Obsessive love is among the most powerful emotions experienced by men, and it has rarely been treated as affectingly as it is in director-screenwriter Krzysztof Kieslowski's movie "White."
"White," which opens today at the Loews Rotunda Cinemas, is the third in a trilogy by the Polish-born director in which the colors of the French Tricolor are used to explore liberty ("Blue"), fraternity ("Red") and equality ("White").
There is nothing less equal than a situation in which one person loves another who no longer loves him. Equality in "White" is achieved at dreadful emotional expense and with bitterly ironic consequences. After first making her suffer what she has made him suffer, Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) regains the love of Dominique (Julie Delpy), the ex-wife he cannot stop thinking about. But having achieved it, the lovers discover that equality means they are equally imprisoned within walls of their own making.
"White" opens with the public humiliation of Karol, a successful Polish-born hairdresser, who is being divorced, after only six months, by the beautiful Dominique. Her husband, Dominique tells the court, is impotent, and she can no longer endure the frustration of an unconsummated marriage.
Within moments, Karol loses everything: his business, his credit cards and his savings. Not only has he lost the love of the woman he adores, but he has also earned her hatred. Rather than sleep in the freezing streets, Karol spends the night in the beauty parlor.
When Dominique finds him there, she sets the place on fire and calls the police, accusing her ex-husband of arson. When he tries to contact her later, Dominique makes him listen on the $l telephone while another man makes love to her. The lovesick Karol throws up.
Penniless, without a passport because he is being pursued by the law, Karol cannot even return to Poland. While playing a comb in the Metro to earn a little money, Karol meets Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos), a kind-hearted fellow Pole who smuggles him back to Warsaw in a trunk.
He continues to obsess about Dominique, and he resolves to get her back -- if only for the sake of revenge. He becomes immensely rich, first obtaining money by re-establishing his hair-dressing business and then by using somewhat unethical means to establish a lucrative import-export business.
Karol's scheme for revenge is superb; he wills all his wealth to Dominique and then fakes his own death and funeral. He knows not only that Dominique will return for the inheritance, but also that she will be arrested for his murder.
The plan succeeds brilliantly. But when he spies on Dominique at his "funeral," Karol falls even more deeply under her spell. That evening he steals into her hotel room and discovers that the equality he has achieved has cured his impotence and that he cares more deeply about her than ever. For her part, Dominique, who was very young when she married Karol and who wanted to be rid of him at any price, realizes her folly in believing that one can simply stop loving another person.
The acting in "White" is extraordinary. The heartbreakingly beautiful Delpy becomes even more beautiful when she expresses powerful emotions -- whether of hatred, grief or love. And the dumpy, anonymous-looking Zamachowski has an ability convey a state of ecstatic transformation in her presence.
Most of this relatively simple, yet intriguing, story is set in a Warsaw that is suberbly imagined by Kieslowski -- if imagined is the right word for so realistic a depiction of a city in which anything can be bought: forged passports, birth certificates, houses whose owners have disappeared, death certificates and dead bodies for the caskets at staged funerals.
Kieslowski makes all of this darkly comic, but his genius is most evident in the way he uses the camera to illuminate his characters. He conveys a maximum of emotion with a minimum of explanatory context, making the camera do the work. There is an episode in which Karol visits Dominique -- but must satisfy himself with seeing her from afar. They can neither touch nor talk to each other and can communicate only with signals visible to Karol through binoculars.
It's one of the greatest love scenes ever filmed.
Starring Zbigniew Zamachowski and Julie Delpy
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Released by Miramax