Three Colours: White (Trois Couleurs Blanc) (1994)
|Category||Drama||Main Menu Audio|
|Year Of Production||1994|
|RSDL / Flipper||No/No||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||1,2,3,4,5,6||Directed By||Krzysztov Kieslowski|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||French Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
White is the second film in the Three Colours trilogy. An introduction to the trilogy, what it's about and what led to this important work is all explained in the plot synopsis of the review for Blue.
White is a film of contrasts and is heavy on the irony, indicative of which is the fact that the film is actually a black comedy and also, ultimately, a love story. Of all three films in the trilogy, this one might take the longest to grow on you, but when it does it is arguably bolder and just as successful as the other chapters. As a black comedy, or "comedic opera", as Kieslowski refers to it, the mood White stands in stark contrast to the more eloquent and romantic feel of the other two. Unlike Blue and Red, White offers a simple and direct storyline, without the sub-plots. The subject matter is direct and is dealt with in a straightforward way. The style is abrupt and the look and feel of the film contrasts to the softness of the other two in every way. The colour palette for this film, such as it is, is, well, white - making for a fairly bland canvas and one that is on a practical level also very hard to film (ever tried to film snow?...). All of this lends itself ideally to using this film as the vehicle to juxtapose between the serenity of the other two. It is a film to make you sit up and take notice. The humour is black and the treatment of the protagonists is harsh - attributes which fall logically into place when you start to appreciate the very dry Polish sense of humour.
Many film critics just missed the point of White; most probably because of a failure to understand (or appreciate) the dry slant on the story. They also failed to appreciate the ending of the film - more on this issue below.Whilst superficially, the humour and feel is harsh and, yes, as a stand alone movie it is probably a bit heavy-going the first time around, in the context of the trilogy it succeeds admirably. It is a well-earned breather between the more emotionally and intellectually absorbing Blue and Red. But at the same time, you certainly couldn't say that White is a "light" movie, by any means. After many repeat viewings, I now have a much greater appreciation for White than I did initially. I would now argue that, on its level, White is arguably the most successfully conceived of all three films. It doesn't spellbind visually or psychoanalyse to the same degree as its sister films, but it is more fun and fundamental and contains a surprisingly greater depth of imagery the more times you view it.
White: what is it about specifically?
White deals with equality. However, like the first chapter in the trilogy, it deals with its theme in an ironic fashion, such that it is exploring equality that doesn't exist, either on a personal or social level; specifically it is equality in terms of control and getting even.
The story revolves around Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), a Polish hairdresser who is very effectively introduced to the audience in the second shot of the film, after a rather intriguing sequence showing the close up of suitcase traveling along on an airport conveyor-belt. The character introduced to us is a scruffy, untidy, uncertain and hurried man. As he stands on the steps of a Paris court house, naively smiling up at a pigeon he has just unsettled on the steps, we see the pigeon poo all down the front of this smiling man's coat. This serves both as the first reference of what will be numerous references to white in the film, and also as a signal of this man's humiliation, a rather portentous sign for our poor Karol.
We learn that Karol has married a beautiful French woman, Dominique (the exquisite Julie Delpy) and that, although their love life was fine back in Poland and right up to their wedding day, Karol now finds himself in a French court being immediately divorced by Dominique for his inability to consummate their marriage. Perhaps it is due to his apprehension at living in a strange and hostile city where he doesn't belong and in which he can't even speak the language, or perhaps it is due to his frustration at the fact that Dominique now very much wields the power in their relationship back in her home city, it is not clear what the problem is, other than to hint at the fact that this is a recent and perhaps temporary one for Karol. Nonetheless, Dominique is certainly not content to wait around for him at all. She cruelly humiliates him in the court, takes his passport and all of his possessions, frames him for the fire of her Paris hairdressing salon - just in spite of him - and then finally throws him out on the streets of Paris, on the run and desperate to fend for himself. When Karol's bank card is coldly withdrawn by the ATM (even all the machines gives him grief!) and then the bank manager coldly destroys his cancelled card, Karol finds himself destitute, with no access to any money, on the harsh Paris streets and with his sole possession being a suitcase containing his (white) Polish hairdressing diplomas and a (white) porcelain statue he evidently steals from a store (the statue being a tangible but pathetic reminder of his pre-Paris Dominique) . But to top it all off, Dominique then takes great pleasure in taunting him over the phone with the sounds of her lovemaking with her new lover! -ouch!. Surely life for Karol is at its rock-bottom. There is no clearly no equality for this man. But alas, things gets worse.....
With the help of the mysterious Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos), whom Karol meets in the Paris Metro, a desperate plan is formulated to help get Karol out of Paris and back to his home city of Warsaw, providing the payoff to the audience for the rather intriguing and mysterious opening shot of the movie. But in a nice little ironic twist, the suitcase in which Karol is desperately stowed away is itself stolen by thieves! On opening a very heavy suitcase, the thieves are certainly less than pleased to find not only nothing of any value whatsoever, but instead a near-dead, destitute and feisty man with 2 francs to his name! There is a very poignant scene which sums up this first part of the movie; a shot of a beaten, bruised and bloodied Karol lying face down in the snow at the bottom of a rubbish tip. Despite his incredibly rough treatment, we see Karol pleased to just be alive and back in his home city. With typical Polish irony, he states rather wryly over a wide shot revealing the Warsaw city tip: "Jesus, I'm home at last"! This clearly sums up the inequality of Karol's treatment in this first half of the story.
The second half of the movie follows Karol's attempts to redress the inequality shown to him by Dominique. Still hopelessly devoted to her, even despite what she's done to him, he feels compelled to win back her love and respect by seeking to take control and redress the power imbalance in their relationship - ie to get equal. So, under his brother's care, he slowly rebuilds his life in Warsaw. No longer content with the old life of hairdressing at his brother's salon, he moves into a different line of work, establishing new contacts and slowly plotting his revenge....
White is, in essence, an examination of how far absolute devotion will take someone. It is a comedy and the plot itself is not meant to be taken too seriously. We see Karol go to some phenomenal lengths to redress his inequality and reclaim Dominique's love. Is he ultimately successful? You will have to judge for yourself; as Kieslowski does not hand you a (dare I say it) "black or white" ending. Instead, he hands you a rather enigmatic final scene.
Many film critics - mainly American ones, it should be said - have argued that White is not nearly as successful as the other two films in the trilogy, simply because the ending is obscure. This is a fundamental difference in culture between European and Hollywood cinema: American audiences as a rule like to have clear resolution in their films, whereas European audiences don't mind being left to draw their own conclusions in certain situations. Still, it is true that the ending is rather ambiguous. For those of you who have already seen the film and reached your own conclusion, but still would like an explanation behind the ambiguity of the ending - a more definitive answer - then please highlight the following section. But a warning, if you want to be left with your own interpretation, then don't highlight Also, for those who haven't seen the movie yet, this will contain a SERIOUS plot-spoiler. I am including this detail only because of the large number of people out there who do want an explanation. (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read)
I should be fairly obvious that Karol's victory at the end is a pyrrhic one. He finally gets his revenge alright, but so does he gain his equality? Well no, not really, as Dominique is left in prison and he is on the outside. Kieslowski is ultimately conveying that life is, quite simply, neither fair nor equal. This thinking stems from the rather dry Polish saying that states "Everyone wants to be more equal than everyone else." Here, our two protagonists are only left "equal" in the sense that they are both imprisoned; Dominique in a physical sense and Karol in a psychological one - note he is "dead", after all, and cannot regain his own identity.
But the more important issue is does Karol win back Dominique's love or not? The answer to this question lies in your interpretation of Dominique's rather ambiguous hand mime at the end. The story behind the last scene and the answer to what Dominique is miming is interpreted clearly by Julie Delpy herself in the extras to the Region 2 edition of this movie. She explains exactly what the hand signals convey. Want to know what it is?..... "When I get out of prison, you and me, we'll leave together. OK? Or, we'll stay here together and get married again." So she's telling him, quite simply, that she loves him and will "wait" for him if he will wait for her. She now respects him.
But think this scene through a little further. Note as the camera zooms-in on Dominique the camera movement appears to literally move through the prison bars. Of course, Karol's tiny opera binoculars could not possibly "zoom in" on her like this from that distance. So it is in fact a psychological "freeing" of Dominique in Karol's eyes. But question further could he really be seeing her and seeing the hand gestures she is making in such clear detail, from his vantage point and angle in the courtyard, looking up from so far away? Probably not. So perhaps the scene is only being played out in Karol's mind? ...Or maybe it is a fantasy in Dominique's mind, conceding to him in her heart what she never said to him in real life?Alas, the conclusion to the entire trilogy would have us believe it is not fantasy at all. You will have to ponder all this and decide for yourself. Regardless, I think the wider implication of the ending of White is clear, in that the love between them may be restored, but that true equality, at a practical level, is unobtainable. This echoes the conclusion of Blue of course, where true freedom as such was unobtainable.
Use of the colour white and other symbols:
Subconsciously, colours evoke certain emotions. The colour white has connotations of being clean, pure or innocent. It can be taken to mean the perfect mixture of all colours (as in light), and hence uncorrupted and unclouded, or in a converse sense a coldness and complete absence of colour.
In the first half of the movie, Karol has committed no crime and is a complete innocent who is treated unjustly. (His innocence and naivety are symbolised by the bird sh*tting on his coat.) He is naive, wimpish and lacks colour. The clear recurring visual image of Dominique on the other hand is the scene of the wedding day, which keeps replaying in Karol's mind (or is that Dominique's mind? or is it indeed a flash forward?). In any event, Dominique is innocent, dressed in white, smiling and of pure pale white skin. Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. She takes on almost goddess proportions in Karol's mind. But as we know, this image of white innocence is in fact the complete antithesis of her actions in the first half of the film.
Let's consider just some of the innumerable and deliberate objects and references to white in the movie. Apart from the obvious wedding day scene and character references, there is: the bird poo, the recurring images of pigeons (even, incongruously, in the Paris Metro), the over-exposed look of the film in parts, the white Metro stations, the bleakness of the winter in Warsaw, including the snow (a physical and metaphorical reference to coldness, bleakness and the frozen relationships), the scene of Karol lying face down in the snow at the rubbish tip, plus Warsaw's snowy streets and frozen ponds, Dominique's white car when she throws him out on the street, the white porcelain statue Karol idolizes (a substitute for the statuesque Dominique, with her white alabaster skin), right down to the white comb Karol plays when down and out or reminiscing. The list goes on. If you make a conscious note to look out for it whilst watching this movie, you will appreciate the deliberate use of innumerable white items and references, both large and small, either deliberately symbolic or serving as subtle links between the characters and the irony of the principal theme.
Apart from colour as a vehicle to stress the principal them of equality in this film, Kieslowski also draws heavily on certain other themes and moralisms throughout this trilogy. This is done more so in Blue and Red, which contain more sub-plots than the direct moral tale of White. However common themes in the trilogy generally include how luck/fate/chance effects our everyday lives (in the case of White it is taking fate deliberately and single-mindedly into one's own hands, whereas in Red fate is a more an external influence on people's lives), the foreshadowing of events to come (see Red review), the reliance by all of us on technology and how it can fail us (in White, all basic technology, including phone boxes and ATMs, gives Karol grief), and the symbolism of glass and water (see Blue).
The more you analyse this trilogy the more layers of meaning there are.
This movie is certainly polished, but is not intended to draw attention to itself in a stylistic sense, as the other two films do. In deliberate stark contrast to both Blue and Red, there is very little use of the trademark Kieslowski camera angles, clever use of reflections and light, or other visual techniques. Rather, White is simply well lit, with the priority being to reveal detail and contrast. It is skillfully directed using a minimalist approach, so as not to intrude or soften the harshness of the situations in which the characters find themselves. The viewer in White is more an unobtrusive observer of these harsh realities, not in a voyeuristic sense, through windows or doors like in Red (or Decalogue), but just there in the rooms with the characters, observing the action. It is a "fly on the wall" approach to telling Karol's story, rather than the more consciously evocative and emotional approach used to convey the softer themes in the other two films.
As stated in the Blue review, Kieslowski used a different cinematographer for each of these films, and in the case of White it was Edward Klosinski, who did Decalogue 2 (1989) Klosinski did a great job in achieving the required look and feel for this film, appreciating that it is meant to be a fairly bleak affair, deliberately shot and directed in a bleak way.
Links with the other movies:
A typical trademark of this Director is that he rewards multiple viewings and analysis of his works by inserting links, some overt and some more subtle, for the viewer to pick up later. This movie contains the reverse perspective of the cross-over link already discussed in the Blue review. But be warned, it is extremely brief from this side of the story, so blink and you will miss it! It is at 4:21, whilst Karol is delivering his speech and pleading with the Paris court, that Julie can be seen very briefly in the background trying to gain entry to see Sandrine (Patrice's lover), before being quickly denied entry by the court guard at the door.
There was another link between the characters of Karol and Michel, Valentine's boyfriend from Red, but sadly the scene was cut in the final edit of White. Highlight the following if you have already seen Red and want to know what the link is.
(SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) At the beginning of Red, when Valentine is having her first phone conversation with Michel, Michel says that his car was stolen in Poland and that "some nice guy put us up in his office". He is referring to Karol, in the latter half of White. The script of White included the following scene:
YOUNG MAN 2 (MICHEL): Someone's pinched it. With our passports, money, everything.
KAROL: That's a hassle. Are you from France?
YOUNG MAN 2: Switzerland. But we're on our way to England.
KAROL: I can't offer you my place, because I haven't got one myself. But you can doss down in my office.
It's a pity that this small scene was deleted from the final cut of White. As well as linking the two films, it would have also served the purpose of nicely situating the timeframe of Red just after that of White. Plus it would have been interesting and ironic to have met the character of Michel within the movie White, given that we aren't introduced to him visually in Red.
There is also of course the final obvious linkage to Red, where the climax of the trilogy involves the fateful event that brings together the protagonists from all three movies.
Where this DVD release is let down drastically is the quality of the source material used. To say that both the video and audio transfer on all three discs is disappointing would be a major understatement.
The source used for these discs is analogue video; undoubtedly the betamax SP sub-master used for broadcasting these films on Australian TV back in 1996. How can I be so sure of the source? Easy, as I noted firstly that the subtitles on this disc are burned-in to the transfer using what I noted was a very familiar yellow font, and this was confirmed when I noted at the very end of the credits the subtle copyright acknowledgement "Subtitles copyright SBS Television 1996". Being able to pinpoint and date the source material with such confidence helps to explain a number of factors, including why the transfer is so grainy (refer next paragraphs) and why the audio mix is so woeful (refer next section). Clearly the visual and audio requirements for broadcasting on TV back in 1996 were not nearly as demanding as today's digital TV broadcasting requirements, and further not a patch on what DVD consumers deserve and expect for today's home theatre environment. You need probably not read the video and audio sections any further to appreciate that this explains the story of this DVD, ie. poor quality source material makes for poor quality DVD release. All the video and audio problems I am about to make below stem directly from this issue.
Firstly to the aspect ratio and thankfully, one of the only good things that can be said of this transfer, it is been presented in the source ratio of 1.85:1. A big thank you to SBS for having broadcast in widescreen for so many years. However as you may already expect from the nature of the source material, this transfer is not 16x9 enhanced.
Coming from such a rather dated analogue video source, the quality of this video transfer is not surprisingly poor and may be succinctly summed up by four words: "grain, grain and grain!" This makes for very disappointing DVD viewing.
The luminance of the transfer is also extremely disappointing. The transfer is neither clear nor sharp. All scenes lack resolution and definition, in both foreground and background. Low level noise/random noise are apparent throughout this feature; just pick a scene, any scene. As a case in point, have a look at just how disgustingly grainy the scene of Karol on the riverbank at dusk is (32:20), but many other scenes suffer a similar fate. The level of noise is much more prominent and distracting in the night-time/darker scenes. The transfer for White is marginally less grainy than for the other two films, only due to a higher quality film stock used for White in comparison to the other two (as confirmed by the Region 2 DVD releases, which indeed reveal a finer level of detail inherent in White, compared to Blue in particular). In any event, the difference can hardly be spotted in these terribly noisy Region 4 transfers.
Chrominance is also poor. The colours are drab and washed out and are not nearly as vibrant as they should be - and need to be. In addition, the excessive level of grain inherent in this transfer means that large expanses of colour scream for unnecessary attention, being so noisy. Of course it should be noted that the director and cinematographer have deliberately gone for a harsh look and feel for this film, with some scenes deliberately over-exposed in the processing, in order to accentuate the white (see the wedding sequences for best example) and/or the bleak injustice of Karol's situation. This film is meant to be stark, rather than bright and colourful.
MPEG artefacts are present in the form of Gibb effect around the credits. Many images also appear to suffer from pixelisation, however this principally just a function of the high level of grain in the master, and so is a source issue rather than an MPEG artefact on transfer.
Film to video artefacts are also a major headache, notably the low level noise and chroma noise as mentioned above, plus some colour bleeding. All of these artefacts are a direct result of the poor quality analogue video master.
Thankfully, I can at least report that aliasing isn't a big issue, or if it does occur, is only minor and refrains from fully breaking out - for example the moving car at 38:35.
Ironically, film artefacts don't appear to be major problem with this transfer. There is the odd film fleck and minor scratch here and there, but certainly no more than might be expected. It's annoying to think that, somewhere under all that grain there is a well-preserved film print from which the original master must have been sourced, several generations back.
The subtitling from SBS appears accurate, as far as my limited French reveals, and is well timed. Note that there is no choice of subtitle tracks, as the English subtitle stream is burned into the image.
This disc is single-layered, so there is no layer change to comment on.
Like the video transfer, the audio transfer on this disc is a huge let-down. As you would expect from the source, there is no choice of audio tracks - we are presented with the audio mix that accompanied the 1996 screening on SBS, being a 2-channel stereo mix, not surround-encoded. In fact, it hardly even warrants being called stereo, as there is very minimal stereo separation at all on this track. Another obvious problem right from the off is the amount of audio hiss throughout the feature, which detracts from listening at any decent volume. This poor quality audio transfer is yet another reason why the viewing experience of this film is severely restricted.
As outlined in the Blue review, Kieslowski and Zbigniew Preisner had by the time of Three Colours developed a very strong and comfortable working relationship, and it shows in the quality of the scores. Preisner manages to deliver a refreshingly unique and apt score for each film.
The music score for White is subtle and effective, with the main theme based on a tango. This is perfectly appropriate as, quite apart from the tango's romantic connotations, its light, playful, almost comic style compliments the mood of the film. Not only that, but it is very intelligently chosen if you want to analyse it. In a tango, consider that it is the woman who appears, ostensibly, to have all the freedom of movement as the focal point of this dance, having all the flashy steps and swirls, whilst the man is somewhat constricted to what appears to be small, controlled steps . However in this dance it is unequivocally the man who leads and controls the woman's movements. Of course in the film, Dominique is on the surface the manipulative, beautiful, flashy, dominant partner in this relationship. However the majority of the movie follows Karol's attempts to gain control of Dominique. By the end, Karol is indeed the one manipulating her and she is "dancing" to his tune. Preisner's scoring is, as usual, extremely intelligent. Apart from this main tango theme, there are also some truly beautiful string pieces in this score as well. So, whilst at first pass this score may seem light and appear to play more of a background role than that for the other two films, have a closer listen; you will find the score for White is just as impressive. Of course, not that you are afforded any real opportunity to appreciate its subtleties of the score on this particular audio transfer effort! But oh well, on to score the audio transfer formally....
Dialogue quality is at least OK. Thankfully, the dialogue is relatively clear over the background hiss and there are no real problems with discerning any of the lines (of course we have the subtitles). Audio sync is fine.
The lack of impact with the musical score, as discussed above, is the major detraction of this transfer. Dynamic range is compressed and poor and the sound stage is flat and front-centre weighted.
Use of subwoofer is modest to poor. Whilst a largely dialogue-driven film, there are some scenes that could have benefited from a more pronounced use of LFE, for example the subway scenes, the bumps of the suitcase and the fights.
|Surround Channel Use|
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
This trilogy was released in DVD in Region 2 by Artificial Eye/MkII Editions in 2001 and this was, until recently, the clear and obvious preference over Region 4, both for source and transfer quality and for the very comprehensive extras package Region 2 received. However after much ado, the trilogy has now finally been released by Miramax in Region 1, and the decision as to which is now the better release is less clear-cut. Region 1 benefits from not only (mostly) the same extras as Region 2, but some exciting new ones including additional interviews and a commentary track. However weighed against this is differences in the quality of the transfers, plus Region 1 being in NTSC. Let's start by looking at extras, first the Region 2 release and then highlighting the new Region 1 extras.
In comparison to Region 2, the Region 4 release misses out on:
In comparison to Region 1, the Region 4 release misses out on:
Annette Insdorf had nothing at all to do with the making of the films, but was a personal language translator for and close friend of Kieslowski for many years and so had exclusive access to the recluse director for interviews over a prolonged period of time. Insdorf is a scholar, film critic and writer, being the author of the book "Double Lives and Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski", which is highly recommended. The audio commentary is authoritative, well-planned, enlightening and is virtually non-stop. It provides some great insight into the development of the story and K's layering of imagery.
OK, so Region 1 is the clear winner in terms of extras; it gets (virtually) all of the Region 2 goodies, plus much more. But what about transfer qualities? Well, it's not an easy choice, but on balance I would say that Region 2 is the preferred transfer of the film. It benefits form superior PAL video resolution, full 5.1 audio specs and, arguably, more faithful colouring (albeit with high contrast). There is no denying that new Region 1 print is more warmer and more richly saturated, but this has the unintended consequence that skin tones are not balanced and many colours are just too saturated in quite a few scenes. In comparison, the Region 2 colouring may be said to be more reserved and even a bit washed, yes, but it remains in my opinion more faithful. Check out DVDCompare's great comparison page here, and note the screen captures. Finally, the subtitle stream on the Region 1 transfer is just too big and too high up on the frame, which I find extremely annoying in comparison to the well placed Region 2 subtitle stream (OK, call me picky).
This is a difficult choice and the decision will be one of personal preference, but I am going to call this a Region 2 winner. Despite the additional extras it misses out on, I feel the extras package on Region 2 still provides enough of an insight into the film that the missed extras and commentary only provide incrementally greater insight, and this is outweighed by superior video and audio transfers. If you are obsessed about this film enough like me to justify investing in it more than once, then my recommendation is buy Region 2 for the film transfer and Region 1 for the extras. Indeed, that's the order in which these two discs now appear at the top of my top 10 DVDs list.
Three Colours: White is in my view a contemporary movie masterpiece. It is a film of deliberate contrasts. Best viewed in the context of the wider trilogy, it is a fulfilling movie experience, although anyone with an appreciation for black comedy or an overpowering sense or irony will take to this film even as a stand alone. The character development is strong but harsh and the story is well-paced. White is meticulously constructed, skillfully photographed, unobtrusively directed, exquisitely scored and employs enough imagery and symbolism to be ultimately challenging and rewarding on a number of levels. For those so inclined, this film also rewards multiple viewings and analyses. It is in my view, contemporary film making at its very best.
Unfortunately for such an important work, the Region 4 release is a shocker. We cop a no effort, "copy and paste" job, not even mastered from film and with no attempt at extras - simply not good enough in comparison to other region releases. The quality of our video and audio transfer is poor, due to the source material used, and this detracts significantly from a real appreciation of the feature. Give the Region 4 release a wide berth.
For anyone who is serious about modern cinema, it is definitely worthwhile paying the extra to import the vastly superior Region 2 release of this DVD. Oh, and while you're at it, why not pick up Decalogue at the same time - you won't be disappointed.
|DVD||Toshiba 2109, using Component output|
|Display||Toshiba 117cm widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Yamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.|
|Amplification||Elektra Home Theatre surround power amp|
|Speakers||Orpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears|