Dir. Krzysztof Kieslowski
(1994, R, 91 min)
★ ★ ½

White follows the story of a Polish sad-sack emasculated by his French wife and forced to smuggle himself back home, where he rebuilds his life. It’s the second film in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Three Colors trilogy, but in tone it bears little resemblance to the previous film, Blue, and I don’t think it’s as successful either. Instead of tragedy it delivers black comedy, and instead of depth it stays mostly superficial.

The film’s most interesting aspect I discovered after the fact. There’s an element of political satire in which protagonist Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) represents the rebirth of Poland after the fall of Communism. Penniless and alone, he embraces unscrupulous capitalism to get ahead, and if the reinvigorated Karol is less appealing, with his slicked back hair and arrogant swagger, neither has Poland’s rejuvenation been pretty. This perhaps explains why the details of Karol’s business are left so vague; what his company sells, to whom, and how is not important as a literal business venture, but as a metaphor for the new Polish personality.

Julie Delpy, as Dominique

I’m not sure that helps the film, though. Polish ascendancy seems secondary to the smaller human story of an inauspicious man fixated on the woman who left him: Dominique (Julie Delpy), who seems so lovely in a flashback to their wedding day but at present is cold and withering. He has not been able to perform sexually since their wedding, and it’s no wonder. Her gaze is like an ice bath.

Everything Karol does in Poland is for her. Even a plaster bust he stole from a French shop seems to represent her, a reminder of why he does what he does. What he ultimately intends for Dominique I will not reveal. We’re not sure at first if he wants to win her back or take revenge, but either way his manhood is on the line. The film sets out to explore the second French Revolutionary ideal, equality, and Karol, one way or another, wants to put himself back on equal footing with his former beloved.

The story develops as a series of petty schemes: a risky land grab earns Karol quick capital, which he invests in his dubious business, and then he sets his master plan in motion. There’s an emotional subplot involving his fellow countryman, Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos), whom he meets in France and forms a close bond with. Mikolaj asks a shocking favor of his friend, but this development doesn’t pay off in a satisfying way. Neither does the master plan, which is as elaborate as a heist movie and ultimately doesn’t seem worth the trouble. The very last scene, however, achieves a tender, bittersweet reflection that would have benefitted the rest of the film. It’s a poignant moment, perhaps of regret or satisfaction or a little of both. Has he succeeded? He has accomplished a goal; whether that constitutes success in this case is up for debate. Judging from how Kieslowski envisions the new emerging character of his nation, I would suppose not.