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‘Red’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 16, 1994

In a telephone interview earlier this year, Krzysztof Kieslowski informed me that he had retired from filmmaking. After completing “Red,” which opens this weekend at the Key, the enigmatic Polish director said he intended to spend the next few years in peace, smoking cigarettes on a park bench.

I found myself in a peculiar position: begging him to work again. A director this assured, this born to make films, shouldn’t be allowed to leave, I said. There should be legislation. I implored him to save me from a future full of nothing but sequels to “Sister Act.”

If you see “Red,” the implications of this early retirement will bode tragic for you as well. In this final installment of a glorious trilogy (which includes the films “Blue” and “White”) he has saved his greatest for last.

When Swiss student Irene Jacob accidentally hits a German shepherd with her car, she brings the wounded creature back to its owner, retired judge Jean-Louis Trintignant. She is surprised to find that Trintignant, a hollow, grizzled man who lives in a suburb of Geneva, shows no concern for his pet.

Already angry with the old man, Jacob is further appalled to discover that the 65-year-old curmudgeon uses sophisticated surveillance equipment to listen in on his neighbors’ telephone conversations. But Trintignant’s motives, it turns out, are not so murky. Little by little, as they get to know each other, the old man and the student find themselves fatalistically connected.

Their story is augmented by several intricately connected developments, including the romantic ups and downs of Jean-Pierre Lorit, the handsome, aspiring judge who lives next door to Jacob; a controversial legal decision Trintignant made in the past; the fate of Trintignant’s young neighbor (Frederique Feder), who gives personalized weather forecasts; and Jacob’s upcoming voyage across the English Channel to visit her boyfriend.

Everything is arranged like a falling-domino scheme. Characters and events tip gently into one another, until—by the end—Kieslowski’s grand design becomes clear. “Red” is a deeply affecting cascade of romantic fate and suffering, of karma and multiple irony. It’s also beautifully flush with extraordinary compositions in red by cameraman Piotr Sobocinski and set designer Claude Lenoir. As for the performances, they couldn’t be better. Trintignant (who some may remember from the 1960s as the prosecutor in Constantin Costa-Gavras’s “Z,” or as the male half of “A Man and a Woman”) is magnificent as the spiritually transformed judge. And Jacob (also the star of Kieslowski’s “The Double Life of Veronique”) is as serene as ever.

The “Three Colors” trilogy was originally conceived as a tribute to the French flag and its three themes. “Blue” represented liberty, “White,” equality and “Red,” fraternity. It is not necessary to see the other films before “Red.” But it’s highly rewarding to view all three: In an arresting finale, “Red,” which Kieslowski wrote with Krzysztof Piesiewicz, manages to resolve itself and bring the whole trilogy into an obvious harmonic convergence. After watching “Red” and—I hope—the other two works (“Blue” is available in videotape; “White” soon will be), you’ll appreciate everything. Then you, too, will want to tell Kieslowski to stub that cigarette out and get back to work.

RED (R) — In French with subtitles. Contains nudity.

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