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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 04, 1994


Krzysztof Kieslowski
Juliette Binoche;
Benoit Regent;
Florence Pernel
Under 17 restricted

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In Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Blue," the rehabilitation of a human spirit after painful tragedy is given stunning, aesthetic dimension. A story about a woman (Juliette Binoche) who loses her family in a car crash, this Polish-French production is also a spectral array of blues -- cold, heart-chilling and beautiful.

After losing her composer-husband and 5-year-old daughter, Binoche attempts to blot out the trauma by becoming anonymous. Moving into a new apartment in Paris, she avoids contact with the people she knew and the affluent lifestyle she enjoyed. But her search for solace merely encounters new oppression, including unwanted neighbors, mice and startling revelations about her dead husband.

She is also pursued by Benoit Regent, her husband's musical assistant, who wants to complete an unfinished concerto (dedicated to the unification of Europe) by her husband -- and who is in love with her. Binoche realizes her past is inescapable and that re-embracing life's uncertainties is a freedom in itself.

Emotionally, "Blue" is a grim ordeal, as Binoche (still in the hospital recovering from the accident) attempts suicide, then retreats into deep-freeze mourning. But Kieslowski, cinematographer Slawomir Idziak, set designer Claude Lenoir and composer Zbigniew Preisner infuse the harrowing atmosphere with stylistic rhapsody. As in Kieslowski's "The Double Life of Veronique," human suffering is made abstractly gorgeous.

"Blue," the first of a trilogy, inspired by the French flag's blue (liberty), white (equality) and red (fraternity) stripes, is a symphony of color-coded significance. There's meaning in the shimmering blue crystals hanging from a light in Binoche's flat. There's aching dimension in the bluish swimming-pool water she regularly immerses herself in.

At face value, Kieslowski's projects seem formidably lofty, even pretentious. His "Decalogue," a stunning, 10-part series for Polish television, applied the Ten Commandments to modern life in Eastern Europe. "Veronique," about two women unaware of each other's existence and living on separate continents but psychically linked, threatened to be a cold, formal study in dualism.

But Kieslowski's films are never so rarefied. They bore into human experience -- almost too deeply, in fact. "Blue" is certainly a spectacle for aesthetes, but its greatest asset is Binoche at the center of it all. Dolorous, beautiful and almost wordless, her presence carries the film as much as Kieslowski's artful design. Without her, and without her story, "Blue" is just another color.

BLUE (R) — In French with English subtitles.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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