Of Kieslowski’s Bleu

I am not going to comment on Krzystof Kieslowski’s Bleu in the greater context of Kieslowski’s Les Trois Couleurs yet.  I prefer to assess one film at a time, as a stand alone piece of art, then going back and assembling the trilogy one film at a time.  This seems particularly fitting given the stylistic and thematic elements, which constitutes these three films as a trilogy.  Being Kieslowski’s last films, and that each was released quite separately, it would be an injustice to clump all three films together into one colossal essay as unwieldy as it is long.  Therefore, this piece will deal exclusively with Bleu (1993).Bleu opens with kaleidoscopic visuals, composed of passing traffic lights seen from the window of a car.  As the breathtaking scene unfolds, photographed by Stawomir Idziak, we are introduced to Julie (Juliette Binoche), her husband Patrice and young son.  As the car progresses into the French countryside, catastrophe strikes.  In a car crash, all are killed but Julie.  The remainder of the film will follow Julie as she navigates the effects of grief, attempts to build a new life, and ultimately finds that her husband’s legacy is inescapable.

Kieslowski does not permit his audience to see the crash, it is only heard.  This forces the audience into Julie’s perspective.  It seems logical that the event of the crash would have been distorted or partially erased from her conscious.  The trauma then becomes as intangible to the viewer as it is to Julie, so that the effects are also equally as mysterious to both parties.

After a failed suicide attempt in hospital and destroying the remaining copy of her husband’s final piece (he was an acclaimed composer), Julie returns home.  Immediately she sets about dismantling the estate her family once occupied.  The house is emptied, the servants leave, and all Julie salvages is a blue beaded lampshade.  Before moving out herself, she makes love to Olivier, a long time admirer and associate of her husband.  This act symbolically strips the two characters of their longing; at least Julie intends it to.

The first act of Bleu is dedicated to the need for destruction.  The life Julie had built with her husband must be extinguished just as he was if Julie is to survive.  To survive, she must escape the world she had built for the family she lost.  These generalizations an observations are never spoken by Julie though, only enacted.  Kieslowski understands that Julie is unable to articulate, even to herself, the pain of her grief.  To do so would betray the legitimacy of her character and betray the opening device too easily to the audience, possibly isolating them from the cinematic experience.

Soon, Julie is in Paris, living in a new apartment.  Her new surroundings seem ideal for constructing a new life, yet somehow the past is inescapable.  First, a street musician is playing one of her husband’s pieces on a flute outside of a café Julie frequents.  Later, a rat has babies in her closet, which she eliminates by barrowing a neighbor’s cat.  In this, Julie acts out the tragedy that befell her family again.  Again, all this information is communicated not through dialogue but through action.  Julie rarely speaks.  She has completely isolated herself with no intention of creating a harmonious existence with other individuals.  The interjection of these two instances proves how impossible her objective is, how futile such an environment is among social creatures such as ourselves.

The theme of isolation recurs when a neighbor asks Julie to sign a petition to have a woman evicted from their apartment building.  Julie declines, intending to withdraw from the possibility of human interaction.  Human interaction seeks her out later when the very woman who was to be evicted visits, thanking Julie for not signing the petition and allowing her to stay.  In any environment, human relationships are inescapable, and escape becomes the obsession for Julie.

Then, at a café, Julie sees Olivier on television.  Olivier is giving an interview about the piece by Patrice he is finishing.  Julie then meets with Olivier.  As their friendship rekindles, Julie sets about investigating her husband Patrice.  She learns of and then confronts Patrice’s lover.  Patrice’s lover is pregnant with his child.

To Julie, the new information she has learned about her husband only confirms how separate their lives were.  The illegitimate pregnancy furthers this feeling.  Patrice’s lover will bare him a child, while Julie no longer has any ties to him, except for his music.

Here it is revealed, at the end of Bleu, that Julie was essential to Patrice’s compositions, providing key movements and arrangements to his work.  Julie’s collaboration with Olivier on the completion of Patrice’s work is short lived.  Quickly, Julie comes to understand that it is the music that keeps her life entwined with her husbands.

The conclusion of Bleu is rather ambiguous.  I have often heard it argued that Julie undergoes a sort of rebirth.  I partly agree with that assumption.  I believe that Julie has finally become submissive to the conditions of her relationship with her husband, and that through that change of perspective under goes a change in behavior that could constitute a rebirth.

But I would like to return to the subject of Julie’s life with her husband Patrice.  Bleu is marked by a number of long fades to black.  These moments recall Julie’s perspective just as the opening crash did.  Julie is never out of frame, but for one brief scene, so it seems logical to assume that the narrative is rooted in her perspective.  These fades or lapses signify a “blind spot” in Julie’s memory of her husband.  She may be purposefully erasing these memories or suffering some kind of neurological trauma.  This inability to fill in the gaps, in so far as a shared perspective with the audience is reflected in the narrative with the introduction of Patrice’s secret past.

Bleu is an examination of the mechanisms of a life shared and a life destroyed, told from the vantage point of the survivor of that destruction.  The brilliance of Kieslowski’s film is how much he is able to communicate with the visuals in frame (color, sets, blocking, etc), without relying on an overly talkative script.  Binoche is also instrumental to the success of this film.  As she did in The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, she communicates more with a facial expression or a gesture than most actors manage to say with the best written monologues.

-Robert Curry

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