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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • French DTS-HD 2.0 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 3 Discs
FEATURES
  • Three cinema lessons with director Krzysztof Kieslowski
  • New interviews with composer Zbigniew Preisner; writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz; and actors Julie Delpy, Zbigniew Zamachowski, and Irène Jacob
  • Selected-scene commentary for Blue with actress Juliette Binoche
  • Three new video essays, by film writers Annette Insdorf, Tony Rayns, and Dennis Lim
  • Kieslowski's student short The Tram (1966) and his fellow student's short from the same year The Face, which features Kieslowski in a solo performance
  • Two short documentaries by Kieslowski: Seven Women of Different Ages (1978) and Talking Heads (1980)
  • Krzysztof Kieslowski: I'm So-So . . . (1995), a feature-length documentary in which the filmmaker discusses his life and work
  • Two multi-interview programs, Reflections on "Blue" and Kieslowski: The Early Years, with film critic Geoff Andrew, Binoche, filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, Insdorf, Jacob, and editor Jacques Witta
  • Interviews with producer Marin Karmitz and Witta
  • Behind-the-scenes programs for White and Red, and Kieslowski Cannes 1994, a short documentary on Red's world premiere
  • Original theatrical trailers

Three Colors Trilogy

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Krzysztof Kieslowski
| Minutes | Licensor: MK2

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $79.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #587
RLJ Entertainment

Release Date: November 15, 2011
Review Date: November 15, 2011

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SYNOPSIS

This boldly cinematic trio of stories about love and loss from Krzysztof Kieslowski was a defining event of the art-house boom of the 1990s. The films were named for the colors of the French flag and stand for the tenets of the French Revolution-liberty, equality, and fraternity-but this hardly begins to explain their enigmatic beauty and rich humanity. Set in Paris, Warsaw, and Geneva, and ranging from tragedy to comedy, Blue, White, and Red (Kieslowski's final film) examine with artistic clarity a group of ambiguously interconnected people experiencing profound personal disruptions. Marked by intoxicating cinematography and stirring performances by such actors as Juliette Binoche, Julie Delpy, Irène Jacob, and Jean-Louis Trintignant, Kieslowski's Three Colors is a benchmark of contemporary cinema.

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PICTURE

The Criterion Collection presents Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy, which includes the films Blue, White, and Red, all in their original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 over three dual-layer discs. Each film gets a new 1080p/24hz transfer.

In general all of the transfers are of about the same quality. Blue is a little grainier than the other films but the transfers across all brilliantly handle the respective grain structures and in all cases the film grain comes off clean and natural. All of the transfers present sharp details and never go soft. Digital artifacts are non-existent and the prints are in extraordinary shape. Other than Red, which gets the benefit of using the bolder red colour in the film, the films do have a pale, muted look, and in all cases the image never truly pops off the screen.

Still, they all look very film like and present no digital problems. This is the best I’ve seen the films.

Detailed reviews for each title:
Blue, White, Red

8/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

All three films receive DTS-HD MA 2.0 surround tracks. Blue and White are the more active ones. While all of the films present clean, sharp, and natural sounding dialogue, and also make great use of ambient effects on city streets, which make their way to the rear speakers, the first two films really shine when music is played. It’s loud but never distorts, remaining clean and natural. Red is a little more quiet and subtle and doesn’t reach the same levels of the other two, but it suits the film.

But overall I was pleasantly surprised with what we got. They’re all sharp and free of any distortion or noise.

Detailed reviews for each title:
Blue, White, Red

8/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Each title in Criterion’s Three Colors box set gets their own supplements, mostly focused on the film on the disc.

The first disc, which features Blue starts with a video essay by scholar Annette Insdorf entitled On Blue, which runs 21-minutes. Insdorf actually did audio commentaries for all of the films for Miramax’s box set of the films. I’m a little puzzled as to why Criterion didn’t include them (I’m not sure who the commentaries were actually recorded for so it could be a licencing issue) but this must be their attempt to make up for it. At any rate it’s a decent enough presentation with Insdorf talking over some clips from the film covering the film’s visuals, its use of sound, and how the theme of “liberty” is presented. She even closes off with some notes on another trilogy Kie?lowski had planned to do after Three Colors and how this film could have tied into it. As always she’s knowledgeable and covers some of the themes of the film thoughtfully, but it can be a little stuffy and sounds too much like she’s reading from notes, lacking in energy as a whole.

Following this is a 7-minute piece from 1994 called Kie?lowski’s Cinema Lesson featuring the director at an editing suite breaking down a scene at the café with Binoche. Here he talks about his use of close-ups, emphasizing her character’s point of view, and then talks about the pains they went to in shooting the short shot of the sugar cube soaking up the coffee, which he needed to do in about 5-seconds (they apparently tried all sorts of cubes until they found a brand that would soak up the coffee in that time.) Though we get a lot of scholarly material on this disc, and in the set as a whole, surprisingly this short piece offers the most insight into the director’s process (the other discs also include similar features.)

Recorded in 2004, for another edition of the film I can only assume, Criterion presents a 25-minute select-scene audio commentary by Juliette Binoche. She talks over a few scenes though her discussion doesn’t necessarily have much to do with the sequences in question. She focuses primarily on working with Kie?lowski, which involved some butting of heads, and how she played her character. She does talk a little about being offered the lead role in The Double Life of Veronique and how she was unable to do it at the time. She was then offered the role in Blue at the same time she was offered a role in Jurassic Park, and she admits she was a little conflicted, though ultimately she chose to work with Kie?lowski (obviously.) She gets a little teary eyed when she talks about Kie?lowski’s funeral but in all it’s a fairly entertaining track with a couple of funny moments. Kind of a shame she doesn’t talk over the whole film.

Criterion again records an interview with composer Zbigniew Preisner, who also recorded one for The Double Life of Veronique. For 21-minutes he again talks about his working relationship with Kie?lowski and, while referencing the actual music sheets, talks about the score for each film in the Three Colors trilogy, talking about the different styles and tones, and how he came up with them. He even talks a little about a fictional composer they made up, Van den Budenmeyer, whose music (written by Preisner of course) appeared in one of the films of The Decalogue and then in films within the trilogy. I was expecting him to repeat himself here from the Veronique disc but he doesn’t and offers an interesting insight into the creative process of one of the most important aspects to the films.

Reflections on Blue is an older piece running about 17-minutes, and presents interviews with critic Geoff Andrew, actress Juliette Binoche, filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, cinematographer S?awomir Idziak, scholar Annette Insdorf, and editor Jacques Witta. Insdorf again talks about the theme of “liberty” in the film and how Kie?lowski managed to make the film more personal instead of political, while others talk about various technical aspects. Idziak talks about the look of the film and some of the changes they made to the script to keep it visually interesting (originally Binoche’s character was supposed to be a jogger, but thinking a pool may look better Idziak suggested she be a swimmer instead.) Binoche talks a little about some of her more intense sequences like dragging her fist against the stone wall and then the scene where she violently eats a lollipop, and then Witta talks about the editing in the film and the use of the fade-ins and fade-outs that appear. Some minor repetition of material covered elsewhere but there’s some great insights found here involving the technical aspects of the film that make it worth viewing.

We then get another similar piece shot at the same time as the previous supplement. Called Kie?lowski: The Early Years, the 15-minute segment again features Holland (who gets more face time this round,) Andre, Idziak, Insdorf, and then Irène Jacob. This 15-minute segment focuses more on his school days and early film career, with Insdorf providing most of the history. Holland recalls meeting Kie?lowski in school and her friendship with him over the years, and then all play a part in suggesting how the political climate in Poland influenced his work even if his work isn’t overtly political. Though short it’s surprisingly in-depth and is another decent inclusion.

Criterion then includes two short student films. First we get the 5-and-a-half-minute student film The Tram, which Kie?lowski made in school in 1966. This silent black and white piece focuses on a young man who boards a tram and begins a flirtation with a woman on board. Though it obviously isn’t as advanced in terms of editing and look as his later films, it still has some interesting use of close-ups and some very clean editing. The second film, The Face is another student film from the same year, though stars Kie?lowski and was directed by his fellow classmate Piotr Studzinski. It’s a little heavy handed with some dizzying editing, but it’s interesting enough as Kie?lowski’s “suffering artist” begins trashing all his self-portraits. Both are presented in 1080i (like all of the other features) and also look surprisingly good.

The disc then concludes with the 2-minute French theatrical trailer.

White’s supplements start with a video essay by Tony Rayns entitled simply On White. Running 22-minutes I enjoyed it a bit more than the one Annette Insdorf did for Blue, finding Rayns’ presentation less stuffy and a little looser. He talks about the film’s theme of “equality” and how it’s presented here, primarily in the economic gap between Poland and France, but also between men and women. He gives some background information to Communist Poland and then the eventual fall of Communism, and then even talks about scenes that were cut or changed along with some more technical details. The feature is actually very breezy and informative and this is a case where I would have liked it if Rayns could have provided a full commentary.

Also, similar to what’s on the first disc, we get another Kieslowski’s Cinema Lesson feature. This 11-minute piece presents Kieslowski sitting in front of an editing suite going over the opening of the film. He explains his reasoning for opening on the suitcase on the luggage belt and then moves his way to his main character making his way to court, explaining all of the techniques he used to convey as much about the character as possible. And again we get a very insightful look into Kieslowski’s creative process.

Criterion next includes a new interview recorded for them with actors Zbigniew Zamachowski and Julie Delpy. For 18-minutes (Zamachowski in Polish, Delpy in English) the two talk about working with Kieslowski in general and then how they came to be cast in White. Delpy mentions she was called in for the lead for The Double Life of Veronique, but didn’t get it, and then was offered a role in Blue, but said she couldn’t relate to the script and didn’t want to do it. This then led to her getting the role in White, which she found a bit more fun. They also talk about building their characters and how they would take Kieslowski’s suggestions while creating them. Delpy also humourously recalls the orgasm sequence, which sounds to have been filmed in an almost awkward manner. Then there is mention of an alternate ending. Solid interview with both, Delpy coming off especially charming.

Criterion recorded a 21-minute interview with Kieslowski’s friend and co-writer on the trilogy, Krzysztof Piesiewicz, and have included it here. Along with Rayns’ essay this is probably one of the better features on here. Piesiewicz talks a great deal about all three of the films and what his and Kieslowski’s intentions were with them. He also fondly recalls how he first met the director (whose films he wasn’t entirely familiar with) and then talks a little about the time period just before his death. In the end I was surprised by what an insightful and interesting interview we ended up getting.

The Making of “White” is a 16-minute feature shot during the shooting of the film. It’s generally made up of behind-the-scenes footage, but what makes it especially worthwhile is that we get more interview footage with Kieslowski, who talks about the film and its themes.

Criterion then next includes two documentaries by the director. Seven Women of Different Ages, from 1978 and running 16-minutes, focusses on a ballet school over the course of a week. It has an interesting hands-off sort of style to it, with the camera simply there to document. Talking Heads may be the more intriguing of the two, though. In this one, from 1980 and running 15-minutes Kieslowski asks three questions to a number of people ranging from the age of 1 to 100. The questions are basic (“Who are you?”, “What do you most wish for?”, etc.) but the responses are intriguing, especially in how they are between the age groups.

The disc then closes with the theatrical trailer for the film.

Red’s supplements, which I find to be the best overall in the set, start with a video essay by Dennis Lim appropriately titled On Red. Even though it’s possibly the driest of the video essays found in this set he still delivers a fairly thorough examination of the film, going over its theme of fraternity and the many connections presented throughout the film, which includes the heavy use of phones. He also of course looks at the use of red in the film, and is the only one in the essays (that I can recall) who actually points out the old woman and the recycling bin that is used in all of the films, mentioning how her uses fit the theme of each film. It may be my least favourite of the essays Criterion has included but it’s still a worthwhile addition.

Yet again we get another Kieslowski Cinema Lesson, this one running 8-minutes. Like the other segments found on the other discs Kieslowski breaks down a scene, this time the sequence where the dog Rita runs off. While showing the scene at an editing suite he talks about how this scene was put together, trimming off smaller acts which didn’t really move anything forward. He also talks about how he likes to work backwards, so to speak, by showing things and then reference them later to have the audience recall them. Like the other segments it offers an intriguing look into the filmmaker’s process and it ends up being one of the stronger features on the set.

Criterion has next recorded a 16-minute interview with actress Irene Jacob who talks to great length about the various layers found in the film and in her character, the relationship her character had with the Judge, and then talks quite a bit about the director of photography, Piotr Sobocinski, and his important contribution to the film. Much more thoughtful and analytical than what I’m usually used to from interviews with the actors and makes another great inclusion.

An older 2001 interview with producer Marin Karmitz is included next. Running 11-minutes he talks about one of the more intriguing aspects of the production involving how they got the apartment used for Valentine’s home (involving giving the tenant what amounted to a 2-month paid vacation) and then talks about how Kieslowski could convey so much information within a single image. The most intriguing part of the interview, though, would probably revolve around the Academy Awards and how the film was rejected initially only to be allowed in after many around Hollywood started petitions to get it in. Though it feels like it’s made up of clips of a longer interview it’s an entertaining interview.

Even better is an interview of sorts with editor Jacques Witta, also taken in 2001, who talks a little about editing the film, even showing us some deleted sequences in the process, claiming they were cutting out “pointless” material. This is more or less true but there’s a couple of sequences that prove of interest, such as an extended bit at the end involving Valentine’s brother. He also talks about and shows how he’s able to “cheat” in editing to hide things the director doesn’t like and to also better shape the narrative. The piece runs over 13-minutes.

Behind the Scenes of Red offers behind-the-scene footage of certain sequences and then shows the finished sequence afterwards, including the conversation between Valentine and the Judge close to the end, an early scene introducing us to Valentine’s apartment, the photo shoot, the scene where Auguste sees his ex at the restaurant, along with a few others. It proves fairly fascinating but the best sequences involve the more complicated shots, like the apartment scene which made fairly advanced use of a crane camera.

Kieslowski Cannes 1994 is 15-minutes worth of footage from Cannes, including interviews with Kieslowski, Jacob, and Jean-Louis Trintgnant. The two actors talks about working with Kieslowski while Kieslowski covers various topics, but we also get footage where Kieslowski announces his retirement from filmmaking. It’s a fine inclusion, though doesn’t get any better than better-than-average promotional material.

But the real gem to the supplements here, and possibly the strongest item in the box set, is the 55-minute documentary Krzysztof Kieslowski: I’m So-So…, which is essentially an interview with the director recorded in 1996. The interview was done by friend Krzysztof Wierzbicki and he and the director cover a wide range of subjects on his life and work and he’s surprisingly open. They go through a selection of his films, including his experimental Talking Heads (which is one of the documentaries found on the White disc), Camera Buff, The Decalogue, Red, and The Double Life of Veronique to an extent. Kieslowski isn’t the most animated subject, so the documentary isn’t all that lively, but out of all of the material found in this set this is the most forward the director gets, feeling comfortable with his interviewer, and it’s wonderful Criterion has included it here.

The disc then closes with the theatrical trailer.

The set also comes with a lengthy 79-page booklet. Colin MacCabe offers an introduction of sorts, followed by essays for each film by Nick James, Stuart Klawans, and Georgina Evans respectively. There is then excerpt from Kieslowski's book Kieslowski on Kieslowski where he covers the trilogy, followed by short interviews with each film's director of photography. A strong, well thought out inclusion to the set.

Though I’m still not sure why Insdorf’s commentaries aren’t here Criterion has still managed to cover all of the bases delivering a very thorough analysis of the film and Kieslowski’s career, complete with a number of his short films.

Detailed reviews for each title:
Blue, White, Red

9/10

CLOSING

A fantastic edition, and an overall satisfying one, delivering solid transfers for all three films and a wealth of supplements that will expand one’s appreciation for the series, and keep them busy for a while. Comes highly recommended.


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