Love may be blue, but grief is black and it is the blackness of grief that colors Krzyzstof Kieslowski's "Blue."
Juliette Binoche, who dominates this film in a way few actors can dominate a piece, plays a woman who in one nanosecond loses everything in her life but her life. Married to a prominent French composer, she and Patrice and their daughter suffer one of those absurdly cruel twists in the universe. How could the powers that are be so cruel to people so talented and beautiful? Easy. Auto wreck: Husband dead, daughter dead, wife utterly traumatized.
The "Blue" of the title, Kieslowski has said, makes the film part of a trilogy. Blue is liberty; white will be equality and red fraternity. But the "liberty" of blue is of a curious and pathological nature. Purely ironic (almost mean-spiritedly ironic), it is the "liberty" that follows the numbness of grief. It is the freedom of not caring. It is the ecstasy of oblivion.
Binoche, the luminous actress who first came to attention in Louis Malle's "Damage," is in some form dealing with the same issues of that picture, though from a different point of view. Her Julie, like Miranda Richardson's Ingrid in "Damage," who lost her son, feels the overwhelming punishment of loss like the imposition of physical weight.
I thought of Orwell's brutally elegant phrase after putting a bullet into a pachyderm in his brilliant essay "Shooting An Elephant": "It was as if an enormous senility had settled over the beast; nothing changed, yet every line had altered." So it is with Binoche's Julie: There's nothing glamorous or elegant about her pain. It's just brute pain, a rape by pain, and it somehow subtly seems to reorganize the lines of her face and body.
Nearly catatonic, she tries to withdraw from life, stumbling through Paris with an almost unseeing set of eyes. Nothing matters to her: She takes a new apartment, she makes love to her husband's colleague Olivier (Benoit Regent) more for him than for her, then cruelly sends him away. She sees a beating on the street; it doesn't move her. In her new building, the neighbors are in an uproar because one tenant is a prostitute. They want Julie to sign their petition: she sends them away. The prostitute thanks her: She doesn't care.
What finally reaches Julie is music: That may be another meaning of the concept of liberty, come to think of it. Julie, it turns out, was far more involved in her husband's work. When it is announced that the dim Olivier is to finish his unfinished symphony, slated for a Pan-European Political Event of consummate banality, Julie at last emerges from her bitter torpor. But even that has its cost: For as she re-engages life, she re-engages pain and she learns some harsh truths about her husband.
As he proved in "The Double Life of Veronique," Kieslowski is uncompromisingly unsentimental but just a tad melodramatic. The line in "Blue" between rigorous intellectuality and high-gloss Eurotrash soap opera is thin indeed; nevertheless, the film is vividly compelling.
Starring Juliette Binoche
Directed by Krzyzstof Kieslowski
Released by Miramax