Red is the concluding chapter to Krzysztof Kieślowski’s dazzlingly enigmatic Three Colors trilogy.  The color namesakes of this film trio (blue, white, and red) not only recall the ordered colors of the French flag, but also represent a progression of human emotions.  Blue examines the nature of loss and devastation, White questions the notion of being lost, and Red ultimately celebrates the cautious hope that lies beyond these difficulties.  At the center of Red‘s complex narrative web is the lovely Valentine (Irene Jacob), a model and student who lives in Geneva.  Valentine lives across the street from the cute if disheveled law student Auguste, though she doesn’t know it.  Both Valentine and Auguste spend much of their time frustrated on one end of a phone line with lovers who are either oppressively jealous or emotionally uninvested.  As Kieślowki’s camera furiously rockets along phone lines– through tunnels and under vast bodies of water– the strain of  distance-plagued communication is acutely felt.

When Valentine accidentally hits a dog with her car, she cradles the dog into her backseat and returns it to its owner.  The owner is a retired judge (a superb Jean-Louis Trintignant) –seemingly without friends, family, or feelings– who is so disgusted with his previous role in the justice system that he spends his days flagrantly denying the existence of morals and listening in on his neighbors’ phone conversations, which range from tepid to incriminating.  Valentine’s initial shock at this transgression melts to a curious acceptance, and from this acceptance comes a tender friendship between the kind-eyed model and the disillusioned man.  Auguste remains in the picture, but it is not until Valentine’s friendship with the judge has developed– nor until the judge makes a mysterious suggestion that Valentine take a ferry ride– that the opportunity for a true connection presents itself.

Red is a film that gloriously and sincerely succumbs to the coincidental twists of fate made in the realm of movie fiction.  In doing so, it pushes a philosophy that elegantly promotes the fluid interconnection of all things.  As Valentine and Auguste’s respective relationships increasingly peter out, the two become ever closer to actually meeting one another.  They are only lanes away from each other at a local bowling alley (shown by an exquisite tracking shot), and they listen to the same Van den Budenmayer piece at a nearby music store.  They truly are two ships passing in the night, yet Kieślowski is chiefly interested in the effect one person’s sheer presence can have on the entire life of another.  Valentine’s temporary rest at a (naturally) red stop light seems to alter the course of Auguste’s existence, as he crosses by this same stop light moments later, only to drop his law book open to a page with the answer to an upcoming exam question.  This is also the place where Auguste first glimpses Valentine, but not in live form– her delicate, ivory-skinned profile looms large on the billboard advertisement which watches over the fateful intersection.  Auguste grins at the poster of the pretty model, without knowing it is the apparition of a future romance.

These near encounters haunt the film continuously.  Particularly significant is Valentine’s unspoken (and to her, unknown) need to return again and again to the judge’s house.  She is partly disgusted and deeply intrigued by the judge’s perverse and quietly vigilante code of anti-ethics, but something completely separate seems to draw her back to that untidy and reclusive house.  Though this is never expressly stated, we do learn that Auguste’s lover’s apartment is down the street from the judge, and that as a result Auguste frequents the neighborhood as well.

Part of what is so magnificent about Red is that it is able to find almost perfect visual and thematic cohesion.  The use of light in the film, aside from being pure, radiant intoxication for the eyes, works deftly with the recurring idea of the magical brevity of moments.  There are multiple instances, all in that waning late-afternoon period known as “magic hour,” when light is captured at its most achingly ephemeral.  The sun dips below the hills beyond Geneva.  A low-angle shot reveals the sun to be retreating behind the edge of a roof, completely altering the exposure and tone of the shot in the blink of an eye.  As the judge says to Valentine, abruptly interrupting a weighty conversation, “Stay a minute… the light is beautiful.”  In a film filled with small yet spectacularly unique chance interactions and close encounters, the shifting light of day– slightly different at every possible second– is given lovely significance.

The terrifically impressive mobile camera in Red also communicates the fluid and interconnected nature of the events we witness.  As the judge describes in a theater how, as a young law student, he fortuitously dropped his textbook from that theater’s seats into the orchestra pit, the camera– as if cascading down a waterfall– leaps from the seats to the orchestra pit in one rapturous swoop.  When the young judge recovered his textbook, he realized it had opened to the page on which the answer to a difficult upcoming exam question was displayed.  As we recall, Auguste similarly dropped his law textbook to the winning page.  That plunging movement of the camera not only shows technical bravura but also portrays a swift and staggering connection between two places situated on different planes– and two men with remarkably similar fates.

The parallel between the young Auguste and the aging judge betrays a strange fluidity of time in Red.  Are Auguste and the retired judge one in the same?  Are they earlier and later versions of one man, for some reason converging in the same temporal space?  This may be too literal of an interpretation for a Kieślowski film, and indeed  the wonder lies in neither knowing nor pushing too strong of a hypothesis.  Yet it is interesting to note the judge’s expression as he glances over Valentine’s ferry ticket, as if he is glimpsing an artifact from a previous life– a previous life that is presently unfolding.

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