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American Cinematographer Magazine

Three Colors: Red (1993)
1.85:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 2.0
Miramax Home Video, $19.99

A brilliant film about the subtle and mysterious spiritual connections that bind people together, Krzysztof Kieslowski's Red was the final film in the late Polish director's ambitious trilogy about the three French ideals, as symbolized on the Gallic flag: liberty (Blue), equality (White) and fraternity.

In Red, cheerful fashion model Valentine (Irene Jacob) chances upon a meeting with an old, embittered judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant), who spends his days at home eavesdropping on his neighbors' phone calls. Reacting initially with dismay, the empathetic Valentine begins spending time with the judge to attempt to understand how he has arrived at his nihilistic state of mind. As the judge tells Valentine of the disappointments of his early years, a parallel is developed between him and Auguste (Jean-Pierre Lorit), a young neighbor of Valentine's and also a judge, who is clearly destined to be her soulmate.

Kieslowski's cinematographer on Red was the late Piotr Sobocinski, PSC, whose serenely beautiful images were nominated for an Oscar. Miramax has paid tribute to Sobocinski's complex, richly colorful work with a crisp, accurate and well-saturated DVD transfer. In each film of the trilogy, the filmmakers used the color of the title to visually link characters, events and themes in the story. The titular color adorns nearly every frame of the precisely planned Red, from a massive street poster featuring Valentine's profile to the tiny telephone wires that bring people together technologically.

Like the film, the disc is a class act, packed with supplemental material that lends real insight. Film professor Annette Insdorf, who has written a book on Kieslowski's work, contributes a scholarly commentary plumbing the layers of this puzzle-like film. She pays particularly close attention to Sobocinski's cinematography and compares it to Vittorio Storaro's work in The Conformist, which also features expressive camera movement, a strongly psychological use of color and an autumnal visual tone. Also highlighted is the motif of reflective surfaces (like glass) that are used throughout the film to provide symbolic comments on the characters' failed attempts at contact and their fear of intimacy. Insdorf also posits that the many uses of doubling in Red (through both parallel characters and mirrored images) indicate the theme of second chances - in Kieslowski's films, a better way to approach one's life always seems agonizingly close at hand.

Another rewarding feature is "Krzysztof Kieslowski's Cinema Lesson," in which the director explains each and every aesthetic decision he made for a pivotal scene in Red. Kieslowski elaborates on his cinematic theory of "retroactive reasoning," in which images that seem ambiguous upon first viewing accrue greater depth when revisited later on. In doing this, the director coaxes the viewer's subconscious into making the connection between the images. A perfect example of this theory is the stunning final shot of Red, in which a seemingly banal image suddenly takes on profound meaning.

Elsewhere on the disc are a "selected scenes" commentary and an interview with lead actress Jacob, who has her own theory that the color Red could signify shame or confusion; a short documentary about the film that acts as a good primer on its larger themes; interviews with producer Marin Karmitz and editor Jacques Witta; and a rare look at Kieslowski helming various Red scenes. Viewers also shouldn't skip over the footage of Kieslowski and his cast at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival. The segment includes a funny interview with Trintignant, clearly a non-Method actor who cheerfully admits that he has no clue about the subtext in one of his character's more curious scenes. An exhausted-looking Kieslowski, meanwhile, looks as if Red's pained gestation has taken all the starch out of him. After confirming at a press conference that Red will be his directorial swan song (and it was), he states plaintively that, "My real dream is to be in the countryside, sitting on a chair, smoking."

The Red DVD is available separately or within a boxed set of the Three Colors trilogy.

- Chris Pizzello

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© 2003 American Cinematographer.