughout, but this is one of them. There is a lot of story to tell here, and it’s amazing that the filmmakers were able to cut down over 250 hours of footage into this picture. The extended length is never a burden, and it allows us to learn more about the families of both children. It is hard not to be intrigued by Curtis Gates, William’s older brother who was also a basketball stud but let his bad attitude and temperament ruin his once-promising career. It’s hard not to feel for the Agee family, as Arthur’s dad fights a difficult battle with drug addiction.

Hoop Dreams is a movie that I will soon not forget. Don’t let its extended running time and it’s blatant 90s look scare you — this is a masterpiece of a documentary that still resonates today.

10/10

Hoop Dreams Trailer from Kartemquin Films on Vimeo.

Hoop Dreams [1994]

Hoop Dreams [1994]

Hoop Dreams [1994]
Directors: Steve James
Genre: Documentary/Drama/Sports
Language: English
Country: USA

People always say to me, “when you get to the NBA, don’t forget about me.” Well, I should’ve said back, “if I don’t make it to the NBA, don’t you forget about me.”
– William Gates

Hoop Dreams is a documentary about two Chicago inner-city African-American kids, William Gates and Arthur Agee, who eat, breathe and sleep basketball, and aspire someday to play in the NBA. The movie follows them through their high school years as they attempt to lead their teams to the championship all while keeping their heads above water academically.

Both students are recruited to the famous St. Joseph’s High School in Westchester, Illinois. These guys make the rough 90-minute commute every day because of the school’s reputation; after all, this is where Isiah Thomas played during his youth. An early scene shows Thomas visiting his alma mater, and it is fun to watch the kids sitting there in awe while listening to their hero. Both teens struggle with their new school at first — it takes some time to adjust to a racially diverse school considering their home neighborhoods (Cabrini-Green and West Garfield Park). When Agee struggles to play up to his potential at the school, he is dropped from the program without so much of a blink of an eye. All of a sudden Agee’s family is left with a large tuition bill that they cannot afford. This doesn’t happen to Gates. He becomes the star of his team and gets financial support from a wealthy old white lady, simply because he has been able to better utilize his talent on the court. These types of discrepancies are all too common, and Hoop Dreams brings attention to this light.

Perhaps what I loved most about this documentary is that it is wildly unpredictable. I didn’t know anything about either kid beforehand, so I had no idea what to expect. It’s easy to see in the beginning stages of the movie who is more likely to succeed, but there are always twists that can hamper anyone’s path to their dreams. Both teenagers have immense basketball talent, yet both fight hardships along their way.

Make no mistake: even though this movie is about basketball, it is so much more than that. This is a film that tackles important issues in American life, problems with racial and economic divisions, class and our educational system, not to mention the pursuit of the American Dream. This is a movie about families, and how important it is to stick together.

It should be noted that Hoop Dreams is a three hour film. There aren’t many movies of this length that have kept my interest throughout, but this is one of them. There is a lot of story to tell here, and it’s amazing that the filmmakers were able to cut down over 250 hours of footage into this picture. The extended length is never a burden, and it allows us to learn more about the families of both children. It is hard not to be interested in Curtis Gates, William’s older brother who was also a basketball stud but let his bad attitude and temperament ruin his once-promising career. It’s hard not to feel for the Agee family, as Arthur’s dad fights a difficult battle with drug addiction.

Hoop Dreams is a movie that I will soon not forget. Don’t let its extended running time and it’s blatant 90’s look scare you — this is a masterpiece of a documentary that still resonates today.

10/10

Hoop Dreams Trailer from Kartemquin Films on Vimeo.