Posted by: burusi | 16/05/2010

Sigga – “Analysis of the symbolism in Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue, White and Red”

კშიშტოფ კესლევსკი – Krzysztof Kieslowski

კშიშტოფ კესლევსკი – Krzysztof Kieslowski (1941-1996)

Analysis of the symbolism in Kieslowski’s Three Colors: Blue, White and Red


In this essay I will introduce and analyze a trilogy made by the Polish film director Krzysztof Kieslowski, inspired by his co-writer Krzysztof Piesiewicz’s idea of making three films related to the colors of the French flag and the slogan of the French revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. The films Blue, White and Red where shot in France, Poland and Switzerland.

The first film, Blue, is about freedom that maybe is impossible ever to gain. As soon as we love or mourn we are not free anymore. We are alive, but not free.

Julie is married to rich and famous composer Patrice, and has a young daughter, Anna. Early in the film, Julie’s husband and child are portrayed killed in a car accident. Her life, that was happy and relaxed, is now empty, and Julie has to learn to cope. Her first reaction is to hide. She leaves her manor house and orders that all the furniture is sold. She rents an apartment in Paris and spends her time drinking coffee and trying to forget.

But she is unable to escape her husband’s music. Just before his death, he was working on a commission for a grand symphonic chorus that would be played at a festival of European Unity. The unfinished chorus haunts her, as do memories of her daughter. She tries desperately to put things behind her.

Then she finds out that her husband had a mistress, Sandrine, and that Sandrine is pregnant with her late husband’s child. Finally Julie is forced to come to terms with her bereavement by completing the chorus and make sure that her husbands unborn love child will bear his name and have a secure future in the family house.

White is about the equality that didn’t exist, neither on personal nor social plain.

White tells the story of Karol Karol, hairdresser from Poland that lives in France. He married a French woman Dominique, but when he is unable to consummate the marriage, she divorces him. He loses everything: his wife, home, hair saloon and even his credit cards. In the Metro he gets to know

Pole, Mikolaj, who smuggles Karol Karol to Poland in his trunk. In an interesting twist, thieves steal the huge valise carrying Karol in Warsaw. But when they discover that the trunk holds a poor man instead of a fortune they abandon him in garbage heap.

Karol joins his brother Jurek, who is also a hairdresser. Not happy just being his brother’s employee, he trades land until he becomes rich. With a goal to get even with Dominique, he stages his own death because he knows Dominique will attend his funeral. He spies on her during the funeral and afterwards he visits her, and finally consummates the marriage. When she wakes up next morning to find Karol he has disappeared and the police arrest her for the murder of her husband. When the film ends we see Karol Karol standing outside her prison window while Dominique signals with her fingers that she still loves him. That makes him cry. They are clearly in love with one another but trapped and separated by his scheme.

Last in the trilogy was the Red, a warm thought about the possibility of gaining some kind of fraternity by getting close to a person, to break down the walls we build around us.

Red is about a young Swiss student and model, Valentine. One day on her way home from a dancing rehearsal she runs over a dog with her car. When she returns the dog to it’s rightful owner, a retired judge, he acts indifferent. During their first encounter she feels sorry for the old man in his solitude and sadness, but at the same time disgusted by his hobby of eavesdropping on the neighbor’s telephone conversations. He tells her that he needs to be in touch with the truth, something that was inaccessible to him as a judge. As he forces her to reveal some of her own personal demons, he confides in her some of his own, memories that has haunted him for decades. As the time goes by, a bond grows between them that suggests an affectionate father-daughter relationship. A kind of real fraternity.

A parallel story develops that involves a recently graduated law student, Auguste and his girlfriend, nicely completing the relationship between Valentine and the judge. We realize that the young man’s experiences reflect the older man’s misfortunes.
Red has a metaphysical tone, the judge has precognitive dreams but he also seems to know what will happen without dreaming about it. And more than once Valentine also has premonitions. The whole film has this foreshadowing theme. A shot of Valentine used as a billboard ad presages something that later happens in her real life.

Two of the main characters in the film, Valentine and Auguste never actually meet in front of us in the film. We never hear them talk together. Still we are convinced in the end, when we see them standing side by side after having been rescued from a stricken ferry, that they will live happily together ever after. We watch how they as neighbors almost meet throughout the film.

All the films of the trilogy are characters driven stories, they tell many stories of many conflicts, and how things are solved or not solved by chance or choice. The flow of the stories is very natural although it is all based on how things happen almost accidentally or by fate. Seemingly insignificant things change ones lives forever. Some people try to rule their own lives, often they don’t succeed. Their plans are influenced by happenings beyond their control. The whole film is directed such that the audience has a voyeuristic view of all events. The camera moves between the characters revealing the connections between them.

Purpose and method

In the book Kieslowski on Kieslowski, on page 222, he says that the vital component of the film Red are red, the filters aren’t. Kieslowski takes as example red clothes a red dog’s leash and red backgrounds. The red color in the film is not decorative, but plays a dramaturgic role, it means something. As an example there he talks about how Valentine sleeps with her boyfriend’s red jacket, the red color in that case signifies memories, the need of somebody.

Inspired by that in the spring of 1998 I wrote an essay about the symbolism in Red. I watched the film over and over again, frame by frame, found every red subject in the film and tried to elucidate their possible meaning. I realized that I would also have to study the symbolism of the red color in different cultures, and the metaphors and archetypes linked to it. It was a lot of work but worth it. I found what I was looking for, the film was full of symbols.

While watching the film Red several times it came to me that not only was the red color dramaturgic, but Kieslowski’s use of telephones and windows throughout the film had an obvious pattern. Almost every scene in the film either begins with a telephone or a window, and in a few cases both together. This may be used as instruments to look inside other people’s lives.

Of great importance in the film Red is how we get the feeling that although the characters try to rule their own lives, they cannot. One of the main themes in Red is about this: weather it is fate, destiny, and choice or chance that rules our lives. Thinking of that I wrote how this affects the characters in the film.

When my paper on Red was finished I was happy to have found what I was looking for but never the less my work had brought up even more questions. What about the blue color in Blue and white color in White? Did they play dramatic role in the same way as the red color in Red? And what about glass and telephones in the films? Would fate, destiny, choice and chance make some obvious patterns in Blue and White. I was curious and decided to explore this for my final theses in Film Studies. Two years have passed and I’ve found my answers. The importance of all the colors linked to the titles is of no doubt. Not only are the colors symbolic, but also a lot of other elements like glass, water and technology serve similar purpose. Water turned out to be such an important element in Blue that I also explored if the same was true with White and Red. Also I found that the concept of fate being a major factor in life played an important role in Blue and White, although not as clearly as in Red.

As I watched the films more, I identified more relevant themes and I wrote short chapters about the significance of voyeurism, foreshadowing and biblical parallels. I find new layers each time I watch the trilogy and probably I would be able to explore them for years. I have not written about important aspects of the films like how the slogans of the French revolution are applied to the stories, nor have I written about the use of music and sound in the films. Perhaps one day I will add that to my research.

At last there are two chapters that do not relate to my analysis but might be of interest to those who are interested in Krzysztof Kieslowski. His biography and also some information on Zbigniew Preisner, who wrote the music for his films.


The symbolism of colors

Each color in the spectrum conveys a silent statement to the viewer. This perception is a result of in what way our eyes work, our natural environment and how the society and culture we live in affect us.

The psychology of color is one of the most inexact sciences but also one of the most powerful and popular. Colors are associated with our emotions and can influence the subconscious mind. Most people are familiar with the related effects of color on emotions. Colors that usually are considered to be warm or hot like red and orange elicit a sense of speed or quickness that tend to excite or give lively feelings.

There seem to be certain metaphors and archetypes linked with specific colors, blue the cold, steady, spiritual color we associate with heaven and water; white, the clean, religious color we often link with the holy ghost, innocence and something more realistic like snow. And red the most emotion-filled color which denotes love and sex, energy, valor, fire, alertness and danger and in a bad sense cruelty, aggressiveness, war, wrath and even sin. We tend to associate red to danger, fire engines, blood, roses and hell.

From the beginning of history different cultures have used colors for a variety of reasons as we do today.

The meaning of the color blue in different cultures

Blue’s strongest association is with the sky, sea, and water. Although a cold and retroactive color, blue is said to have a pacifying influence. Blue also symbolizes peace, faith, contemplation, truth, and heaven. In heraldry, blue is used to indicate piety and sincerity. Blue is the color that most of all symbolizes the spiritual.
Unlike red color it is cold and makes most people relax and consider.

Psychologists associate the blue with the mental/spiritual relaxation and with an easy-going, superior attitude to life. Blue is the color of heaven and in the ancient Egypt it was associated with the God of heaven, Amon Ra.

Blue is the deepest and less materialistic color, the medium of truth. Blue approaches the vacancy or emptiness of air, water, crystal and diamond. That’s why blue is the color of stability.

Zeus and Jahve stand on an azure. Blue amuletts are believed to neutralize “the evil eye”.

The nordic God Odinn’s cape is blue and so is Virgin Mary’s cloak. Virgin Mary has been called the Blue Lily in the poetic language.

In Indian mythology Lord Vishnu is blue in his incarnation as Krishna. Jesus is often depicted wearing blue cloths.

The blue color is the symbol for God’s truth and eternity and because of that it will always be the sign for the immortality.

In the ancient China people had different views about blue color. In the traditional art creatures with blue faces are either demons, ghosts or the god of literature, “K’ui-hsing”, who once committed suicide due to an unfulfilled ambition. Originally there was no word for the color blue in Chinese, except for “ch’ing” that stood for all the shades from dark gray through blue and to green. The word “ch’ing” was even used for the “life/way of life” of a scholar or learned man, as he in the blue light from a lamp, applied his to learning. The modern Chinese word for blue “lan” means indigo, which is the most usual color for work uniforms in present day China.

In China the wood and one of the four cardinal points, east, have also been linked to the blue color.

Blue flowers, blue eyes, blue strings and blue ribbons have in some cultures been regarded as ugly and as something that would bring bad luck. In Europe on the contrary the blue flower is romantic and associated with high spirits of the human mind.

In ancient Mexican scripts with drawings, turquoise and water are given a light blue-green color but in the symbolism for heaven the blue color has no function.

In the traditional symbolism for the people of Central Europe the blue color stands for fidelity but also for something that is mysterious. For example, the tale of “the blue light” that is deceptive and unsafe.

There are sayings related to the blue color, like “it came out of the blue”, about something that was not expected. It can be linked to the mysterious aspect of the blue color or to the sky, as “it came out of the blue” can be as if something did fall from the sky and nobody expected it or knew why or where it came from.

Blue color depicts a certain mood, usually sadness, and the melancoly music is called Blues.

The fact that blue in some cultures is associated with alcoholism is not so easy to explain but it’s possible that it’s because people that have been drinking hard for years tend to get a blue shade on their noses and cheeks. In the prehistoric art blue was seldom used. The reason for that is probably that it was difficult to make the blue color, not easy to get material for the making of blue color.

The blue color in Kieslowski’s Blue

In the beginning of the film just before the accident we see a blue car drive up. This is a navy blue car, the family car of Julie, Patrice and Anna. We see under the car but we also get wide shots of the environment and we see that it’s probably early morning. The light is very blue, it’s a blue misty morning. Watching the close-up’s of the road it’s noticeable that even the road seems more blue than gray. The blue shade is very obvious especially when Anna needs to go out of the car to relieve her self.

A lot of the cars we see during the whole film are from gray to black but in a blue shade of those colors. Even Sandrine has a gray-blue car. Olivier is the only one that has bourbon colored car and it does stand out.

Julie wears black and blue cloths throughout the film. The only exception is white gown at the hospital and a white T-shirt she sleeps in. Otherwise she always wears black and blue. Most often blue jeans, black top and a black jacket. She is black and blue, bruised on the outside as well as the inside. The way she dresses reminiscent of that. Other people in the film wear gray, blue and black cloths, but not always like Julie.
Early in the film right before the car accident Anna, Julie’s daughter, throws a lollipop wrapper out of the car’s rear window, the candy wrapper is blue. The blue lollipop wrapper flies out of the car’s window a little before the girl dies, as a foreshadowing of the girl’s soul flying towards the blue sky, towards eternity.
Later in the film Julie finds the same kind of a lollipop in her purse. She eats it with a lot of anger and frustration, as if she is determined to swallow the pain of her life, and to start anew. I’ve always found Julie and her reaction to the lollipop and the blue lollipop wrapper one of the strongest signs in the film that she cannot detach herself from her memories. Anna’s blue mobile is the only other thing she takes with her to remind her of the past, on purpose.

Next scene is in the hospital when Anna wakes up and realizes that her husband and daughter died in the accident. Olivier brings a little portable TV for Julie so she will be able to watch her husband’s and daughter’s funeral. When Oliver turns on the TV we see a picture of the blue sky, a man flying a hang glider, on a screen with a blue tint. Other images on television screen follow the same pattern. The first is of an old man bungee-jumping, blue sky is in the background. The second image is of a tightrope-walker. There the background is also blue. These images all present a certain kind of freedom, man has always dreamt of being free as a bird through flying.

Everyone at the funeral is wearing blue, gray, bluegray and black cloths. The guests, the musicians, the media people and the man that gives a speech.

When Julie thinks/dreams or hears in her mind the “Concerto for Europe” which her husband was writing a blue light suddenly covers her face. She sits with her eyes closed but suddenly opens them as she hears the music. She looks as if she has seen a ghost, as if memories are haunting her. The light here is almost supernatural and seems to be the suppressed memories of Julie’s past resurfacing. This happens twice, the second time when she locks her self out of her apartment and spends the night on the stairs. This seems to happen when she is in the state somewhere between wakefulness and sleep. On one occasion she plays a few notes on the piano, but when she stops and locks the piano on her fingers, a reflection of blue light appears on her face.

There is a blue wall outside the hospital that draws our attention when the reporter making the documentary about Patrice life comes to visit Julie. There are reflections of the blue color from the wall on Julie’s face and also the blue wall fills half the frame in a couple of shots, keeping the reporter in the distance where Julie wants her to be.

When Julie visits her home for the first time after the accident the first thing she asks is if everything has been removed from the blue room. We soon discover that the blue room belonged to her daughter Anna. When Julie enters the room she sees that her daughters blue chandelier is still there. Emotional and frustrated she tears down a few bits of the glass from the chandelier and squeezes them in the palm of her hand. The glass ornaments have a tearlike shape, witch underline the sadness that Julie feels when she is constantly reminded of her daughter’s death by looking at the chandelier. Her daughter’s blue chandelier is the only thing she takes with her from the past to her new home in Paris.

Throughout the film there is a lot of reflections from the chandelier, beautiful visual pictures. Sometimes the reflections make a playful dance of light on Julie’s face or hand. The chandelier is in the foreground sometimes and the attention is drawn to it when Lucille talks about it. Julie seems a little nervous when Lucille touches it. The blue chandelier is precious, no one else can be too close to it. It is definitely the most precious possession of a woman that is trying to escape the past, by selling all of her things except this one blue chandelier that is a symbol of her love for Anna, the love and memories for her child she can never escape. Anna’s spirit is still very much with Julie during most of Blue through the chandelier.

The map with the notes and the pictures that Olivier carries around is blue. The ink that has been used to write the music is also blue sometimes. Julie writes with blue ink.

Julie goes to the swimming pool four times. Always when she is very upset and tries to suffocate her memories. Three of the four times the water in the swimming pool is very blue, even more blue than it usually is in swimming pools. Filter is used to get this effect. The one time we she the pool in its natural color is when Lucille comes to talk to her. She is not alone then, hence the color is natural. When she is alone the blue color is stronger which make us think that the blue color is in charge of her mind. When she hears the music in her mind she dives deep into the water.

Julie goes to the strip club where Lucille works and accidentally sees the documentary that has been made about Patrice on TV. The whole scene is extremely blue. Not only is the mood very blue and the TV-screen of a blue shade, everything else is blue. The background is blue when Olivier talks. All the people on the pictures from Patrice life are wearing blue, gray-blue to black cloths. And some of the pictures, especially one of Julie have a clear blue tone. The most strikingly blue thing of all in this scene is the dress that Sandrine is wearing in a picture where Julie can see how Sandrine is leaning her head against Patrice’s chest.
When Olivier plays for Julie on the piano the music he has written there is blue shade that reflects on the background. The blue color is always strongly related to the music, when ever we hear parts of the music of Patrice, Julie or Olivier, we see a blue light, reflection or shade.

In the final scene where Julie’s life goes through her head while she is making love to Olivier, the TV-screen her mother is watching is blue, Lucille watches the two dancers that are in a blue light, the screen of the
sonogram where Sandrine sees her unborn baby is blue. Sandrine touches the screen as she is trying to touch her baby and this image is similar to the earlier shot of Julie touching the tiny coffin of her child on the TV screen.

Warm gold-brown filters are quite often used in Blue as a warm contrast to the blue color. This gold-brown tone is present in all the films of the trilogy and links them together.

The meaning of the color white in different cultures

White is sometimes described as an absence of color, although it does appear in different shades, for example with a faint yellow or blue tinge. It is most strongly linked with light, which allows us to see all of the other colors. White symbolizes innocence and in heraldry depicts faith and purity.

White color can be regarded as either no color at all or the perfect mixture of all colors united. As a symbol for the yet uncorrupted and unclouded innocence in the ancient Paradise or the goal of the human spirit to regain that condition.

In many cultures the priests wear white cloths as a symbol for purity and truth. In Christianity those who are baptized wear white and so do brides at weddings. The spirits of the dead in the last judgement are pictured in white, as their souls have been cleansed of all emotions.

The Pope’s white costume symbolizes the glorification of Christ, the glory and purity.
Pythagoras already at his time recommended that the choir would wear white whilst singing holy songs and hymns. White animals that were offered were associated with the heaven and black animals to the earth.

The symbol of the Holy Ghost is a white pigeon. But the white color has also negative aspects, mostly due to it’s association with death and pale corps. In dreams a white horse is in many cultures related to death and ghosts are pictured as white creatures in various cultures.

In the traditional Chinese symbolism white is the color for old age and the atom of life. But it is also associated with one of the four cardinal points, west. Then white is also regarded as the color of misfortune and the color of virginity and purity. There was once a secret society, a group of people in China, that where called The White Lotus. Their goal was to make people practice more pure customs.

The white color in Kieslowski’s White

The white color is associated with innocence and death. It is so in Kieslowski’s White as well. The young bride, Dominique, is wearing white and has a white veil fluttering like wings. Karol is in a way innocent, he has not committed a crime. The only thing he is guilty of is not being able to consummate the marriage. He loses everything because of it, his wife, home, job, credit cards and all his belongings. When the judge grants Dominique the divorce Karol throw up in a white toilet bowl and he is framed by the white color all around him in the bathroom.

Karol wears a white shirt or white underwear always. Choice of white shades become even more obvious where his face is covered with shaving foam while he talks to his brother Jurek. The hairdresser’s outfit he wears at work is also white.

He is a naive little man when the film begins, even the pigeons defecate on Karol, leaving a white trace on his coat which he tries to wipe off with a handkerchief. We see pigeons often in the film, Karol Karol seems to like them and smiles except when they leave their mark on him. At their wedding, when the newly married couple approach the church door we see the pigeons cooing. In the second flashback they kiss in front of the pigeons that fly up at the same moment and the screen goes white.

The screen goes white later in the film when Karol and Dominique make love and she finally has an orgasm with him.

White light is dominant in the cinematography quite often, the film is slightly overexposed to give that effect. The light becomes especially white when Karol is watching Dominique leave in her white car. The white light is also often used to light up part of the faces in otherwise dark scenes. Dominique’s face is always white and the light is used to pick out her white alabaster skin. She is like a white porcelain statue. Like the statue that Karol steals and takes with him to Poland as her substitute.

When Karol is in Poland the whole city of Warsaw seems white in background. Sometimes the snowy streets or a frozen pond makes the pictures even more white. The surroundings are white all the time, the houses have white walls, there are white streetlights, white curtains, white window frames, white doors, white tiles in the train station. Most of the cars in the film are white.

Even things like the airplane and the stairs leading up to it are used as a white background for Karol, now locked inside a suitcase. Background is of snowy white hills when the thieves take what they think is a treasure. The background is also white when he finally gets out of the suitcase.
The settings in all the rooms have a lot of white things. In Karol’s room at his brothers house in Poland there are two white lamps, a white lace table cloth, white curtains, a white telephone, he drinks his coffee from a white mug, white statue on a white shelf with a white box beside it.

White paper is dominant during the whole film. From the beginning when the judge has white papers. The rolled up hairdressers diplomas, the drawings of the land he is buying, bills, death certificate, pages from books, the paper on the comb he plays on is white and he keeps his money in a white paper box.

The meaning of the color red in different cultures

The red color has followed the human being since the earliest time. The Cave men used red in the form of ferric oxide to make their rock paintings, the Cave Art. The Neanderthal men colored dead bodies with the red color, probably to give them back the warm color of the blood and life.

Red is a strong color that advances from a surface, and is thought to be arousing. Symbolically red is associated with fire, love, joy, passion, and energy. As a heraldic color, red embodies courage and zeal. It is also connected with revolution, blood and anger.

In literal symbolism red color has got very different interpretations.

In the old Egypt red colored animals such as dogs were always hated because that color was related to violence. In the old Mexican art was the red color seldom used, except to draw or paint blood, fire, and sun. Red stood for east for the Maya Indians, but in the old Mexico for south.

In the old China red was also the color for south, and under the period of the Chou Dynasty (1056-256 BC) red (hung) was a holy color, the color that gave life. Red was also the color of the God of Luck, who brought wealth to people.

We still associate red to China through the Communism and the red flag. The combination of red and green in Europe is regarded as hard and aggressive, but in China, a symbol of life. Men that die from making too much effort while having sex are called “redsighted” in China.

In the traditional Christian art red was the color for Christ and the blood of the martyr, and for deep love as the love Johannes had for his master, Jesus. Johannes often wears red cloths in art that portrays him. Also the red fire of the Holy Ghost at Whitsun.

On the other hand red has a double meaning in Christianity cause sinful women were usually dressed in Red as Babylon, mother to all whores and scandals on earth, and the icons of the heathendom were often painted red. That’s why red became also the color of hell.

In India red is the color of the day, it stands for pleasure and fruitfulness while black is the color of night. In Celtic tradition red stands for the death, it’s the color of the Red Horseman and it can also stand for accident.

In the popular symbolism red is the color of love and passion. Often related to flowers, mainly roses and also to hearts. There are sayings, which have “red” in it, like “today red, tomorrow dead”. Sometimes red is related to anger, like how we say to “see red”. Red lights on nightclubs mean intimacy and prostitution, while a red traffic light means stop.

The red color in Kieslowski’s Red

Recurring thematic representation of red in various scenes in the movie echoes the title over and over again. In the introduction the red color is used when we follow the call Michel, Valentine’s boyfriend, makes through the telephone lines. The hooks that hold the lines in places are red, as well as the blinking signal that tells that the phone is occupied, at the end of the scene. The red blinking signal he gets trying to call his loved one, may indicate that the love is in danger, warning him to stop.

In Auguste’s room there is a lot of red things, a red chair, and table. He also has a red car that is shown very frequently. Not only is Auguste’s car red, but the drug dealer’s sports car is red and so are several other cars in the street.

Right after we are introduced to Auguste in his room with red things and red car, the camera tilts up towards Valentine’s room, passes by the canopy of the Cafè, that also is red. We see through the window a lot of red things in Valentine’s room, such as red cloth on the table, and a red ribbon on a pin that she fidgets with while talking on phone. On her bed is a red jacket, which we a little later find out is that of her present lover. Later in the film we see a lot of red in her kitchen too and her shower curtain is red.

Valentine wears something red in most of the scenes, usually a red sweater.
Valentine is also a very red name, Valentine’s Day, heart, love.

So Valentine and Auguste are introduced as the red loving people, with that in common. They do not meet to fall in love in the whole film, but in the end we are left to suspect that after their survival from the ferry accident they will live happily ever after, together.

The neighborhood Café of Valentine and Auguste is “Chez Joseph” and it has a big red canopy. It is almost a link between the home of Valentine and Auguste, connecting the people that are to fall in love later. It’s hardly a coincidence that Joseph is the first name of the judge who gets the two together by asking Valentine to take the ferry.

In the ballet rehearsal room, is a red wall and Valentine wears a red dance skirt. The red color there may express passion. There is also a red wall in the animal hospital, which is more to show a warm place, in this case I would say, a place where animals are being made better. There are red walls in the ferry and red signs, danger. The ferry tickets are also red, as a foreshadowing of the danger to come.

In the bowling hall the red color stands out. Valentine wears her red sweater there as in many other scenes, also the bowling ball is red, and so are walls and chairs in the bowling alley.

In the Cafè where Auguste sees Karin and her new lover talk together there is red cloth on the table.

At the photo session red color is dominant. Valentine wears a red sweater, her lips are very red and the background is red. In the end of the film we see Valentine in exactly similar shot, after she has been rescued from the ferry. That makes the photo session a preamble of what is in store for her. The clothes of the rescue workers are red and make the background for her profile. The accident brings her close to the man she will love for the rest of her life. So the red color can also represent love there. The dream is another preview in a way, a preview of the time off screen, the time long after the film ends.

There is a red light in the photographer’s dark room when she goes to choose which photo is to be used. The photographer has feelings for Valentine is conveyed in that scene effectively by the ubiquitous darkroom red light.

Kieslowski gives red traffic lights a lot of importance in the film. Before she runs over the dog the red traffic light fills half the screen. Danger in daily life, in love life for example, may be conveyed by the use of such analogy. An example of that is when we see Karin, Auguste’s girlfriend for the first time. She is crossing a street on her way to Auguste and in the same frame the traffic light is red. There are two moments in the film where both Joseph and Auguste stop at the traffic lights and see the poster of Valentine for the bubble gum advertisement. This reinforces the notion that the young judge, Auguste, and Kern lead parallel lives.

There are two fashion shows in the film. Red is a dominant color in both of them. The theater has red curtains, red balcony, red chairs and red lights. In the first show Valentine wears a dark coat but the girl that is with her on stage wears a red coat. The same is true with the second show; Valentine wears a black dress while the girl next to her wears a red dress.

The law book Auguste looses in the street has a red cover and the cover of the Van Den Budenmeyer album is also red.

All the little things, the settings in the room make such a difference in Red. Kieslowski once said that the red color in the film were not for decoration. It had meaning. To me, after having watched the film over and over again, and taken a close look to separate frames it means love, passion, danger and warning for the characters to change direction in their life.

Further symbolism in the trilogy


Kieslowski uses glass very frequently in his films. He uses windows a lot but also mirrors glasses and glass bottles for example.

Glass is something invisible but present, something which keeps us separated from something or someone that is perhaps close, but nevertheless allows us to see them due to the transparency, it’s pure like water but can stand like an invisible wall between people. Glass and mirrors are also used to make all kind of visual reflections in Kieslowski’s films.

In the beginning of Blue we see Anna, Julie’s daughter, through the rear glass window of the car. The light from the tunnel reflects in the window.

Kieslowski uses reflections in the Julie’s eye in an amazing way near the beginning of the film when the doctor comes to tell Julie that her husband and daughter have passed away. We see the reflection of the doctor in Julie’s eye. Another very special reflection is later in the film where we see Julie’s reflection in a spoon that is placed inside the neck of a water bottle. There are also reflections in the swimming pool scenes. The image of the water reflects in the roof.

We see Julie watch the funeral of her husband and daughter, with her reflection on the screen. She touches the picture of the little coffin carrying her daughter as if she is trying to break through this invisible wall of glass, the television screen.

At the hospital Julie breaks a window so she can get to the pills. A nurse sees her and watches Julie’s failed suicide attempt through a window between the two hospital rooms. The glass sometimes has the function to show distance. You can’t see it but it’s there. When the nurse watches Julie through the window, they don’t talk. They don’t communicate. At first there is distance. But the nurse tries to understand Julie.
When Julie visits her mother she doesn’t use the front door like people would normally do. Julie stands outside the window and watches her mother. And after a while she enters. The camera pans to let us examine photos of the family that stand on a table, then the photo reflect in the window and we also see a reflection of Julie in the same window. The

reflections all merge before we see a clear picture of Julie outside the window just before she enters her mother’s room. Both Julie and her mother are surrounded by glass, they build a wall around them and there is also distance between them.

At her mother’s home Julie finds her watching the television. Julie’s mother is locked away from the world but looks at it trough the television screen.

The new apartment, which Julie moves into, is filled with mirrors and big windows. Also windows and mirrors very often frame Julie. There are also a lot of mirrors in other scenes like in the Café’s bathroom where she talks to Sandrine for the first time. Before she watched and followed Sandrine’s every movement of through windows. And Sandrine is neither the first nor the last Julie examines through a window, the same is true with her mother as said before, the flute player that she watches through the window of the Café and the man who is attacked outside her new home.

The blue glass mobile is the only thing Julie takes with her from the past and reminds her of her daughter. In the film there are beautiful reflections from that mobile on Julie’s face and hand, almost as if the mobile is alive.

At the Pigalle strip club, Julie and Lucille are in a booth overlooking the stage, there is a glass barrier. In each case there are lots of reflections. When Lucille talks to Julie she looks at herself in the mirror meanwhile.

Very often the camera is pointed at the window so we see two pictures in one. The reflections on glass show how two pictures turn to one, how we are part of everything. And that everything becomes a part of us. We aren’t just our selves; things around us also influence us although that’s what Julie tries to deny. She wants to be totally free, but she cannot because she is influenced by things around her, whether she wants to or not.

In White there is not as much use of glass as in Blue but nevertheless I would say that Kieslowski is using it in the same purpose as in Blue on a number of occasions. Glass can be used to make beautiful visual images but Kieslowski uses it also to underline the fact that glass can symbolize a wall between two people or between someone and the world outside.

In the scene early in the film where Karol Karol is in his hair saloon for the last time a lot of attention is drawn to all the windows, mirrors and reflections.

The next scene that includes an important symbolism of glass is when Karol watches his ex wife Dominique through a window. He wants to show his friend how beautiful she is and they stand outside her house and when they look up into the window it is obvious that she is with another man. Karol gets very hurt and runs to the next telephone box where he calls her only to listen to her sounds of pleasure with the other man. While listening to her we see him through the glass enclosure of the telephone box.

Later in the film when Karol makes a call from another telephone box he gets stuck in there. He is stuck in a cage of glass. When Karol arrives to his brother’s home in Poland he watches his brother through the window of his home before he knocks on the door.

Happy to be reunited, Karol and his brother Jurek drink Vodka together and a lot of attention are drawn to the glasses and the bottle.

Karol watches himself in a mirror at his brother’s home. The mirror is old and the reflection of his face is twisted.

Near the end of the film windows get dangerous due to the fact that Karol can be seen through them as Jurek points out to him. Karol is supposed to be dead so must be careful that no one will see him.

Twice Karol Karol watches Dominique through binoculars. The first time when he spies on her at his faked funeral and the second time at the very end of the film when he watches her inside the prison. She looks at him through a prison window and signals that she will not escape, but will stay inside the prison and wait until she will be free to come out and they can be together again.

In Red the windows also often seem to stand for the wall between human beings or the wall between one individual and the rest of the world. Usually the characters look out of the window and it’s interesting how Kieslowski shows us that a part of a second can change everything. Auguste and Valentine always look out the window a little bit too early or a little bit too late to catch a glimpse at each other. We get to see them go out of the house or cross the street, but they never look out the window exactly the right moment.

In several scenes, someone looks in through a window. The first time Valentine looks in through a window in the judge’s house to find out if he is there, while waiting for him. She looks into his world. The second time
Auguse looks in through his girlfriend’s window and sees her making love to another man. The third time Auguste looks through a Cafè’s window, watching his ex-girlfriend and her new lover together.

When the judge has gone to the police to admit he is guilty of eavesdropping, people throw stones through his windows and break them. They break into his private world as he has broken into their world. Almost Biblical, this scene makes us wonder who the sinner is. The film ends with the judge looking out of the window. He looks at the world outside, and the window is broken. He has now decided not to lock himself away from the world altogether.

There are also other important pieces of glass than windows in the film. Like the broken beer glass in the bowling alley. Kieslowski gives the glass a lot of importance by panning to it and filling the screen with it. We do not get to know who was drinking the beer, who broke the glass, or why. We just wonder. At this time in the film we know that Valentine’s relationship with Michael seems at that point that she is accepting his absence and going on with her life, the broken glass could stand for that. But a bit later in the film we also get to know that Auguste and Karin were also in the

bowling hall that evening. We do not see them but get this knowledge through the judge telling Valentine about it. This is the last evening Auguste and Karin spend together so the broken glass could also stand for their breakup.

As we pan through the bowling alley, we expect to see them, since we know they are also bowling that night. Instead we find a broken glass, foreshadowing their upcoming breakup.

In one scene in Red we also get to see a glass with liquor topple over in wind coming through a window. It doesn’t break. Another scene that points the attention towards a window is the scene at the fashion show when Valentine closes the window because of the storm. It not only gets us ready for the storm but also reinforces his window theme.

In some cases it seems broken glass is good. Maybe it means the breaking down of walls between people. Valentine seems happy at the bowling alley and maybe it is the end of her boring relationship with Michael. The broken brandy bottle in the judge’s house may show how Valentine and the judge have become close.

In the end we see the Judge look out of a broken window. The judge’s broken window brings him outside to the world he only spied on before.


Water is a recurring element in all the three films. The swimming pool in Blue, the frozen snow in White and the wetness of the atmosphere in Red. In all three films we get visual images of water, bottled or otherwise. Tears also have a big role in all the films. The protagonists all cry, and the films all end with tears. In Blue it’s Julie’s tears, in White Karol’s and in Red it is the judge’s. Then there is the final scene in Red when the people are saved from the ferry accident. They all turn back to new life as if they were reborn, from the ocean.

Water means life and does often symbolize creation of life or re-births. The fetus matures for the outside world in the mother’s womb, surrounded by her waters. Water is necessary
to create life. Water is also something that cleans. In many religions holy water is used to clean people, to clean them of sins or sometimes even clean them from evil spirits.

The pouring rain in Blue when Olivier arrives at Julie’s home to make love to her for the first time opens the water theme. We get to see and hear how much it rains outside and then when Olivier enters the house he is soaking wet. The images have a dark blue color and the rain, the blue color and the sound of the rain give the scene a sad mood. Julie has not been able to cry but the rain outside reflects on her face in blue-green color that takes place of the tears she can not shed.

In Blue Julie uses the pool four times. She seems to swims in the water to suffocate the memories of her old life, wash away disturbing feelings and one time even to clean a bad conscience or a sin. The first time she swims in the pool is after she heard the man playing on the flute, which brought back memories of her late husband’s music. Then she swims normally. Second time she had just received the crucifix from the young man and listened to him tell her about her husband’s last words. Here she stops swimming for a while and face towards the bottom. The third time she swims aggressively. It is after the episode with the ratfamily, she is having them killed and has a bad conscience. The fourth time is after she met her husband’s mistress. She wants to stop the pain, to block out all the senses.

Obviously Julie uses the pool to escape reality. By immersing herself in the water she tries to block out all her senses. In a way she is trying desperately to wash herself of her memories and her past but even here she can’t escape it.

In Blue Julie tries to find a new life after the death of her family and her new found interest in swimming represents her search of life after those terrible events. The more aggressively she swims, the more force she is putting into her search.

We see Julie drink water on more than more occasions and there are beautiful visual images of water in glasses. Another image in Blue that reminds us of water is in the final scene when she is making love to Olivier. Even though it is glass she is behind, she seems to be under water. And the last things we see in the film are her tears.

In White the most of the water is frozen, in the form of snow and ice. But there is also Vodka, and tears. A lot of tears.

There are quite a few images of the frozen Poland. First there is the snow in the countryside when the thieves at the airport drive out of the city to examine what kind of a treasure is hidden in the heavy trunk they stole from the airport. Once they abandon him, we get images of Karol Karol with snow clinging to his body everywhere. Snow on naked skin makes us shiver and feel cold and sorry for him.

But then later when Karol and his friend Mikolaj skate over the ice they seem so free and happy in this ice-cold city.

The images of the Vodka Karol and his brother Jurek drinks are visually appealing. Close-up’s of the bottle and the glasses are given great importance, just like in Blue and later in Red.

Tears are also water. We see Karol Karol cry but also Dominique. She cries at Karol’s fake funeral, he is watching her through the binoculars and is very surprised by her tears. And they even talk about her tears when they make love after the funeral. In the end of the film when they watch each other through the prison window, she inside the prison and he outside, they both cry. First we see her tears but then when she has made the sign that she still loves him we she how the tears run down like a river from his eyes.

In Red water is mostly in the atmosphere, but there is also water in bottles and glasses and tears. It’s raining at some moments of the film, not pouring rain but wetness in the air and the streets are wet.

After the ballet rehearsal Valentine drinks water hungrily, and the water is given a lot of importance. There are reflections and the visual images are beautiful. One gets thirsty watching it.

And when the judge and Valentine drink together, it’s pear liqueur that looks like water with a slightly reddish tone. Again there are close-up’s of the water and beautiful reflections.

The most important water in the film is though the ocean. In this ending of the trilogy all the protagonists from the films are on the same waters. They are then finally rescued from a ferry accident, they all return to new life; they are reborn from the water. Karin and her new lover are killed on the waters though, their boat goes down and they drown.


The opening scenes of all the films in the trilogy present technology and how it is affecting modern life without us being fully in control of it. In Blue there is the car wheel, oil is leaking from a tube causing accident and death of two people. In White there we watch a big trunk traveling on a conveyor belt at the airport, inside it is the protagonist completely helpless and not in control of his own fate. And finally in Red we follow telephone lines, a man is dialing a number, we follow the lines which end with the red blinking signal that tells us about the line being occupied. The narrative of Red is completely reliant on telephone technology, the judge’s listens in to his neighbor’s telephone conversations and the numerous telephone calls between people taking place in the film. The opening sequences of all three movies have also in common an image of a journey, which does not reach its intended destination.

At the very beginning of Blue we hear the sound of a car even while the screen is still black. It is a shot taken under the car and when the image fills the screen we feel how fast the car is going and it creates a feeling that makes us think right away; something is going to happen to this car. A little later another shot shows us that oil is dripping from a tube under the car and we get a stronger feeling that technology is going to fail here, there is going to be an accident.

The power of television is explored again and again in Blue. When Julie is recovering from the car crash near the beginning of the film, she watches the funeral of her husband and daughter on a tiny television. Modern technology plays a role in Julie’s despair and pain. Theoretically, the technology is enabling Julie to be present at something that she otherwise could not be. Still, the impersonality of the little screen actually distances Julie from the funeral. She tries to be connect through touching the picture of the little coffin on the screen as if she is trying to be there. A little later the connection fails. A failure of the technology, once more Kieslowski is saying; do not count on it.

Television also distances Julie from her past by stealing it from her in a way. The funeral of her husband and daughter is public property as the rest of the public have the same, commentated on, view of the funeral service. Later, it is through television that Julie learns of her husband’s mistress when she sees pictures of them together. Again something personal and private has been exposed to the world and made public property.

Julie’s mother is always watching television when Julie visits her and it makes their communication even more difficult. Julie’s mother comments that by way of her TV set she can, ‘see the whole world’. Her world is the television.

In Blue, Julie uses the telephone to control the relationship she is developing with Olivier. She calls him whenever she wants him and he comes running to her.

Public telephones in White are problematic for the protagonist. He calls Dominique from a public telephone, only to be tortured by listen to her have sex with another man. He watches how the telephone display counts the cost of the telephone call. As if listen to this is not enough pain for him the telephone ironically steals his last French coin. Later Dominique hangs up the phone when he calls her denying him the contact that he wanted. In Poland he also uses public telephone and there he can’t get out of the telephone box. The glass door is stuck.

When Karol tries to put his credit card into a machine in order to get some money the machine swallows the card and he can’t get it back. The bank clerk cuts it in two. The credit card, although out of focus, is in the foreground, emphasizing Karol’s decline as he helplessly looks on. His impotence becomes financial as well as physical.

But when our protagonist is doing better and is exploring the new office for his blooming business he walks around and talks to Mikolaj about all the technology they will need in there, telephone lines, fax machine etc. Now he is confident when it comes to technology. Later though they talk about that there are so much technology in the office that the enemies could easily have put in surveillance things without them noticing.

Although technology plays a big role in both Blue and White the theme is much more present in Red. The narrative of Red totally relies on telephones and other technology is present a lot as well.

Valentine is seated behind the wheel of a car and is distracted by the radio in her car. Distorting sound waves are interrupting the beautiful music of Preisner, leading her to run over the dog. The interference on her radio has the same ethereal sound quality as the interference heard on the judge’s home set.

Telephones play a big role in Red. For the first telephones connect the main characters. Valentine finds out about the judge eavesdropping on the neighbors, overhearing phone conversations.

All through the film most of the communication between the characters, apart from the communication between Valentine and the judge, happens through telephone calls.

The film starts with a telephone call. Michael is trying to speak to his girlfriend but the line is occupied. We follow the telephone lines and see the red blinking signal that tells us of the line being occupied.

We never see Auguste and his girlfriend Karin together, we only hear them communicate over the phone. Same with Valentine and her boyfriend Michael, he is abroad and she only talks to him on phone. It happens to both Valentine and Auguste that they try to catch the phone when it rings but fail. Valentine due to the fact that someone has put a chewing gum in the keyhole of the front door so she can’t get into her apartment. Auguste due to the fact that he is too late to run to the telephone when it rings, so when he answers there is no one on the line. He tries to call Karin back but the line is occupied.

We never get to see either Valentine’s boyfriend Michael, Valentine’s mother, nor Valentine’s brother, Mark. Those people are important for the story though, but we only get to know them by listening to Valentine’s phone-calls to them.

We get to see a little of Auguste’s girlfriend directly, Karin, but mostly we get to know her by listening to her answering phone-calls, from Auguste and when she answers the judge when he calls her personal weather report service.

Other characters we get a glimpse at through telephone-calls are the drug-dealer that talks on his mobile telephone, and the man that the judge eavesdrops on when he is talking to his male lover, despite the fact that he is married to a woman. We see the man’s little daughter listen to her father on the phone, and we realize that she knows the truth about her father because of the telephone calls.

Perhaps Kieslowski was pointing out by the importance of telephones two things. How important is technology in modern society and how we rely on it without really thinking about it. And then secondly the fact that talking to someone on the phone is very different from talking to someone face to face. Although people are talking together over the phone there is this big wall between them, a wall of distance. Michael seems to see the phone as something that you can use for deceiving someone or at least not tell the whole truth. He is very jealous and never believes Valentine when she tells him what she is doing. He always thinks that she is lying, because she has the opportunity to do it, he can’t see what is happening at her end of the line. He thinks that there is someone in the apartment with her, that she is not alone even though she says she is.

I think Kieslowski is saying that modern developments change nothing of a fundamental nature of man and what people are trying to say to each other.

Even if the trilogy is made in the 90’s when computers have become a common property of people Kieslowski does not even mention them in the trilogy despite the fact that he gives technology a lot of importance in the films. On the other hand in his “Decalogue 1” a computer is in the foreground and indirectly causes the death of a little boy. The computer has given statistics that say that ice is strong enough for the little boy to go and play on it but it turns out that the ice is weak. The ice breaks and the little boy falls into the water and drowns.

There Kieslowski is warning people not to trust in technology as in trilogy, although it is interesting that he does not involve computers in these films. He Reminds us of the startling feats of technology that we take for granted but by the end of the film, and the trilogy, we are probably more aware of technology’s limitations and perhaps suspicious of it.


There are scenes in all the films of the trilogy that make us think about voyeurism. It’s not just things like Julie sneaking to watching the life she has decided not to take part in from outside and Karol spying on Dominique, but it has also to do with invasions of privacy especially in Red where Kern is listening to other peoples conversations. Kieslowski also reminds us of our position as an observing audience by letting the camera lens follow people and show us things from our point of view.

In Blue Julie is watching life from outside avoiding to take part in it, it is a difficult task for her because she is good and has always wanted to help, but eventually she gives in and starts a new life, where she is not just a passive voyeur.

She watches the funeral without being able to take part in it since she is in the hospital.
Julie watches a young man being chased and attacked outside the window of her new home in the city. She also watches her mother through window before she visits her.
Julie watches the life outside through the windows of a Café on more than one occasion. She also spies on Sandrine through windows before she goes to talk to her.

Julie’s mother is in a home for the old and sick, she probably is demented and is not always sure who Julie is when she comes to visit. Julie’s mother watches life through television.

In Blue Lucille works in an adult dance bar. The audience likes to be voyeurs and watch her dance. She is depressed because she learns her father also likes to watch.

In White, Karol Karol spies on Dominique to see if she will cry for him.
Probably the usual reason people spy is to find out the truth, which we are not able to get if we don’t spy. Karol even uses binoculars to be able to spy on his ex wife, so he can see her even if there is distance between them.

Karol spies on businessmen who are thinking about buying a land. He pretends to be asleep but is really overhearing what they are talking about in order to use the knowledge for his own benefit.

In White there is also the fear of somebody watching. Karol’s brother, Jurek is afraid that someone will see Karol through a window after Karol has faked his own death. Karol and Mikolaj are also afraid that their enemies will spy on them.

In Red Valentine finds out the old judge, Kern, is spying on people. And when Valentine goes to a man Kern is spying on she finds out that not only is the old judge listening to the man’s telephone calls but also his little daughter. She is listening to her father’s telephone call in another telephone in the house.

Along with the telephone listening in Red, there is also the scene where the August spies on his girlfriend with another man. In this case, his voyeurism makes his life miserable at first at least.

Michael makes Valentine’s life miserable cause he is always trying to spy on her even if he is not in the same country. He is constantly suspicious of her and calls her to find out what she is doing, suggesting she is doing something wrong if she is too late answering the phone.

The audience as spies is an interesting idea. I have mentioned before the frequent use of glass in the films of Kieslowski and taken it to the point of glass being a medium we look through. Sometimes glass can distort our view. Perhaps Kieslowski is reminding us that we are seeing the world through his eyes. When we spy can our view be distorted? Do we really get the truth?

The camera movements are deliberately in the fashion of surveillance, the lens is our eye secretly sneaking up on people, following their every footstep and looking at them without their knowledge.

In Red, Kern’s isolation is broken as his neighbors break his windows in revenge for his spying. In Blue, Julie appears to hide her tears behind the blue glass mobile. Whilst we are able to watch all this we are also made aware of what the characters try to hide from others within the films.


In Red there is a statistical prediction about the weather that turns out to be false. Reminding dedicated Kieslowski viewers of his “Decalogue 1” where a computer calculates that ice is thick and therefore strong enough for a boy to go out and play on it. The computers statistical prediction turns out to be false and the boy goes through the ice and drowns. In those two scenes and in fact many other in Kieslowski’s films he is telling us not to trust statistical predictions in blindness but at the same time he keeps telling us that there are all kinds of predictions and foreshadowing that tells us about what will happen later.

The foreshadowing theme is not as present in White as in Blue and especially Red where it is obvious. There is the scene early in White though when the pigeons in defecate on Karol on his way to the courtroom. This can be seen as foreshadowing his humiliation in court.

In Blue the blue lollipop wrap flying out of the car’s window a little before the girl dies, is foreshadowing the girl’s soul flying towards the blue heaven… towards eternity a little later.

The earliest prediction in Red and probably the most famous one is the scene where the fashion photographer is taking photos of Valentine for the bubble gum ad. He tells her not to smile, to think of something awful. Right at that moment one can hear the sound of the ferry in the background. That’s one of the foreshadowing to the accident.

Then there is less important foreshadowing or rather notion of what could be regarded as a foreshadowing. As we pan through the bowling alley, we expect to see Karin and Auguste, since we know they are bowling that night. Instead we find a broken glass, foreshadowing their upcoming breakup.

Then there were two other incidents foreshadowing the ferry accident.
When Joseph’s window is opened by the storm and the whiskey glass does fall over and break. This can even be linked to that seventh survivor, the bartender. He is the only one of the people that are rescued from the ferry accident that is not one of the main characters in the trilogy. Then finally at the fashion show, the whole atmosphere of camera flashes imitates a storm.

Luck or fate, chance or choice

Kieslowski was fascinated by the random yet inevitable intertwining of seemingly different lives. If it was chance or choice that determined the direction and meaning of our lives? There is no way to leave the trilogy without giving it a little thought how he plays with this notion in the films.

In Blue fate is cruel and removes the two principal people in Julie’s life.
Leaving her alone and wanting to die. In White fate is not as present in the story line as in the other two films of the trilogy. There is the question of
choice and coincidence. In Red fate is positive because it brings Valentine and Joseph together into a fortuitous relationship and also we can hope that it brought Valentine and August together.

In Blue a young man, Antoine, tries to get a ball on a stick. Exactly the same moment he succeeds and smiles, we hear the car crash. One moment of simple joy for one person is a tragedy to another.

Antoine seems to be a hitchhiker because we get a shot of his thumb up in the air that suggests that he was trying to hitch a ride. Perhaps if they had picked him up the car would not have hit a tree.

Or perhaps if Anna had not gone outside to relieve herself they would not have hit a tree either. And if Antoine would not have been there the very moment the car accident happened he would not have found Julie’s crucifix and heard Patrice last words. If it were not for Antoine Julie would never have known the last words of her husband.

Once Julie also talks about the big ifs. She wonders what had happened if she had taken the map with Patrice notes and pictures instead of Olivier. She wonders if she had ever found out the truth about Patrice and Sandrine then. She thinks perhaps not cause she would probably have burned the map without looking at what was in it.

In White the protagonists try constantly to rule their own life and even play God. Dominique set’s Karol’s hair saloon on fire and frames him. She succeeds and that causes him to have to flee the country.

Then Karol Karol decides to seek revenge on his ex wife, and works hard to be able to get rich. He fakes his death only to be able to frame Dominique for his death. He succeeds with his plan.

They both succeed to plan there live and control not only their own lives but also lives of others. The question is though what they gain by that?

Eventually, they are trapped in their own scheme. Still we can ask ourselves if they had not done all this, would they have found out that they love each other this much. So that’s their fate.

If in Red Valentine hadn’t hurt the dog Rita, by driving tired, she would never have met the judge. And we can even take it further, if Valentine had not gone to the dance rehearsal she would not have been driving tired. Or if Rita had not run away from home she would not have been hit by Valentine’s car.

If the judge hadn’t met Valentine he would probably not have given himself in, and if he hadn’t done that, Karin, Auguste’s girlfriend wouldn’t have met the other man.

If Valentine hadn’t got to know the judge he would never have made the suggestion to her to take the ferry instead of the plane. If she hadn’t taken the ferry she might never have got to know Auguste.

Valentine never sees Auguste, when she looks out the window he has always just disappeared into the house or still in his car. And as she comes out of the house he has always just gone. We always see how their paths almost cross, without them actually meeting.

Then there is the “one armed bandit”, Valentine tries her luck two times. The second time she wins. Bad luck the owner of the Cafè says to her. Yes, she replies, and adds that she thinks she knows why. Probably she means that she has realized that Michel does not love her, but we get the feeling that it is because something bad is about to happen.

She even talks about how everything is based on perhaps accidental happenings with her lover, Michel. She says: “Remember how we met? If I hadn’t taken that pause we would never have met”.

When Valentine tells the judge that she is feeling guilty about going to England and leaving her mother there, as she knows that her mother might find out about her brothers drug problem. Valentine says that she wished that she could help, but the judge replies that she can not live the life for her brother, she can EXIST, just EXIST.

Biblical comparisons in the film

Kieslowski made films based on the Ten Commandments so it’s logical to wonder if he explored religion further in other films that he made later. And one has not to look closely at the trilogy to see many biblical parallels. Christian interpretation of the trilogy is a complicated and big task but here I will mention a few biblical themes that are pretty obvious when thinking of the Christianity and the Bible while watching the films.

When interviewed Kieslowski often said that he was not overly religious, but nevertheless it’s clear that he obviously shows an interest in religion. He is perhaps using biblical themes because they are universal and good philosophy. Most certainly Kieslowski’s spirit was one of doubt, and that
fact colors all of his work, but the issues that kept his intellect busy were the deepest questions about humanity and its place in the cosmos and that surely is related to the Bible and religion.

The film Blue is about liberty, freedom and about love. Throughout the film we are reminded that when Patrice died he was writing music for the unification of Europe. The choir that is given the most importance is taken from the Bible. It’s from the “Epistle to the Corinthians” and here is an example from it:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have
not love, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all
mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so
that I could remove mountains, and have not love, I am

This what the whole film is about. Julie is trying to block her feelings, become a numb person without love. But she can’t. She is by heart the good person who wants to help other people and love. When the film comes to the end she has realized that and started living again. She has been the Good Samaritan towards Sandrine forgiven her and made sure that the child of her and Patrice will get his name and their family house. Like in the Bible where it says “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Julie has become the Good Samaritan.

Finally there is the cross Julie was wearing around her neck. It was a crucifix Patrice had given her and when she notices that Sandrine has the same kind of cross Julie says to her that she is because of that convinced that Patrice loved her. The crucifix was the sign of love he had for them both.

In White religious themes are also relevant although not as clear as in Blue and Red.

Karol Karol and Dominique get married in a church, we see that in the two flashbacks from the wedding. The wedding has an ironic end when Dominique gets a divorce since Karol has not been able to consummate their marriage. Karol uses the church later in an ironic way to save himself from death. When the gangsters threaten Karol that they are going to kill him, Karol tells them that he is going to leave everything to the church so they don’t gain anything by killing him.

In the film Karol also plays God in a way by faking his own death. He decides to not only start control his own life instead of being a victim, but also control the life of others by deciding Dominique’s fate. Once we see him combing his hair in a reflection from a religious painting.

Pigeons are present in different scenes of White. It seems there are pigeons everywhere around Karol. In Christian symbolism pigeons signify the Holy Ghost.

In Blue Julie became the Good Samaritan, but the Good Samaritan in White would be Mikolaj or Jurek, they both are like guardian angels towards Karol.

The true Good Samaritan in the trilogy is the protagonist in Red, Valentine. She is constantly trying to help others and be a good person.

Exploring biblical ideas in Red the questions of the judge being a ‘God’ figure is probably the one that has been explored most often. That he is as an Old Testament God, control over the wind and seas and predicts about people future.

But there is a clear parallel with Joseph, he of the multicolored dreamcoat. Not only do they share their first name, but also he has dreams that predict the future and he is an outcast to a certain extent, like Joseph was. This also makes the appearance of the number seven even more relevant because of the frequent appearance of seven things in Joseph’s dreams. One dream depicted seven fatted calves, which were followed by seven thin ones. This was interpreted by Joseph to mean the nation would go through seven plentiful years where they would be wealthy and have lots to eat, followed by seven years where there would be famine. Joseph told the king about his dreams and convinced him about their truth. The country therefore made sure they conserved things in the seven years of
plenty so they had things left over for the seven years of famine. Joseph orchestrated the whole scheme to conserve things in the first seven years, which initially made him very unpopular, then very popular in the following years when people came to him for food.

One possible explanation for the film’s inverted view of luck may be that the three cherries represent conformity and a lack of diversity. Elsewhere in the film, there is a recurrent but seemingly incomplete use of the number seven. Rita has seven puppies, there are seven survivors of a ferry disaster, but six – not seven – stones are thrown through Kern’s windows. The stones are the unhappy exception to the other two joyous events, so perhaps this is Kieslowski and Piesiewicz’s way of paralleling Valentine’s bad-luck cherries with a numerical 7-7-6, indicating that Valentine’s good luck has been restored. Seven is very significant and is related to the significance seven is given in the Bible all the time but if one looks closer six is relevant as well. God created earth in six days and rested the seventh. Then there are the seven capital sins and as mentioned before the seven good years followed by the seven bad years.

I think the stones that people throw through the window are important because they break glass. Before I’ve talked about the role of glass and that it is a thing we see the world through, and a transparent wall between people.

When the neighbors find out what the judge has done they are quick to condemn him. “Let the person who has not sinned cast the first stone” is a well-known phrase from the Bible.


A trilogy made by the Polish film director Krzysztof Kieslowski was the last set of films he made before his death. The trilogy consists of three films, Blue, White and Red, which is connected to the colors of the French flag and relates to the slogan of the French revolution, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

Red displays the use of red color to convey emotions and set scenes for events that follow. Kieslowski once said that the red color in the film were not for decoration. It had meaning. Inspired by that, I watched the film over and over, analyzing the use of color and the possible meanings in each scene. After having watched the film, and taken a close look to separate frames, I feel it represents love, passion, danger and is used as an instrument that warns the characters of impending danger.

I wanted to find out if the same was true with the other two films of the trilogy Blue and White. That the colors are not for decoration but have a deeper meaning and symbolize same as what they do in most cultures. Two years later I’ve come to the conclusion that Blue uses blue filters as well as blue components, white light is important in White but so are all the little things that are white. Blue is the color that most of all colors symbolizes the spirituality in most cultures. It’s linked to the color of heaven and to eternity and because of that it will always be the sign for the immortality. It is also a color that stands for a sad melancholy mood. This is what the color symbolizes in the film Blue.

In White the color is related to innocence and death and it’s what it also means in many cultures and in popular symbolism. The protagonists in White, Karol and Dominique are not innocent people, but they are innocent of the crimes they are accused of. Then death is present throughout the film, Mikolaj wants to die and Karol fakes his own death. So Kieslowski’s use of the colors is traditional. The visual elements within the film are so clear that every object and every lighting effect becomes significant to the viewer.

While watching the films several times it becomes obvious that not only are the colors dramaturgic, but Kieslowski’s use of technology, glass and water through out the films is worth looking at.

Taking a closer look at that I came to the conclusion that the use of telephones in Red reflects both how important this technology is in modern society and how we rely on it with out really thinking about it. And then secondly the fact that talking to someone on the phone is very different from talking to someone face to face. Although people are talking on phone there is this big wall between them, a wall of distance. In White technology is presented as something we should not trust blindly. Telephones and technology in general gives Karol trouble all the time. In Blue technology is related to pain in Julie’s life, especially television. She watches the funeral of her family on television, she finds out the truth about her husbands betrayal watching television and she can’t get any connection with her mother that is isolated with her television.

Water and glass are transparent and good sources for reflections. It is richly used in the trilogy. Water means life and does often symbolize creation of life or re-births and it is something that cleans. Julie is sometimes trying to clean her memories away by diving deep into the water in the swimming pool and Valentine drinks the water with such passion as if she is trying to clean her self inside. In White the water is frozen just as the lives of Karol and Dominique while they are not together. In the end of the trilogy all our protagonists are reborn from the same waters.

Glass is also present in the same way in all the films. We see all the protagonists looking at other people trough windows, Julie watches her mother, Karol watches Dominique and Valentine watches the judge to name some of the incidents. We also see them all through car windows. It’s as if there is a world of glass, transparent walls surrounding people, and present between them and other human beings. There are also other things made of glass that are important in the films, such as the mobile in Blue, television screens, glasses and bottles for example. Throughout the trilogy characters are isolated or separated behind glass. Looking through the glass it seems all the boundaries that have been imposed between the judge and humanity are shattered and he sees finally face to face.

Of great importance in the film Red is how we get the feeling that although the characters try to rule over there own lives, they can’t. One of the main themes in Red is about this, weather it is fate, destiny, choice or chance that rules our lives. Thinking of that I wrote how this affects the characters in the film, and found out that the whole flow of the story is based on how fate manipulates the life of the characters. In Blue fate is cruel and removes the two principal people in Julie’s life. Leaving her alone and wanting to die. There are also questions about how life would have turned out if not for some certain incidents. In White Karol and Dominique try to rule over their lives but can’t get away from the fact that their fate is to love each other.

Although Blue and Red both pay attention to the metaphysical, they do so in different ways. Blue is concerned very much with internal concerns such as the soul, whereas Red is concerned much more with external concerns such as fate and destiny. White is in the middle as a link between them, both ways are touched without giving either a lot of importance. Mainly people try to rule over their fate. Foreshadowing and predictions take place in all of the films and give them metaphysical mood.

There are scenes in all the films of the trilogy that make us think about voyeurism. The characters observe each other without each other’s knowledge. Kieslowski also reminds us of our position as an observing audience by letting the camera lens follow people and show us things from our point of view.

There are recurring images and incidents throughout the films in the trilogy. The parallel between August’s life and the life of the judge when he was young are unmistakable. They study the same profession, same thing happens to them when they are on the way to an exam, a book falls and opens on a page. On that page is the answer to a question that they are asked on the exam. Their love life bears resemblance too. They both are betrayed by two years older, blonde women.

Biblical references in the trilogy are interesting to explore. There are themes that are obvious like the chorus taken from the “Epistle to the Corinthians” about the importance of love, if I have not love I am nothing. I think this sentence is the key to what Kieslowski is saying with all the films of the trilogy. Julie is trying to become numb because she has lost her loved ones, she does not succeed and in the end she has given love a new chance and started a new life. In White love is also the main theme, Karol and Dominique are in love and even if they hurt each other and estranged at the end they realize that there love is still there. Love is also of great importance in Red. Platonic love between Valentine and the old judge and in the end we are led to believe that new love is being born between Valentine and Auguste. So in my opinion the main theme in the trilogy is the power of love.

There are other biblical parallels as for example the recurring use of the number seven, which is very significant in the Bible, and there is the question of the old judge being a God figure. Also stones are thrown through his window, because he has sinned.

I believe that the films are also to be against indifference. In Blue Julie strives to be indifferent to everything but fails and becomes the good person of her nature. In White Dominique is indifferent to Karol’s attempts at a reconciliation but she too discovers how intensely she cares about him. And finally in Red Valentine is angry with the judge when he is indifferent when she has hit his dog Rita. Valentine is the one person of the trilogy that always is concerned about people.

Kieslowski rescues the main characters of the trilogy from a ferry accident in the ending of the last film. But not only does he save their lives, but also their souls, they have found peace inside themselves.

When the films end all the protagonists have come out of their desperation and isolation, found love for life and love for other people. All the themes of the Colors seem to unify under the power of love and people getting second chances in this trilogy that has multiplicity of layers.

The following two chapters do not relate to my analysis but might be of interest to those who are interested in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s work. His biography and also some information on Zbigniew Preisner, who wrote the music for his films.

Krzysztof Kieslowski – A Biography

The Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski was born in Warsaw on June 27, 1941. Between the years 1957-1962 he was at the vocational school for the theatrical technology. He acquired directing skills at the Lodz Film School between 1964 and 1968. His graduation film was a documentary From the City of Lodz (Z miasta Lodzi).

By the time of his death from heart failure in March 1996, at the age of just 54, he was regarded as the most important filmmaker of the post-Iron Curtain era. As Eastern Europe swung to a radically different beat in the late ’80s, he was there to represent the promises and insecurities of the new world order. One of his most known works is “The Decalogue,” an amazing ten-part series inspired by the 10 Commandments made for the Polish television, boasted an unblinking moral awareness tempered with compassion, dry humor and lush craftsmanship.

Kieslowski didn’t separate the political from the personal, and his great gift was the ability to tell intriguing, character-driven stories that never devolved into polemics. Kieslowski was fascinated by the random yet inevitable intertwining of seemingly different lives. Was it chance or choice that determined the direction and meaning of our lives? – The filmmaker kept asking in his films.

But although his characters usually are dealing with both social and personal problems, Kieslowski never wanted to preach, on the contrary he didn’t believe that people should try to convince individuals or groups on taking a certain direction in life. In an interview with Aftonbladet 1994 Kieslowski said that for people like him, that tell stories about everyday life, it’s necessary for one to do an honest analysis of ones own life. He said what he meant by this is that this self-understanding is not anything for the public, nothing he would share with just anybody. It’s not for sale and nobody will discover it in his films. He claimed that some of it maybe not so difficult to derive but was convinced that no one is ever going to understand how much his films and stories mean to him and in what way. He also said that everyone that tries to preach something to him or lead him or others towards some certain goal scare him, because he didn’t believe things work out if people don’t choose their own directions in life. Kieslowski was claimed to be terrified of all psychoanalysts and psychotherapists. As a group they always say that they don’t have the answers but are instead just helping people to find them. Kieslowski’s opinion was that by doing so they were in effect trying to lead people to a certain direction. He explained that he was just as frightened of

politicians, teachers and priests, all of whom try to show us the way, and claim they know. Indeed such people’s doings often result in tragedies like the Second World War or Stalinism. Kieslowski believed that very few knew the answers.

The last work Kieslowski finished before his death was his trilogy, inspired by his co-writers idea of making films related to the colors of the French Flag and the slogan of the French revolution; Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. First was the Blue film, a film about freedom that maybe impossible ever to gain. As soon as we love or mourn we are not free anymore. We are alive, but not free. Then there was the White film about the equality that didn’t exist, neither on the personal nor social plain. Last in the trilogy was the Red film, a warm thought about the possibility of gaining some kind of fraternity by getting close to a person, to break down the walls we build around us.

Krzysztof Kieslowski knew that to be hurt, do things we regret or to feel bad is merely a following human existence. We can’t always be happy, things don’t always go well and all problems can’t be solved. Still I wouldn’t say that his films are only pessimistic or depressive. We live, feel and die and so do the characters in his films.

Shortly before his death in a video, called I’m so-so he said, “When Americans asked me, ‘How are you?’ I said ‘So-so.’ It was enough for me to say ‘So-so’ but they immediately thought something tragic had happened. You can’t say ‘So-so.’ You have to say ‘Well’ or ‘Very well.’ The most optimistic thing I can say is ‘I’m still alive.'”

Preisner’s Van Den Budenmayer

Zbigniew Preisner studied history and philosophy at the University of Cracow, but music started to interest him. And he started to explore it.

Preisner used to buy records from which he wrote partitures from and learned writing music by taking the music in parts on his writing desk. As a composer he is an incurable romanticist – he likes romantic music, especially romantic polish composers as well as Paganini and Sibelius. He emphasizes the importance of melody in music and considers the modern music that lacks a melody as artificial music he simply does not like nor does he respect it.

Krzystof Kieslowski and Preisner met some time in the middle of the 80’s
whilst Preisner was writing music for Antoni Krauze’s movie “Weather Report”. He works while the script for the movie is still being written and he is usually taking part in the cutting of the movie. Often the music and the script go hand in hand, but he has also written music for a finished movie.

The Double Life of Veronique was the big break for Preisner. A beautiful
concerto in E minor by a Dutch composer, Van den Budenmayer was a most strange mystery as there is not a single word written about him in the history of music. Van den Budenmayer was just something Preisner had pulled out of his hat, an alter ego.

Even though Preisner’s music is strongly associated with Kieslowski’s movies he has written other music including soundtracks for Louis Malle, Agnieszka Holland and Antoni Krauze. During the past decade he has written music for 17 movies. Preisner never got to work with Kieslowski on his next project, a trilogy about Heaven, Hell and Purgatory as Krzystof Kieslowski died the 13th of March 1996.

The musical score in Red takes the form of a bolero. The two motives are both heard separately and together and the diegetic music we hear, during the fashion shows, is related to these motives.

Oxford University Press sent Kieslowski a letter asking for information on Van den Budenmayer, the late 18th century Dutch composer whose music had featured in Kieslowski’s films. Kieslowski answered the letter courteously that Van den Budenmayer was a fictional character created by him and his composer Preisner. Soon he received the second letter, saying that of course they understood his concern to protect his sources, but asked him if he could at least provide them with at least some information. Kieslowski sent a second letter trying to convince them that the music was written by a 19th century self-taught musician from Cracow, Preisner. They still didn’t believe him. After about half a year of this fruitless correspondance back and forth Kieslowski stopped replying.

List of References


Andrew, Geoff & Rew, Geoff; The Three Colours Trilogy (Bfi Modern Classics) . The British Film Institute. 1998

Biedermann, Hans; Symbol Lexikonet. Bokförlaget Forum, Stockholm, 1991

Burger, Jeff; The Desktop Multimedia Bible. Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1992

Cooper, J. C.; Symboler – En uppslagsbok. 1986

Insdorf, Annette; Double Lives, Second Chances. The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski . Hyperion, 1999

Kandinsky, Wassily; Concerning The Spiritual In Art. Dover Publications, Inc, New York,1977

Miller M. D. & Zaucha R.; The Color Mac. Haydens Books, 1995

Noble, Mary & Waddington, Adrian; The Art of Color Calligraphy. Quarto, Inc., 1997

Stok, Danusia; Kieslowski On Kieslowski. Faber and Faber Limited, London, 1993


Berardinelli, James; Red -A Film Review – Date Released: 12/16/94
(Put the word “Red” in the “search” and then choose “Red (Three Colors)” from the list. Then click “Select and go”)

Deskin, Scott; Kieslowski’s Red brilliantly concludes French trilogy

Fox, Michael; Krzysztof Kieslowski Tribute Movie Magazine International, : 962003

Jacobs, Peter; Cine Kieslowski, k-chat

Kehr, Dave; To Save the World – Kieslowski’s THREE COLORS Trilogy
Film Comment – November-December, 1994

Pasek, Zbigniew J; Biography of Krzysztof Kieslowski:1995/1996

Rabinowitz, Carla Barringer; St. Paul, Kieslowski, and the Christian Framework of “Trois Couleurs”. 1997

Revell, Sara; An Analysis of how the Metaphysical is Created through the Cinematography in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy. 1998

Sampaio, Gerard; Dissertation: Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colours Trilogy (read 1999)

I’M SO-SO 56 minutes; video; remembering krzysztof kieslowsky march 5-13 1997


Three Colours: Blue (Bleu) 1993

Fiction feature: 98 min.

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski

Main Cast

Juliette Binoche – Julie
Benoit Regent – Olivier
Florence Pernel – Sandrine
Charlotte Very – Lucille

Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz

Cinematography by Slawomir Idziak

Music by Zbigniew Preisner

Three Colours: White (Blanc) 1993

Runtime: 90 min.

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski

Main Cast

Zbigniew Zamachowski – Karol Karol
Julie Delpy – Dominique
Jerzy Stuhr – Jurek
Janusz Gajos – Mikolaj

Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz

Cinematography by Edward Klosinski

Music by Zbigniew Preisner

Three Colours: Red (Rouge) 1994

Runtime: 95

Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski

Main Cast

Irène Jacob – Valentine
Jean-Louis Trintignant – The Judge
Frédérique Feder – Karin
Jean-Pierre Lorit – Auguste

Written by Krzysztof Kieslowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz

Cinematography by Piotr Sobocinski

Music by Zbigniew Preisner


  1. exhaustingingly brilliant…i wish i had the time to do the same, but now i don’t have to…. well done.

  2. great research…thank you

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