"Red" is the final chapter in Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors" trilogy, the director's masterful exploration of the mysteries of life, romance and how chance plays a part in many of life's events. Watching "Red" again after a few years, I became intensely sorry that it's been so long since my last viewing of a Kieslowski film. The joys of the filmmaker's work came rushing back as fast as the film's opening scene, which takes the audience through what appears to be hundreds of miles of telephones lines in a moment or two. Like the other two films in the trilogy, "Red" is a poetic, amazing piece of work.
The film stars Irene Jacob as Valentine, a model who lives in Geneva. One evening, she hits a lost dog with her car. Running out to take care of the animal, she loads it into her car and seeks out the owner. Oddly, when she finds the owner, a retired judge named Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintingnant), he doesn't seem to care. When she asks him whether or not she should take the dog to a vet, he simply states, "do as you wish".
She is interested in the judge's sadness, but dismayed by the fact that he seems to be spying on his neighbors by intercepting their cellular calls (later, he explains, "Here at least I know where truth is"). She leaves, but is lead back to the judge's home by the dog, who bolts from her during one walk in the park. The two eventually enter into a friendship and share some of their own truths - things that neither have likely offered anyone else in days, months or maybe years. In terms of questioning that period of time, "Red" is one of those wonderful pieces of cinema where the characters feel as if they're not just mere creations that are born when the titles roll and pass on when the end credits finish. They feel so fully realized - as if we are merely entering their lives at one point and when we end our journey, they will continue theirs.
Those who have not seen "Red" may think "art film". Those who pass up on it due to the subtitles or the slow pace that an "art film" may suggest are really missing out on one of the great films. The themes of the film, such as fate and the bonds - sometimes unknown, sometimes only brief - that we share with other people, are intelligently explored and have universal appeal. Themes in this film are not underlined or take place in scenes with Big Emotional Moments. Instead, "Red" explores issues with a gentle touch in scenes that feel realistic. While it is certainly not the first film to explore the connections between people, "Red" is one of the few that manages to do it in a way that feels natural and unforced. A parallel tale about one of Valentine's neighbors and his relationship not only adds a reflection on the main story, but is weaved into the tale expertly. It's also enjoyable to see the way that the film brings the main characters from the trilogy together in the end.
As for pace, one of the great aspects of all of the three colors films is that they are anything but slow. At 99 minutes, "Red" moves rapidly towards its conclusion, even though it's a quiet and restrained picture. Rather than have long, drawn-out conversations explain everything for the viewer, Kieslowski manages to capture ideas in a manner of a few sentences or even a glance. One particularly powerful and moving shot has the model and judge touching hands on different sides of a car window, as the judge is about to drive away. Simple gestures are made so powerful in this film; they speak volumes. The result is a film that's beyond merely involving; it's hypnotic. "Red" boasts a marvelous screenplay (co-written by Kieslowski) and enjoys the presence of actors that are rich, expressive and add layers of emotion and depth to characters that are already well-defined.
Thankfully, it won't be long before I revisit "Red" or the other films in the trilogy. Miramax has put together a fantastic set for the trilogy, loading up each of the titles with documentaries, commentaries, interviews and more. With most stores offering the box set for $29.99 (the retail price for most single-disc DVDs), this is not only a must for fans of the "Three Colors" trilogy, but the perfect opportunity for those who have not experienced it yet.
VIDEO: "Red" is presented by Miramax in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. The film is not only a feast for the mind, but for the eyes: Piotr Sobocinski's cinematography is beautifully composed, while the locations are stunning. The interiors are also marvelous; the film's apartments feel lived-in and have great personality. As for the transfer, it's not without a few minor faults, but it's otherwise quite nice. Sharpness and detail were solid, if not remarkable: the picture appeared sharp and well-defined, but fine detail was not always seen.
As for faults, some slight compression artifacts were spotted in a couple of scenes. Edge enhancement, thankfully, was never an issue. Print flaws really weren't, either: a slight speck or two appeared and the picture did show some light grain, but these were certainly not a great concern.
The film's color palette is presented superbly here. The DVD's presentation has no trouble with all of the rich, deep reds on display in the picture. Colors - red or otherwise - look well-saturated and bold, with no smearing. Black level also remained solid, while flesh tones looked accurate and natural.
SOUND: "Red" is presented with a French 2.0 soundtrack (with yellow English subtitles). The film's audio is perfectly pleasant. The film's subtle music score (it's so pleasant to have a score this subtle and elegant in a drama) is presented with crystal clarity, as are the film's few ambient sounds. Dialogue remained clear, as well.
Commentary: This is a commentary by Annette Insdorf, who is the author of "Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski". This is a very enjoyable discussion of the film. Insdorf points out the fascinating meaning of some of the smaller aspects of imagery in certain scenes, as well as much of the film's symbolism. In addition, she gives a thoughtful overview of the film's themes, characters and story. Although much of the track deals with themes, characters and other similar aspects, Insdorf still injects some details about the film's production on occasion. This is an excellent track that fans of the film should definitely appreciate.
Insights into Red: This 22-minute documentary offers interviews with Insdorf, Irene Jacob, director Agnieska Holland, the film's sound mixer and others. While the comments by Insdorf do overlap somewhat with what she discusses in her commentary track, the insights that the other participants have to offer were very interesting. Although only a somewhat basic overview at 22-minutes, I did gain an even greater appreciation for the director's work after listening to some of the comments here.
Kieslowski Cinema Lesson: This brief, entertaining 8-minute featurette offers an interview with the director, who discusses his intentions behind two scenes from the movie. Essentially, Kieslowski breaks down all of the elements of each scene, discussing everything from subtle details to story to camera placement.
Red At Cannes 1994: This 15-minute piece offers interviews with the director, cast and crew members while at the Cannes film festival in 1994. Mostly made up of interviews with other members of the production, it's interesting to hear their thoughts on working with Kieslowski.
Behind the Scenes of "Red": This 23-minute "making of" documentary is split into several sections, all of which can be viewed together with a "play all" option. Thankfully, this is not one of the "usual" documentaries that we find on most DVDs. Instead, this is a fascinating, informal look at the filming of a few scenes in the movie. The camera stands nearby as the viewer watches Kieslowski direct the actors and discuss changes with them, as well as members of the crew. This material is definitely a treat for fans of the film.
Selected Scenes Commentary/Interviews: These sections offer a mixture of interview footage and commentary for a couple of moments in the film. Participants include producer Martin Karmitz (about 11 minutes in all), Irene Jacob (about 11 minutes in all) and editor Jacques Witta (about 15 minutes in all).
Also: A 10-minute interview with actress Irene Jacob, Kieslowski filmography and "Sneak Peek" trailers for "Heaven", "White" and "Blue".
Final Thoughts: "Red" is a quiet, restrained masterpiece, full of interesting ideas, stellar performances and beautiful imagery. All three films are available individually on DVD, but at the $29.99 price tag that most stores seem to be offering the trilogy, the box set is an incredible bargain - I doubt DVD owners will find a better value this year. Definitely an absolute must for film fans.
The Film ****