Three Colours: Red (Trois Couleurs Rouge) (1994)

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Released 24-Jan-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1994
Running Time 94:55
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Krzysztov Kieslowski
Studio
Distributor
MK2 Productions
Shock Entertainment
Starring Irene Jacob
Jean-Louis Trintigtant
Jean-Pierre Lorit
Frederique Feder
Case Alpha-Transparent
RPI $31.95 Music Zbigniew Preisner


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None French Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Red is the final film in the Three Colours trilogy and, sadly, was to also be the final film for director Krzysztof Kieslowski . 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.

    Red is a film structured through internal rhymes and haunting parallels, with the story told more through the use of recurring images than by linear plot points. Through a clever use of colour association, repeated images and cinematography emphasising light and movement, what is presented is a world which is seemingly obsessed by chance, but ultimately is a world in which very little has been left to chance at all. More on these major themes below.

 Red:  what is it about specifically?

    Red deals with the theme of fraternity, literally meaning brotherhood or togetherness. It is about reaching out for human contact, the human desire to bond and form companionships. It is a film about intimacy, ie. how do we connect to others in the world. Like in the other two films, the writers choose to explore this theme in an ironic sense. In the beginning of Red, there is a distinct lack of fraternity, in that there is emotional isolation or a lack of fulfilling relationships for all of the major characters in one form or another. This lack of communication is manifest in the initial failed phone call attempt by Valentine's unseen boyfriend at the very beginning of the film, ending in a flashing red signal indicating that the line is engaged .

    Red also explores one of Kieslowski's favourite themes, that of the fine line between chance and fate/destiny. All throughout the film the protagonists appear to have trouble attaining their fraternity, beit simply because in the case of Valentine and Auguste it is chance (or is that fate?) that conspires to intervene so that they just keep missing their chance to meet, or because in the case of the Judge it is due to a conscious decision to remain aloof and yet, at the same time, he is desperately seeking fraternity.

    Red is the tale of two parallel stories, set in Geneva. First it is the story of the young model and university student Valentine (played by the incredibly natural and sexy Irene Jacob, who was equally as impressive in The Double Life of Veronique (1991)) and a young aspiring judge, Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit), who lives very close-by but is kept oblivious to Valentine's existence. Secondly it is about the unlikely friendship and parallels that develop between Valentine and a crusty old retired Judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a man who takes on some intriguing parallels as an older version of the younger, aspiring judge, Auguste.

    We are introduced to Valentine and Auguste as living across from each other on the same street. Both are experiencing problems in their current relationships and both go about their everyday lives completely oblivious of each other's existence. They almost meet on numerous occasions and through clever use of fluid camera movements and other associations that keep connecting the two, the audience gains the strong feeling that they may indeed be compatible and should meet. However, frustratingly, it is either luck or fate that conspires to keep their lives from touching throughout the movie.

    The story principally revolves around Valentine, whose zealously jealous boyfriend plays mind-games with her over the phone, accusing her of cheating on him when he is not there. This jealousy is completely unfounded and there is a veiled reference by Valentine muttering to herself after one such phone call that "it's happening again". Whilst Valentine has feelings for her boyfriend, we quickly gain the impression that this relationship is going nowhere.

    Valentine is also a kind, considerate and altruistic person and after accidentally hitting a dog on the road whilst driving her car one night, she feels compelled to go out of her way to return the dog to its owner and offer to pay the vet bill. The owner of the dog is a retired Judge (Jean-Louise Trintignant), a character who is not named in the credits but whom the audience later finds out in a court case is named Joseph Kern (rendering more than coincidental the name of the neighbourhood cafe that links the homes of Valentine and Auguste, "Chez Joseph"). When she returns the dog, Valentine is shocked to discover not only the Judge's complete indifference to the fate of his pet, but also his hobby of eavesdropping on neighbours' telephone conversations using a scanner. Valentine is disgusted at the man's attitude and his hobby, but rather than doing what most of us would do and display indifference, walking away from the situation, Valentine instead feels pity for the old man in his solitude and sadness, and wants to correct his fundamental belief that people in life generally act out of selfishness rather than altruism.

    Over time they form a bond, made possible because of the Judge's self-denouncement of his own actions, admitting his guilt publicly and so making a sign of rapprochement that enables him to bond with Valentine. Valentine in return begins to learn that the motive for the Judge's eavesdropping is a search for the truth, a reaction from his past life as a judge where the truth was often inaccessible or brushed aside. Each helps the other learn more about themselves and, in so doing, they form a strong fraternity, the relationship in fact becoming so strong as to be akin to father and daughter. (Valentine's father is completely absent from the story and we learn that the Judge does not have a daughter.)        

    As each discovers more about the other's past and what has led to their current circumstances, a surprising number of parallels become evident between the Judge and Auguste. The similarities including among other facts that: both are judges, both have dogs, both were betrayed in a serious relationship by a blonde lady two years their senior, and both experienced a coincidence when studying for their final jurisprudence exam whereby their text book fell open to the ground by chance at the exact same page which turned out to have the answer to the question in the exam. Indeed, the Judge quietly utters to Valentine at one point "Maybe you're the woman I never met". Kieslowski leaves us to ponder chance and fate here. Why is it that these two most unlikely of characters chance to meet and form such a strong bond, when the very same forces of chance (or lack of it, perhaps fate) conspire to keep Valentine and the younger, compatible Auguste apart?

    There is a common sense of premonition in this film as the characters go about their lives, and Kieslowski throws in numerous repeated references to luck, chance and portent. With relationships forming at one level and then breaking down at others, it is fate which undeniably dominates the outcomes of all these characters lives. Their plans are all pre-ordained, as evidenced by one incident where both Auguste's girlfriend and the eavesdropping Judge each toss a coin to help decide whether Auguste and his girlfriend will go bowling alley that night, and we see the Judge's wry smile when both came up with tails independently. Chance, it would appear, was not a factor in this decision.

    The characters are all drawn along relentlessly in this film, influenced by events beyond their control, with fate ultimately bringing them all together into a personal fraternity and neatly paying off all of the previously layered signals from throughout the film. The film and the trilogy each come to a completely satisfying resolution. Kieslowski interprets that fraternity is like compassion and this is ultimately both a worthwhile ideal and attainable, even if the conclusion was that complete liberty and equality as ideals were questionable and unobtainable.

Use of the colour red and other symbols:

    Subconsciously, colours evoke certain emotions. Red is arguably the strongest and immediate of all the colours. It's strongest common-day association is to warning, although red can also provoke a number of different fundamental emotional responses. With specific reference to Three Colours, it refers to warmth, love, joy, passion, rage, danger and interdiction.Irene Jacob gave a very insightful interpretation on the use of red for emotions, in the press kit accompanying the US release of this film, stating that both her character and the Judge "blush inside themselves; red for rage, shame and confusion."

    The colour red keeps connecting the characters in this film. The use of red and brown filters in this film also creates an autumnal colour palette, which is highly appropriate for the context of the film. Here are just some specific and deliberate references to the colour red to ponder: 

        Apart from colour as a vehicle to stress the principal themes of fraternity and destiny in this film, Kieslowski also draws heavily on certain themes and moralisms throughout the trilogy, including how fate and chance effects our lives, the foreshadowing of events to come, the reliance by all of us on technology and how it can fail us, and the symbolism of glass and water. Some of these have already been discussed in the reviews of Blue and White, and are explored further here in Red.

    The issue of fate has already been discussed above, but luck is also in constant reference in this film. For some examples consider the text books twice falling open to the ground at the right pages, Valentine's remark to Michel that it was by chance they met at all and her daily ritual of playing the slot machine, usually to no avail but then when she does win it is with three cherries (a portentous symbol of bad luck).

    Reflect also on the use of glass and water in Red. Valentine and Auguste constantly stare out of their windows just a moment too early or a moment too late to catch each other (Kieslowski using glass here to represent the invisible barrier between people). See also the use of glass when Valentine visits the Judge's house (she is often focused in two mirrors, heightening the layering of images), and the rocks crashing through the judge's window (whereby the neighbours are breaking down the barrier of privacy and safety previously held sacred between them). Or panning across the bowling alley, when we are expecting to see Auguste and his girlfriend but instead find the camera lingering on a broken beer bottle (symbolic of their broken relationship).

    The more you analyse this trilogy the more layers of meaning there are.

Directorial/visual flair:

    After the deliberately bleak, harsh style of White, we are again back to the trademark Kieslowski visual flair in Red, aided in no small part to the excellent work of the late cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski, who also did Decalogues 3 and 9. This film is extremely stylish, but whereas Blue was stylish more for its use of camera angles and perspectives, Red's style is distinguished by the fluidity of its camera movement and its emphasis on light to capture mood.Kieslowski obviously had a very clear vision of how he wanted to portray the look for each individual chapter in the trilogy before he began, and the way he planned for the photography of each film to narrate and showcase its principal theme is brilliant. Blue was the showcase piece for artistic direction, White used a starkly contrasting but highly detailed canvas, and Red is stylistically the most fluid and warmest of the three film - it is the most emotionally focused piece.

    Consider the choreography of the camera movements in this film. When on the street between and in the apartments of Valentine and Auguste, the camera takes on a slow, steady movement that is suggestive of surveillance. The audience is actually like the Judge here - it is a voyeur, listening in on their private phone conversations and the audience is left with an almost uncomfortable feeling at times as the camera lingers to observe Valentine and Auguste in their apartments through the open windows. Furthermore, the camera takes on a life of its own in this film. Consider for examples: the camera tracking into and following around Valentine's apartment seemingly of its own accord, or the camera movement that precedes Valentine's cautious entry into the Judge's house during her first visit, or the unexpected camera pan at the bowling alley to the broken beer glass, or the sudden camera pan at the theatre as the Judge explains to Valentine how his book fell from the balcony, or the bizarre and unorthodox camera pan whilst in the Judge's house as he is in mid sentence to Valentine, tracking away from the conversation for no apparent reason to focus on the glass jars on the pool table, before moving back again. Stylistic cinema indeed.

Links and similarities the other movies:

    Refer to White review for an explanation of one direct link which explains an early reference in Red to a phone conversation between Michel and Valentine, but that sadly did not survive to the final edit of White. Of more interest though, now that we've made the journey through the trilogy, I want to quickly highlight some of the similarities that exist between the three films, that you may wish to ponder on. Again, the usual warning applies if you haven't watched Red yet (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) .

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Transfer Quality

Video

      Most of these comments are replicated from the Blue review, as all three films have been mastered from the same source using the same process at the same time.

    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". Finally, if there was still any doubt that this is an analogue video master, there is a prominent analogue tape tracking error across the centre of the image at 89:00.

    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 noisy the night time scene is in chapter 3, as Valentine approaches the Judge's house. The level of noise is much more prominent and distracting in the night-time/darker scenes.

    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. This severely hampers the viewing of this feature and is especially annoying knowing that the director's use of the predominant colour of the films (in this case red) is intended to play such a vital role in the movie, sometimes an obvious one but at other times it is meant to have a more subconscious and recurring impact on the viewer.

    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 (see the colour of the walls in the Judge's house at 58:30 for example), 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.

    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.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    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, one that draws out the prevailing mood for each.

    The main theme for the score of Red is a bolero theme, which is intuitively very appropriate to convey the inevitability of the characters as they are dragged on by fate rather inexorably throughout the film. Note that the bolero is a recurring image, just as the whole film is a series of recurring and reinforced images, and so as the melodic theme is developed and then repeated, the structure is a great metaphor for the cumulative resonance characteristics of the film. This score might not be quite as powerful or haunting a theme as Blue's, nor as catchy a theme as White's, but it is just as beautiful and successful as a narrative for the film's main theme. 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 impact of the storm when at the theatre.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

      There are no extras on any of the three discs. You get a static 1.33:1 main menu screen with audio and a basic chapter selection menu. That's it. This is criminal when you see the extras that are available in Region 2 and Region 1.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

(This section updated May 2003, following release in Region 1. )

    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 a fantastic insight into the development of the story and K's layering of imagery. In fact, I found this audio commentary to be probably the best of all three, in terms of the amount of illumination it provided, but I would have to say that all three commentaries are great. Still, do bear in mind this commentary remains by someone completely unrelated to the film.

    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, this is not an easy choice at all - a harder decision even than for Blue or White. I am going to stick with the Region 2 transfer though, as it still benefits form superior PAL video resolution, full 5-channel audio specs and more subtle subtitling. There is no denying that new Region 1 print is  warmer and probably a bit sharper, and the increased colour saturation does suit this film (more so than the other two) by artificially enhancing the element of warmness in the colour palette. In comparison, the Region 2 colouring may be said to be more reserved and even a bit washed, yes, but it still remains subtle and, in my opinion, more faithful. Check out DVDCompare's comparison page here, and note the screen captures.

    This is a very difficult choice and the decision will be one of personal preference. 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 audio and, arguably, more faithful video 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.

Summary

    Three Colours: Red is in my view a contemporary movie masterpiece. It is a film of characteristic visual flair and emotion. Best viewed in the context of the wider trilogy, it is a fulfilling film experience. The character development is very strong and the movie is well-paced. Red is, in summary, meticulously layered and constructed, skillfully directed and photographed, 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 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.

Acknowledged sources for these reviews:
- Stok, Danusia: "Kieslowski on Kieslowski"
- Insdorf, Annette: "Double Lives and Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski" and audio commentaries
- other research on Kieslowski.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Sean Abberton (read my bio)
Monday, March 25, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using Component output
DisplayToshiba 117cm widescreen RPTV. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderYamaha RXV-1000. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationElektra Home Theatre surround power amp
SpeakersOrpheus Aurora III mains, Orpheus Centaurus 1.0 centre, Velodyne CT150 sub and B&W DM303 rears

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
When will R4 get a decent transfer for these films? - Paul REPLY POSTED