Freedom Isn’t Free: A Not-So-Drunken Commentary Track for Three Colors: Blue

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Download 'Three Colors: Blue': Commentary Track (mp3, 22.8 MB).

Juliette Binoche co-stars with a color in 'Three Colors: Blue'As part of the Krzysztof Kieslowski Blog-a-thon at Quiet Bubble, Culture Snob recorded a commentary track for Three Colors: Blue, with some assistance from Bride of Culture Snob.

The commentary track deals with a handful of themes:

  • the blunt use of color contrasted with the almost tangential way the movie deals with its ostensible theme of liberty;
  • the use of visual and aural cues to indicate the subjective nature of the film;
  • Julie’s progression from isolation to active engagement with the world; and
  • the relationship between the concept of “freedom” and Kieslowski’s obvious interest in responsibility.
Plus, I call Juliette Binoche a “two-faced bitch.” How can you resist?

The following short essay deals only with Blue’s first shot, inspired by Jim Emerson’s Opening Shots Project. Other Culture Snob commentary on first impressions can be found here.

Three Colors: Blue

In the opening shot of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Blue — the first film in his Three Colors trilogy — the camera seems to start inside a tire. We hear sounds but only see blackness before the camera pulls back to reveal the right rear tire of a moving car.

The effect is disconcerting. The shot is unusually intimate with its subject, and its emphases are unconventional and unexpected: a single tire among four, the sounds of the road heard from a perspective that human beings don’t have access to.

From the opening shot of 'Three Colors: Blue.' Click to open a larger version.

In the context of the movie, the shot serves several obvious functions: It foreshadows the automobile accident that will make a widow of Julie (Juliette Binoche), killing her composer husband and her daughter; and it establishes that the color of the title will manifest itself visually through cinematography.

But the 35-second first shot also works more subtly.

Most importantly, the shot articulates the filmmaker’s perspective on his stated theme: liberty. The trilogy has at its core the principles represented by the three colors of the French flag: liberty (Blue), equality (White), and brotherhood (Red). But Kieslowski is rarely a direct filmmaker, and his interest in Blue appears to be freedom not by itself but balanced by obligation — Julie’s responsibility to herself, to her life and its memories, and to the larger culture. In her grief, Julie makes every effort to isolate herself from the world, but she eventually finds it impossible.

That’s reflected by the tire of the opening shot, which can be seen as a “free” object in the sense of rapid movement and rotation. But the tire cannot escape from the system of an automobile. It’s connected to something larger, and the opening-scene accident shows that a failure of one part can destroy the entirety. So the tire/Julie can be “free,” but it/she plays a critical role in the operation of the car/society that needs it/her.

Other things are at work as well. That aforementioned closeness of the camera to the tire and the unconventional perspective both reflect the movie’s subjective nature. Blue often seems to operate from within Julie’s brain, particularly in the way music intrudes on her inner life. Orchestrations seize her like panic attacks, and Kieslowski frequently shoots with a narrow depth of field to create empathy.

The opening shot also prepares the audience for the movie with its emphasis on sound and — when the car goes through a tunnel — the clever way it portends Julie’s fades to black.

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