Three Colors: White
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The most playful and also the grittiest of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors films follows the adventures of Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), a Polish immigrant living in France. The hapless hairdresser opts to leave Paris for his native Warsaw when his wife (Julie Delpy) sues him for divorce (her reason: their marriage was never consummated) and then frames him for arson after setting her own salon ablaze. White, which goes on to chronicle Karol’s elaborate revenge plot, manages to be both a ticklish dark comedy about the economic inequalities of Eastern and Western Europe and a sublime reverie on twisted love.
Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors: White receives a 4K upgrade from The Criterion Collection and is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer, BD-66 disc. The 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition presentation is sourced from a new 4K restoration taken from a scan of the 35mm original camera negative. Criterion also includes a standard dual-layer Blu-ray featuring a 1080p presentation of the film alongside the edition’s special features. That disc is the same as in Criterion’s previous Blu-ray release, with the files showing identical timestamps.
As with Blue’s presentation, White’s offers a sharper, cleaner image compared to the older high-def presentation, which hasn’t aged particularly well. Compression wasn’t so hot, and it’s far more evident now. The 4K encode renders the film’s grain far more naturally, leading to a beautiful photographic consistency severely lacking on the Blu-ray. Details are amped up quite a bit, and the textures found within fabrics and the stonework of some buildings look far more lifelike. It’s astounding just how much cleaner and sharper this new image is.
Like the other films in the set, Blue and Red, the color-grading has caused a bit of controversy due to how significantly it differs from what previous home video incarnations afforded, including Criterion’s Blu-ray. This image leans considerably warmer. There are moments where I will admit that the grading resembles something that Ritrovata might pull off, where the entire image is saturated in some unpleasant yellow-green hue. Yet that look isn't the norm, only appearing in a handful of scenes. I’m not entirely sure what to make of the appearance here, but, like Blue, it's clear there is far more going on here than someone just adjusting a filter or a color setting and calling it a day, and I do feel it's closer to how the film was intended to look.
For starters, the Blu-ray’s presentation is more questionable now, so I don’t think it can be legitimately used as a basis for comparison. Its colors lean cool while also looking severely muted and dull. I feel it’s a byproduct of the contrast and brightness levels being manipulated to make the image look more appealing on monitors of the time, killing shadows and depth in the process. This new presentation appears to have corrected those levels, with Dolby Vision filling in where needed to help with the gradients and pulling out that fine shadow detail. This means colors and saturation have been more than likely corrected as well. The film’s color scheme isn’t all that showy, featuring lots of beiges and browns, yet those browns and beiges look far sharper here, less pasty and green compared to the Blu-ray. Greys look grey, and blues even look sharper when they show up here and there. Despite the limited color scheme and heavier browns, everything seems to have more of a “pop” to it. And whites still look white, just warmer.
But again, this can all shift from scene to scene. Sequences in the subway tunnels look different from settings above ground, more than likely to reflect the lighting. At the same time, some interiors take on that heavier Ritrovata-fied yellow-green look mentioned before, as does the flashback/dream sequence for the wedding, but where that look pops up, it makes sense to the context of the scene. Then you have moments that can lean a little cooler, like when Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is first (literally) dumped in the snow after arriving in Poland. But the most telling moment, where it becomes unmistakable that scenes were handled on a case-by-case basis, is after (also literally) a climactic moment where the screen goes white. And it looks white. Not yellow. Not green. White.
And then there are the shadow improvements to many of the film’s interiors, like the early sequence in Dominique’s (Julie Delpy) shop, with the light coming in through the shears. Blacks are far more profound and richer within this presentation than the older one, with the blending and shifts in the shadows looking cleaner, further enhanced by HDR and Dolby Vision.
Restoration work has again been thorough, with only a few minor marks popping up. I found what the 4K offers far more pleasing than what the muted Blu-ray could offer.
Like the other films in the set, White’s 2.0 surround soundtrack has been "upgraded" to 5.1 (in DTS-HD MA), though it again feels like an upgrade in name only. Still, bass is a bit more effective, and the score shows more range. Still, I can’t say I noted any splits in the rears. Most of the film's activity is still focused on the fronts, dialogue primarily to the center channel, with the score and some ambient noises making their way to the rears.
As with the other titles in the set, White’s 4K disc doesn’t feature any new material, with all of the supplementary material found on the standard Blu-ray disc that also houses the 1080p presentation. Since it is the same disc from the previous Blu-ray edition, all supplements remain the same.
Things start again with a video essay created by Tony Rayns titled On White. Running 22 minutes, I enjoyed it a bit more than the one Annette Insdorf did for Blue, finding Rayns’ a little looser and less dependent on notes. He talks about the film’s theme of “equality” and how it’s presented here, primarily in the economic gap between Poland and France and between men and women. He gives some background information on Communist Poland and then the eventual fall of Communism, and then even talks about scenes that were cut or changed. The feature ends up being very breezy and informative, and, as I felt with Insdorf on Blue, I wish Rayns had been able to provide a commentary for the film.
The disc also features another one of Kieslowski’s Cinema Lessons. This 11-minute piece recorded in 1994 features Kieslowski sitting in front of an editing suite (as he does in the other "lessons") reviewing the film's opening. He explains his reasoning for opening the movie focused on the suitcase going down the luggage belt before cutting to Karol making his way to court. He then even describes his techniques to convey as much about the character as possible. Another engaging look into his 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 discuss working with Kieslowski and 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, only to be offered a role in Blue. Interestingly, she passed because she couldn’t relate to the script, yet she said yes to White because she found it fun. The two also talk about building their characters and incorporating Kieslowski’s suggestions. Delpy also humorously recalls the orgasm sequence, which sounds to have been filmed in an incredibly awkward manner. Then there is mention of an alternate ending—a solid interview with both.
Criterion next recorded a 21-minute interview with Kieslowski’s friend and co-writer on the trilogy, Krzysztof Piesiewicz. Along with Rayns’ essay, this is probably one of the better features here. Piesiewicz talks a great deal about all three of the films and his and Kieslowski’s intentions with them. He also fondly recalls how he first met the director and briefly discusses the period just before his death.
The Making of “White” is a 16-minute feature shot during the film's shooting. It’s generally made up of behind-the-scenes footage, but what makes it especially worthwhile is that it features 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, focuses on a ballet school over 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 people ranging in age from 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 differ between the age groups.
The disc then closes with the theatrical trailer. The set also has a booklet with essays about the trilogy and the respective films.
The supplements are a little more disappointing than Blue’s, but they’re strong enough and offer a great look into the film and Kieslowski's intentions.
Despite one's feelings about the colors, White's new 4K presentation delivers a sharper image than the previous Blu-ray. Unfortunately, it still features the set's weaker collection of features.