Of all colours none has been so recognized and celebrated throughout art and writing for its many depths and hues, its mysterious timbres, as blue.
This awareness forms the backdrop to the first of Kieslowski’s Three Colours trilogy: Blue. Throughout this sombre, lovely film, blue in its various shades accompanies the protagonist, a grieving Juliette Binoche, as would a latter-day Greek chorus, illuminating her actions, giving emphasis to moments of understated emotion or dramatic tension.
Images or ideas reverberate throughout the film. The flood of light permeating a family room bereft of all contents bar a lampshade made of exquisite blue glass is later echoed by the image of a sugar cube being slowly saturated by liquid as it is gradually lowered into a cup of coffee. The implications are hinted at, rather than spelled out. So does blood seep into clothes after a wound; so can sorrow subsume the human heart.
Binoche’s emotions, as she tries to navigate a world she doesn’t want to engage with for fear of further pain and loss, play across her face like musical notes within a symphony – neither discordant nor quite harmonizing. The sensuality as she swims alone in a pool of almost electric colour forms an uncomfortable juxtaposition to the sight of the baby rats she cannot bring herself to kill, the sheen of blue only just visible on their translucent skin.
Throughout the film there is interplay between emotion and physical sensation, as gradual revelations of her husband’s secrets emerge, as she starts to rediscover the ability to connect with others. The friendship Binoche establishes with the prostitute who so revels in her work and her sexuality is characterized primarily by tenderness. The casual brutality she initially shows to the man who loves her, in a deliberate reduction of his feelings to mere lust, later gives way to the realization that he, unlike her much-lauded dead husband, wants nothing more deeply than for her talent to be fully acknowledged – paving the way for the possibility of a more profound connection growing between them.
It would be too simplistic to say that blue within this context represents melancholy; the film is both more subtle and more substantial than this. Rather it is interwoven in the narrative through images that are both light and visually arresting. A flash of blue jeans, the light of early morning; Kieslowski’s blue is by turns prosaic and diffident, vibrant and luminous. It is emblematic of having lost what you love, the depth of the loss being uncontainable because it is inescapable. Turn around at the wrong moment and an ordinary object sparks a memory.
But it is also a symbol of the shimmering, ever-changing nature of both love and grief, their encompassing of rage and jealousy, cruelty, kindness, desire and finally a weary, hopeful compassion.