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By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 04, 1994


Krzysztof Kieslowski
Juliette Binoche;
Benoit Regent
Under 17 restricted

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In "Blue," the Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski's penetrating, hypnotic meditation on liberty and loss, the title refers not only to the visual palette of the film but also to its dominant mood.

The filmmaker plunges into his story without even the hint of foreplay. The first image we see is a candy wrapper, shining silver-blue in the pre-dawn light as a little girl holds it outside her car window. The next is a leaky pipe underneath the car, foretelling what comes next -- a car crash in which the film's protagonist, Julie (Juliette Binoche) loses both her husband and her young daughter.

Initially, the details of the story come out in slivers, mirroring the perceptions of the character as she struggles to regain consciousness in the hospital after the wreck. Julie's fragmented impressions begin to make sense. Her husband, we learn, was a celebrated composer. Also, there were rumors that he had run out of ideas and that Julie had for years served as his ghostwriter. But Julie fights off these memories, as if the simple act of remembering causes great suffering.

Kieslowski -- whose style is a sometimes perplexing mixture of clinical spareness and wool-gathering -- is at his best in these opening moments. The result, at times, is confusion, but this fractured vision is what we have come to expect from Kieslowski, who with such films as "The Double Life of Veronique" has displayed a fondness for puzzles without solutions.

For Kieslowski, subtlety is a religion. He hints or implies -- anything to keep from laying his cards on the table. With "Blue," you never feel he's shown his whole hand; not even after the game is over.

The movie might have moved through the familiar steps of tragedy, grief, recovery and triumph. But for Kieslowski, life is never this simple. In the hospital, Julie tries to kill herself with an overdose of pills, but can't go through with it. After her release, she attempts another sort of suicide, choosing to rub herself out psychologically.

She moves out of her country estate and into a Paris apartment under her maiden name. As for her husband and daughter, everything is swept away; no mementos or keepsakes allowed -- that is, with the exception of a sliver of blue crystal taken from what looks like a lamp or a mobile that hung in the child's room.

Binoche has just the right quality of wounded bereavement to make us feel that the woman is capable of anything; that she feels liberated, enraged, free as a bird. When she learns that her husband was having an affair, she's hurt and takes her revenge on Olivier (Benoit Regent), who, for years, has secretly loved her.

"Blue" is the first of a trilogy of films Kieslowski has planned to examine the French concept of the "three colors" -- blue, white and red -- representing liberty, equality and fraternity. (The second installment, "White," was received well at its premiere recently in Berlin.) For Julie, freedom is a clean slate, and in addition to a new identity, she also takes the work her husband had done on the symphony that he was commissioned to write and tosses it into the back of a garbage truck, destroying not only his efforts but (we assume) hers as well.

Kieslowski presents all of this as through a glass, very darkly and very beautifully. And though Julie is constantly struggling toward some reattachment to life, the tone of the film -- and of Binoche's brilliantly muffled performance -- remains unremittingly bleak. (Even Julie's partial breakthrough at the end is accompanied by a tear.) This is not an upbeat movie or an easy one to get a grip on, but it is, I think, a masterly one by a filmmaker of ever-growing importance. The dark side doesn't intimidate him; ultimately, his "Blue" is closer to black.

Blue is rated R.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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