Bleu (Blue) is one of the greatest films you will ever have the pleasure of watching.
There. I said it and got it out of the way… any extreme platitudes of joy that arise from this point on are derived from involuntary awe and amazement.
Since the inception of the DVD format in 1997, Internet hopefuls have been clamoring with unrestrained ardor for the Holy Trinities of Cinema: Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, etc. But as zealous as the many hopefuls were for those Spielberg/Lucas bags of goodies, a smaller but equally passionate group of cinephiles were holding out Krzysztof Kieslowski's acclaimed and revered Trois Couleurs trilogy. Christened after the colors of the French flag, each of Kieslowski's films explored one of the tenets of the French Revolution. Rouge (Red) examines the concept of Fraternity between a model and a reclusive retiree, while Blanc (White) presents Equality within the milieu of a love story/revenge fantasy. Bleu, the first film in the thematic trilogy (and arguably the finest), observes the tenet of Liberty within the context of a woman trying to escape the pain and mourning resulting from the accidental death of her husband and daughter. As the protagonist of this tale, Juliette Binoche (who would go on to win an Oscar for 1996's The English Patient) gives an absolutely fabulous performance here. Projecting fortitude, vulnerability, and openness without forced saintliness, Binoche anchors the film in a believable reality while endowing her performance with strength and depth that resonates long after the film ends.
Kieslowski's direction is masterful in both its interwoven complexities and its stark sincerity. Rich in symbolism and allegory, Bleu rewards the film-lover with multiple viewings. Upon reviewing this DVD I watched the film three times, and with each viewing more of the film's meanings became apparent. Kieslowski's use of color, music, and scenery is infectious, layering an already lofty and fully-realized film with an even deeper sense of emotional resonance and humanity.
Am I layering it on too thick for Bleu? Maybe. The dangers of excessive venerations include the perception of forced acceptance and faux, pseudo-intellectual erudition. To be sure, Bleu is not exactly the type of film that goes over very smoothly with mainstream movie audiences; the deliberate pace, subtitled dialog, often melancholy subject-matter and symbolic profundity may seem like a put-off for casual movie-watchers. To which I say: Feh! Bleu is simply a masterpiece of filmmaking, a movie that is as beautifully constructed as it is masterfully photographed and exquisitely acted.
A film is visually resplendent as Bleu deserves nothing less than a sparkling transfer, and the video presentation on this DVD lives up to that standard. The 1.85:1 transfer is anamorphically enhanced for your viewing pleasure, and the resulting video is splendid. Director of Photography Slawomir Idziak created a visual feast on film, and the colors on this transfer are rich and well-saturated, without excessive blooming or spillage. Contrasts sport excellent depth, with deep blacks and excellent shadow delineation. Compression noise and artifacts are non-existent. Perhaps the only complaint that can be registered against the transfer is a slight softness, rendering a lack of sharpness to the images that prevents a higher rating to the video presentation. Nonetheless, Bleu looks marvelous.
Bleu sports its original French soundtrack in Dolby Digital 2.0. The audio is pleasing and more than serviceable, with bright, clear dialog and a depth of fidelity for the film's orchestrations. Music plays an integral role in this film, and the audio presents a broad sound field that greatly enhances the film's score, punctuated by excellent bearings of the lower frequencies. While a full 5.1 remix may have been welcome, the 2.0 audio mix accurately and effectively renders the idiosyncrasies of a distinctive soundtrack.
Sporting a bevy of extras, Bleu caters to both hardcore Kieslowski fans and those who simply want to delve deeper into the rich, symbolic world that provides the setting for this phenomenal film.
We start with the seventeen-minute featurette Reflections On Bleu, in which film critics, historians, Kieslowski's friends, and cast and crew muse upon Kieslowski's film, offering their thoughts, explanations, and interpretations. This is the first extra listed in the special features section, and it makes a wonderful jumping-on point for those who have just watched the film for the first time and wish to enhance their knowledge or appreciation.
A Discussion of Kieslowski's Early Years is a fifteen-minute featurette in which many of the personalities from the previous featurette offer their knowledge on Kieslowski's past and his entry into the world of cinema. It's an interesting while not overly compelling feature, although I found the details of the Polish Film scene in the midst of Communism and the Cold War to be fascinating.
The absolutely ravishing star of Bleu gets to put forth eight minutes of her own thoughts in A Conversation With Juliette Binoche on Kieslowski. Binoche shares her feelings on working with Kieslowski, how she had to choose between her role in Bleu and working with Steven Spielberg on Jurassic Park, and taking direction from Kieslowski.
The most comprehensive and informative extra has to be the full-length Audio Commentary with Annette Insdorf. Insdorf is a film professor as well as a personal acquaintance of Kieslowski's and author of Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski. If you loved Bleu, or even if you were simply confused by a lot of the film's imagery or obtuse meanings, the audio commentary should be your place to go. Insdorf obviously has a great deal of insight into Kieslowski's work, and she presents it in a thorough and informative manner. There is an absolute wealth of information to be discovered about Bleu, making Insdorf's commentary the most indispensable extra on the DVD.
The eight-minute Krzysztof Kieslowski's Cinema Lesson presents some archival footage of Kieslowski as he was editing Bleu, in which he discusses the pivotal "sugar cube" and "homeless man playing the recorder" scenes, including his approach to the shots and the meanings and details for both moments. This archival footage is a fascinating piece, with insights directly from the source of both powerful scenes.
Producer Marin Karmitz, actress Juliette Binoche, and editor Jacques Witta provide their own Selected Scenes Commentary in three separate segments that total over forty-five minutes of interview and commentary footage. All three add further perspective and insight into the creation, production, and post-production of Bleu. I found Karmitz's comments to be the most compelling, as he was rather animated in his informative musings on how the entire Trois Couleurs trilogy came into passing.
Rounding out the already extensive extras are trailers for Red, White, and K's Heaven, a Kieslowski Filmography, and finally Kieslowski's Student Film: Concert of Wishes. The sixteen-minute black-and-white film is presented in a full-frame aspect ratio and, despite some scratches and debris on the print, looks rather remarkable for its age. While dated and only mildly interesting as a film school project, Kieslowski fans and completists will be in hog heaven.
Krzysztof Kieslowski passed away shortly after completing the Trois Couleurs trilogy, but he left this world on top of his game, creating one of the most powerful and lasting cinematic works of the past fifteen years. If had only filmed Bleu alone, without continuing with Blanc and Rouge, it would have been enough. Bleu is one of those films that runs laps in your head long after its final frame has passed. If you are new to Bleu (or any of the Trois Couleurs trilogy), believe the hype of those whose passionate clamors have been echoing across the DVD-aficionado landscape for years. These films are powerful and skillfully constructed pieces of work.
The DVD for Bleu is a joy to behold. The audio and visual presentations are both wonderfully rendered, and the sheer wealth of extras provides for a richer, deeper understanding of Kieslowski's masterpiece. There are over three-and-a-half-hours of supplemental material here, making Bleu a true and exhaustive Special Edition. This is a must-have DVD.