Three Colors: Red (1994)
August 12, 2022 3:08 PM - Subscribe

A model discovers a retired judge is keen on invading people's privacy.

Part-time model Valentine (Irène Jacob) meets a retired judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) who lives in her neighborhood after she runs over his dog. At first the judge gifts Valentine with the dog, but her possessive boyfriend won't allow her to keep it. When she returns with the dog to the judge's house, she discovers him listening in on his neighbors' phone conversations. At first Valentine is outraged, but her debates with the judge over his behavior soon leads them to form a strange bond.

Tim Brayton: Naturally enough, she doesn't stay away, and Red plays out like every movie in which a beautiful young woman stirs the inner life of a crusty old man, except not at all like that, in fact. The convention is to call this the anti-romance of the trilogy, in fact, since the possibility of sexual tension between the two characters is so plainly impossible (even the judge himself acknowledges this, plainly, with no pathos); it is also, I do believe, an anti-thriller, as Valentine attempts to unlock the mysteries of this joyless old man and his anti-social actions, but in such a casual, even accidental way that even in the big "let me tell you of my past" scene, what matters is not the fact of the judge's history, but the fact that he's sharing it, now, with Valentine.

Being anti-genre, Red has much more interesting things to do with its plot than just tell a story, and one of the things that makes it so damn incredible to watch (it's the primary reason I often flirt with calling it my favorite of the three, though I almost invariably go back to Blue) is how it's most interested in using plot as a means of expressing theme. For there's another whole narrative thread happening alongside all the stuff I just recapped: in her building, Valentine has a neighbor she's never met, Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit). He's a law student right on the cusp of graduating and becoming a judge himself, and he's in love with Karin (Frédérique Feder), one of the neighbors that Kern spies on - indeed, the Karin/Auguste affair is one of his favorite subjects to haughtily act superior about. Throughout the whole movie, Auguste and Valentine keep almost crossing paths, in a way that would be unabashedly, appallingly contrived if Red were any kind of naturalistic or even honestly representational narrative, which it's not. The film wants us to take Valentine and Auguste as "real" (much like it does with the even more obviously symbolic The Judge), but what happens to them as "not real", representative instead of the human condition of missing connections and not noticing the person around you from moment to moment, even when it's the same person perpetually in the corner of your eye.

Lisa Nesselson: The sun itself seems to know that these two were meant to meet: It obligingly casts a ray of enlightenment into Trintignant’s study. The innocent, faintly troubled young woman and the resigned older man explore the implications of extending a fraternal hand. Kieslowski demonstrates that life can’t really be controlled — nor can its consequences. Fate will bring the protagonists together with gale force.

Location lensing in Geneva is aces. The title color is ever present, from a glass of wine to a bowling ball, from a transit ticket to an automobile. The judge even lives in an area called Carouge. Jacob — who won best actress honors at Cannes in 1991 for her stunning turn in the director’s “Double Life of Veronique”– is photogenic under any circumstances, but she has never been so radiant as in her work with Kieslowski.

Trintignant is fascinating as a man who, in mulling over the verdicts of a lifetime and comparing the rigor of a courtroom with the messy and intricate conversations on which he eavesdrops, recalibrates his moral compass thanks to Jacob.

Zbigniew Preisner’s score, augmented by soaring vocals, is a fine ally throughout. Kieslowski is aided and abetted by outstanding tech support.

Narrative has a purposeful randomness — the viewer is assured via countless subtle details that the story is ineluctably headed toward something faintly ominous yet cathartic. Denouement and final image are a satisfying grace note both to this film and the entire trilogy.

Janet Maslin: Not for nothing is red the warmest of these three colors, which Mr. Kieslowski has taken from the French flag. Nor is it unhelpful that "Fraternite," the theme that follows "Liberte" and "Egalite" in his series, is potentially the most engaging of his subjects. "Red" gets an additional leg up from the presence of two exceptionally fine actors, Irene Jacob and Jean-Louis Trintignant, who are perfectly suited to playing polar opposites here. They act their roles in an intricate story of friendship and deliverance while also serving as tuning forks for the director's larger intuitions.

"I feel something important is happening around me," one of them says, describing the gripping, legitimately portentous mood Mr. Kieslowski captures best. As the earlier films (particularly "Blue") made clear, such thoughts can have a hollow ring when not borne out by a larger meaning. The greatest virtue of "Red" is its profound sense of purpose. At last, making the whole trilogy transcend the sum of its parts, Mr. Kieslowski abandons the merely cryptic in favor of real consequence.

In addition to being the best-acted of these three films, "Red" is the one that weaves the most enveloping web. Working more assuredly and less arbitrarily than he did at the series' start, Mr. Kieslowski plays deftly with the crossed wires that either connect or separate his principals in mysterious ways.

posted by Carillon (2 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This was pretty stunning, and a great ending to the trilogy. It was good enough to help me appreciate White more even, as I feel it rounds out the work. The fact that the young judge is played as a young version of the old man, but it's never remarked on in the movie directly is just great. Her chasing the dog into the church had me laughing as well. The boyfriend on the phone was pretty shitty and I'm curious how that resolved, but just a great film all around.
posted by Carillon at 3:13 PM on August 12, 2022 [1 favorite]

In some ways I feel like the story of Red is the weakest of the trilogy, and I remember it being my least favourite of the three for a while.

I warmed up to it a lot the last time I watched it though. In terms of the scintillating, undulating, overwhelming, Redness of the whole thing, it's pretty incredible.
posted by Alex404 at 7:54 PM on August 12, 2022

« Older Podcast: Welcome to Provinceto...   |  Never Have I Ever: Third Seaso... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments