In the film series Three Colors, director Krzysztof Kieslowski utilizes color theory as a tool to tell the story of intimacy and pain. In Blue, Kieslowski (The Double Life of Veronique, The Decalogue) collaborates with Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak (Black Hawk Down, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) to specifically convey a story about a woman and her painful life by focusing on the details and reflections of her private world.
The film’s main character, Julie played beautifully by Juliette Binoche (Chocolat, The English Patient) survives a car crash that kills her husband and daughter. Upon returning to her life the perspective of her world is completely changed. It is through the cinematography that Blue reveals the inner thoughts of the emotionally wrought Julie; expressing visually the emotions she cannot communicate verbally. With precious little dialogue, the filmmakers depend heavily upon the well-constructed images to tell the story, and the result is remarkably satisfying.
Blue, the first of the color themed films by Kieslowski (Blue, White, Red), uses the first ten minutes of the film to establish the camera as storyteller, providing three great extreme close ups of particular detail, and emphasizing the color blue via a foil held by Anna, Julie’s daughter. It flails in the wind as the car she is riding in passes. Only Anna’s hand with the foil is seen and we are not introduced to the little girl until the car stops and she runs off into the bushes. Following that there is a close up of oil dripping down a wire underneath the car. This shot includes the young Anna in the unfocused background getting back into the car. This micro detail (presented in a near poetic composition) foreshadows the car crash that is about to happen.
Then Kieslowski makes a very unique and deliberate choice. In a marvelous twist of selective composition, the camera does not reveal the accident. We first hear the news of the tragic event when Julie wakes up in the hospital and is told that her husband and daughter did not survive. This is a particularly good example of how cinematography is used to control what we do, as well as what we do not see of any given world. Instead of presenting a horrific crash, Kieslowski opts for the extreme opposite of a graphic accident to demonstrate the powerful impact of such a catastrophe. Julie hears the news and retreats from the outer world and into her own private one. The camera conveys this internal reaction by pushing in tight upon a pillow feather on Julie’s hospital bed, which then moves to the pattern of her breath. This is one of the first moments we truly experience through her eyes, setting up the movie as an intimate encounter of Julie’s life.
This very personal perspective continues to be emphasized through Julie’s vision, which is now physically distorted as a result of the crash: when we see what she sees the view is narrow and precise. We first experience this when seeing the doctor reflected in her eye. This has the effect of pulling the audience close to Julie while conveying her emotion of sadness as tears flow forth. And later, while Julie is reading her husband’s sheet music there is a “vignetted” blur around the music notes, which again places the focus on a very precise and meaningful point of interest. It cinematography like this that keeps the audience close to Julie while the character stays distant from those around her.
Another strong component to the cinematography is the use of lighting. Blue hues are reflected on Julie’s face many times throughout the film. Interestingly, there is never a direct light shown on any object but only indirect light. This ephemeral quality to the illumination enhances the feeling of Julie being haunted by her dead husband. This is particularly noticeable when Julie is swimming; the entire poolroom is blue, the water, the walls, though the room is incredibly dark and lit only by the indirect, illuminated blue.
Light is also relied upon heavily to demonstrate the passage of time, such as when Julie is in a coffee house where music is heard from a nearby flute. The camera closes in on the coffee mug and a light is seen to pass over from left to right. Much like the path of the sun this movement of light represents the passing of time. I found this representation to be quite creative while simultaneously focusing on a small detail through Julie’s perspective. Similarly, light is used to pass time in the park when Julie falls asleep. Light is shone across her face, then into the camera and then she wakes up. Conversely, complete black outs represent the opposite of the time-lapse whenever Julie needs a moment to escape. The blackouts happen at least three times in the film when Julie want’s to remain distant from what is happening around her because she cannot face what has occurred.
Three Colors: Blue is one of my favorite films because the cinematography illustrates the story rather than merely supporting it. One could watch the film with out the dialogue and remain visually connected with the main character, because the strength behind the use of the color blue, reflections and micro details combine to create a cohesive, visual narrative, demonstrating a strong relationship between a creative cinematographer and a masterful director who have worked hand in hand to achieve a unique closeness with a one-of-a-kind character.