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Three Colors Trilogy: White

List Price: $19.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Matthew Millheiser | posted March 25, 2003 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

Blanc (White) is the red… er, white-headed stepchild of the Trois Couleurs trilogy.

And fair's fair: to say that the film is the "weakest" of the trilogy is akin to declaring that between The Beatles' Help, Rubber Soul, and Revolver, Help is the "weakest" because it's ostensibly a "movie soundtrack."

Sandwiched between the intricate masterpiece that is Bleu (Blue) and the exquisite nuances and culminations of Rouge (Red), Blanc is often overlooked as a worthwhile, often masterful film but not up to the level of its brethren. It's an unfair comparison, in my opinion, because Blanc delivers a fabulous and darkly ironic tale of love, betrayal, redemption, revenge, and reconciliation.

As with the other films of the Trois Couleurs trilogy, Blanc explores one of the rallying cries of the French Revolution. In this case, director Krzysztof Kieslowski delves into the principle of Equality (the "white stripe" of the French flag.) As the film begins, Karol Karol (wonderfully played by Zbigniew Zamachowski) rushes to a Parisian divorce court, straining to hang on to the threads of his marriage to Dominique (the always luminescent Julie Delpy), who seeks dissolution based on Karol's impotence. Karol is Polish, his command of the French language is weak, and as the divorce is granted he finds himself homeless, almost penniless, and lost in a foreign country. And he is still in love with Dominique. To borrow a catchphrase from a Seinfeld episode, Dominique "has hand" – she has his heart, their apartment, and has already moved on to other lovers (which Karol learns through a rather excruciating phone call.)

This set-up lays the groundwork for the film, in which Karol, through a series of different events, struggles to attain "equality" with Dominique. Upon first viewing, Blanc seemed to be nothing more than a romantic movie than turns darkly comic, and then suddenly evolving into a somewhat disturbing revenge fantasy. But Kieslowski's film (which he co-wrote with Krzysztof Piesiewicz) works on a deeper emotional level. Questions such as "Will he get the girl?" or "Does she still love him?" or "Will she pay for what she did?" might be answered at the local multi-plex by some craptacular piece of celluloid starring J-Lo, Sandra Bullock, or Kate Hudson. In Blanc, Karol's journey is almost Odyssean; certainly his struggles to return to Poland stand as a warped reflection of Homer's classic tale. But as Odysseus's hubris-inflicted sojourn to his homeland was motivated by his passion to return to his wife, Karol's motivations are both more romantic and insidious, at times pathetic and often remarkably triumphant, but at all times resonating with both the truth and insight that characterize all the films of the trilogy.

Much has been made about the film's ending, and I will not spoil it here. The issue of whether Equality has been achieved is strongly debatable, although a simple viewing of Rouge would most likely answer that question. Taken on its own as a singular piece of work, Blanc presents an open-ended and wildly speculative disposition of a film that invites discussion and interpretation. It's a fine film, and a worthy and most welcome middle-child in the Trois Couleurs trilogy.

The DVD:

Blanc is presented in a sparkling anamorphic transfer, retaining its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Since the color white is prominently featured in the story, Blanc sports spot-on contrasts, with dazzling lights and rich, deep blacks. Grain structure is evident throughout the transfer, retaining the film-like appearance of the original negative. Depending on your own point-of-view and personal preferences, this either enhances the video or detracts from it. Images are crystal sharp and a marked improvement over Bleu, and compression noise and other artifacts are blissfully absent. Colors are strong without bleeding, blooming, or over-saturation.

The audio is presented in its original French-language soundtrack in Dolby Digital 2.0, and provides for a quite satisfactory presentation. The soundstage is by nature not overly spacious or directional, but you will find a quality audio treatment. Zbigniew Preisner's orchestrations sound especially impressive, and the dialog is cleanly delivered without discernable distortion or hiss. Surrounds are used often and effectively to highlight the score or present ambient or background noise. Overall, the presentation of the audio works quite well, if not overly aggressive or immersive.

Continuing the tradition begun with Bleu and continuing with Rouge, the Blanc DVD is absolutely loaded with some phenomenal supplemental material.

As with the other DVDs in the trilogy, the centerpiece of the Special Features section has to be the Audio Commentary with Annette Insdorf. As a film professor, author, acquaintance of the late Krzysztof Kieslowski and writer of Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski, Insdorf is well-versed in the world of Kieslowski. Her comments add depth and understanding to the viewer in their appreciation of Kieslowski's film, and her scholarly approach is both accessible and informative. This is a fantastic commentary track, and an invaluable tool in broadening one's appreciation of Blanc.

A Look At Blanc is an eight-minute featurette in which a cadre of Kieslowski experts, historians, and members of the cast and crew from Blanc are assembled to share their thoughts about Kieslowski's film. The featurette is rather short but is full of fascinating insights into Blanc, examining the story from its romantic, humorous, melancholic as well as political perspectives.

A twenty-two minute documentary entitled A Discussion of Kieslowski's Later Years features many of the same speakers from the previous featurette, and acts as a fascinating continuation of a similar "Early Years of Kieslowski" feature from the Bleu disc. This feature explores the films, collaborators, and acting talents of Kieslowski's later career, from the creation of the acclaimed ten-part Decalogue miniseries as well as The Double Life of Veronique, all the way up to the Trois Couleurs trilogy. For Kieslowski fans, this piece is a virtual treasure-trove of biographical information, and makes for a lively and interesting feature.

A Discussion on Working with Kieslowski spends nineteen minutes showcasing various members of Kieslowski's cast and crew as they shed details on what it was like working with the talented director of Blanc. While this featurette may prove more entertaining to "hardcore" Kieslowski fans, it remains an informative (if overlong) companion piece.

The ravishing blonde who stars as the love-interest in Blanc is featured in the six-minute A Conversation with Julie Delpy. Delpy discusses her first encounters with Kieslowski, her infamous orgasm scene, working with Zbigniew Zamachowski, and her approach to the character of Dominique. Of all her comments, perhaps the most informative is her interpretation to the film's final scene.

The Krzysztof Kieslowski's Cinema Lesson feature showcases the late, great director as he analyzes scenes from Blanc. For eleven minutes, Kieslowski discusses how, through creative editing, he altered the original opening of his film to reflect meaning in the mundane elements of everyday life, and how such a scene can convey a sense of impending danger or conflict. (He did this to similar effects in both Bleu and Rouge). Kieslowski discusses how the use of clothing, buildings, environment and surroundings are used to enhance both themes and character traits. It's a wonderful examination of the film by its creator, and a fascinating piece.

Producer Marin Karmitz and star Julie Delpy both offer Interviews with Selected Scenes Commentary. Spanning nearly thirty-minutes, these sections add extra dimension to the appreciation of Blanc, especially coming from those who were intimately involved in its creation. Karmitz is his usual animated self, while Delpy further examines her thoughts on creating the character of Dominique.

Behind The Scenes of White with Krzysztof Kieslowski is divided up into four sections: "The Use and Meaning of White", "Is White a Comedy?", "The Character of the Hero", and "The Prison". This seventeen-minute featurette showcases behind-the-scenes footage of the film overlaid with audio of Kieslowski's insights into many of the Blanc's symbols and meanings. This is a phenomenal extra, in which Kieslowski's very words and comments are matched with footage of the man on-set during corresponding scenes.

Rounding out the Special Features are three Kieslowski Student Films (entitled "Trolley", "The Face", and "The Office"), a Kieslowski Filmography, and Sneak Peaks for Red, Blue, and Heaven.

Final Thoughts:
I'm a middle-child myself, so perhaps it because of my own neuroses that I have an affinity for Blanc… then again, maybe because it's such a wonderful, enjoyable film that I find myself enamored with the movie. It's a different film entirely from both Bleu and Rouge, funnier and darker, yet strangely affirming in its resolution. It behooves me to mention that I didn't care for the film the first time I saw it, as I found that I admired it much more than I liked it (and, at the time, I hardly liked it.) A second viewing changed everything, as I found it to reveal deeper layers and unearth unexpected pleasures out of its material. Zamachowski and Delpy are both so believable in their roles, it's almost painful to watch them conjure such primal emotions onscreen. Their pairing forms the foundation of one of the most unlikely, unconventional, and utterly convincing love stories you're ever likely to see in the world of film.

The DVD of Kieslowski's film is excellent. Everything you ever wanted to know about Blanc is revealed through a copious selection of supplements that unpeel the film's layers of symbols and nuances. If you want a quality presentation of the movie, the DVD does not disappoint in that area one bit. In other words, this one is a no-brainer – Kieslowski fans and film-lovers alike should give Blanc their prompt attention.

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