Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
(1993, R, 98 min)
★ ★ ★ ★

Juliette Binoche is the marvelous anchor of Blue, the first part of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy. Her face is mysterious and full of emotion even when it seems still. She plays Julie, the wife of internationally renowned composer Patrice de Courcy, who dies in a car accident at the start of the film, along with their five-year-old daughter. Julie survives the accident, wants to kill herself, but can’t bring herself to.

Benoit Regent, as Olivier

Julie is inconsolable, but after the initial shock comes a subtle shift, a feeling of being severed from humanity and finding comfort in it. She sells her property, destroys her husband’s sheet music, and buys an apartment where no one can find her — there must be no children there, she explains to the realtor. Binoche maintains a delicate balance, expressing the alternate anguish and relief of a woman left alone by tragedy, the freedom of solitude but also its inescapable loneliness and the rumble of dark emotions just underneath. There is a scene where she sees a man attacked by three others on the street in front of her building. He runs inside, and then we hear only the sounds of struggling through her door as the assault continues. She wants no part of it, but after the silence returns and she reluctantly opens her apartment door to investigate, she’s locked out by a gust of wind that shuts it behind her. Try as she might, she cannot stay hidden; the world rushes in, or forces her out.

The film is a lovely, eloquent, subtle meditation on human connectedness that Kieslowski fills with expressive imagery and music that carries us away on its emotions. Julie’s husband continues to haunt her, in the form of orchestral themes that invade her thoughts. Swimming in a pool basked in deep blue light, she’ll hear the sounds of his unfinished composition, and when she dips her head underwater she can still hear it, muffled and far away, but ever present. It intrudes upon other scenes, which sometimes cut away to a musical interlude and then pick up where they left off, like a lost train of thought. A friend, Olivier (Benoit Regent), professes his love for her and hopes to finish what Patrice started, in more ways than one.

Patrice’s final score was commissioned in celebration of European reunification following the Cold War. It’s a symbol of Julie’s life: broken but mending, alienated from those around her but rejoining. Julie finds it difficult to shelter herself, and the harder it gets the less she wants to. With Blue, Kieslowski set out to explore liberty, one of the three French Revolutionary ideals. Through Julie, he explores its emotional meaning, but also suggests a political idea: at first, the heart of liberty seems to be isolationism, freedom from constraints, but as expressed in a gorgeous montage at film’s end, liberty becomes connection, interdependence, expression, and love.