"If I have not love, I am nothing."
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Trois couleurs: Bleu (1993)
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By Rachel Hostetter Smith, Ph. D.
Gilikison Famiy Chair in Art History
Taylor University
Roger Ebert says: Watching this film, it was impossible not to think about "Intersection," the Hollywood weeper starring Richard Gere, Sharon Stone and Lolita Davidovich in an uncannily similar story of two women dealing with their love of the same man. That film was an insult to the intelligence. This one, similar in superficial ways, is a challenge to the imagination. It's as if European films have a more adult, inward, knowing way of dealing with the emotions, and Hollywood hasn't grown up enough.
Julie: Juliette Binoche,
Olivier: Benoit Regent,
Sandrine: Florence Pernel.
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski.
Screenplay: Krysztof Kieslowski and Krysztof Piesiewicz.
Producer: Martin Karmitz.
Running time: 98 minutes.
Classified R (for some sexuality).
"It's a saying as old as the world--freedom lies within. It's true."1 These words spoken by the Polish film director Krzysztof Kieslowski may come as a surprise to those who have attached strong, political messages to the interpretation of his films. Kieslowski eschewed strictly political interpretations of his films claiming that his primary interest was always in "themes common to humanity, and the question of what it means to be human".2 "During martial law, I realized that politics aren't really important.", he said, "In a way, of course, they define where we are and what we're allowed or aren't allowed to do, but they don't solve the really important human questions. They're not in a position to do anything about or to answer any of our essential fundamental human and humanistic questions. In fact," he continued, "it doesn't matter whether you live in a Communist country or a prosperous capitalist one as far as such questions are concerned, questions like, what is the true meaning of life? Why get up in the morning? Politics don't answer that."3

Kieslowski's films bear out his claim that politics "don't solve the really important human questions." Those answers, his films seem to say, are only to be found in the stuff of human relationship. Films that probe the fundamental question of the nature of human being, and the link between relationship and redemption. Perhaps most significant of all, the works rely on words from scripture --on I Corinthians 13-- to provide a subtext which cuts to the heart of the problem --the human condition, reflecting the persistent power of the word of God to shed light in the darkest places of human habitation.

Although Kieslowski's Three Colours Trilogy was loosely based upon the colors and the ideals of the French revolution--Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity--the arena of his exploration of these themes is not politics but the human heart. In this presentation, I will be concentrating on the first film in the trilogy, Blue, which is a story that centers on the experience of seemingly irreconcilable loss and the numbing grief which can constitute a kind of living death for those left behind. It depicts the halting, painful process of reconciliation which must take place to make it possible for a person to embrace life with all of its contingencies once again, a process that constitutes a renascence, a rebirth of the bereaved. More than that, it is a tale about the "nothingness", to borrow a word from the film itself, of a life lived without human attachments. It is the theme that quite literally reverberates throughout the film in the subtext of the musical score which is set to words taken from the book of I Corinthians, "If I have not love, I am nothing", words which can be understood as both subject and commentary to the narrative story set forth in the film.

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     In the opening of the film we encounter Julie de Courcey immediately after she receives the news that her husband, Patrice, a renowned composer, and their five-year-old daughter have been killed in an automobile accident of which she is the sole survivor. In the hospital Julie tries to swallow a bottle of pills to kill herself, unable to bear the thought of life without them, but finds, in spite of her despair, that she can't do it. She can not take her own life. This life impulse and the virtual impossibility of denying it threads its way though the film.
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Julie's attempt to divest herself of all links to her past by selling everything, breaking all ties with family and friends, taking back her maiden name, and embracing the anonymity afforded by the city of Paris is also a rejection of the hope of any future.
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Ironically, it is she who has created a prison for herself by taking with her a single object from her past life, a lamp made of strands of blue glass beads that shimmer like teardrops suspended in air. She makes this a repository of her grief and the centerpiece of her new world.
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In spite of her attempts to sever all ties with her past life, the chorus from her husband's final work-in-progress, a composition for a concert celebrating the Unification of Europe, persistently breaks into her consciousness, enveloping her The words of the chorus, "If I have not love, I am nothing," taken from I Corinthians 13, declare the barrenness of her emotional and spiritual condition.
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"I want no belongings, no memories, no friends, no love," she tells her apparently senile, institutionalized mother during an intended last visit. "It's a trap," she concludes. Her mother, mistaking her for someone else, prophetically greets her, identifying the condition of her soul, by saying, "They told me you were dead. The determined "nothingness" of Julie's days can not last, however, as life and human relationship encroach upon her solitary existence: a frantic mugging victim pounding on her door in the middle of the night, a mouse with newborn pups nesting in a box in her closet the unlikely friendship of her neighbor Lucille, a prostitute, a bent old woman laboriously making her way to a large green recycling bin to deposit with what seems like a final determined act a single bottle there. This last element is a motif that appears in all three films of Kielowski's trilogy. It is as though he is saying, "The signs are everywhere. Life must go on." New life grows out of the old. Everything is interconnected.
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Finally, it is Julie's past that demands a response from her. On seeing a news report that Olivier, a former colleague of her husband's, has agreed to complete his unfinished score for the concert for the Unification of Europe, a score that she thought she had destroyed, she learns that her husband had had a mistress and must confront the fact that her life had not been what she had believed. That painful revelation was, explains Olivier, "a way of making [her] say 'I want' or 'I don't want'." When asked why she had copied the score before giving the original to Julie, her husband's assistant replies, "You can't destroy music like that." The discovery that her husband's mistress is also pregnant with his child, one final example of life's insistent continuity, provokes Julie to action. She deeds her husband's family home to the unborn son with the explanation, "He should have his home and his name."
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At tile same time, she takes up the task of revising and ultimately completing the score for the upcoming concert celebration. With these actions, she accepts what she herself had earlier protested, "It'll never be the same." There is in her response a decision to reject the temptation of retribution and to reconcile herself to the reality of her life as it was, as it is now, and implicitly, to embrace what it might yet be. Through the actions of Lucille, Olivier, and ironically, even Patrice, she finds her true self once again In the closing scene, we find Julie accepting Olivier's love at last, her face wet with tears pressed against a window, finally able to cry, responding to his touch with the same awkward, vulnerable movements of the newborn pups she had found nesting in her closet, as we listen to the burgeoning strains of the chorus, "If I have not love, I am nothing." The persistent blue cast of the film has finally turned to green. A renascence--a new life emerges out of the ruins. In the words of the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, "Loving is perennial vivification, creation, and intentional preservation of what is loved."4

Kieslowski believed "everybody's life is worthy of scrutiny, [having] its secrets and dramas."5 In discussing the making of The Decalogue, ten films loosely based upon the Ten Commandments and set in contemporary life, he exclaimed this conviction as it is manifested in his work, "(by beginning] each film in a way which suggested that the main character had been picked by the camera as if by random."6 Kieslowski's characters in the Three Colours Trilogy also seem, for the most part, to be quite ordinary, reflecting his belief that "we're tiny and imperfect"7, caught in a maelstrom of people and events beyond our control, and often more troubling, circumstances which are beyond our ken.

It should come as no surprise that Kieslowski frequently credited the works of authors such as Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Kafka, Camus and Faulkner as the sources that influenced him most, Their goal--and his, he said, was "to capture what lies within us... a great subject for literature... [and] probably the only subject in the world... .If film really means to achieve anything... then it's that somebody might find him or herself in it."8 Kieslowski's films offer no easy solutions to the basic questions of human existence. They are, like the human beings they present, full of complexity, ambiguity, and tensions. Yet it seems impossible to deny that his final offering Three Colours: Blue, white, and Red, completed as if with a knowledge of the imminence of his own death, confirms not only that "everybody's life is worthy of scrutiny" but that each life, with all of its unknown quantities, is worth living.

These films (Kolya and Blue) made by filmmakers (Kieslowski and Sverak) who grew to maturity under the bleakness of communist rule in Poland and Czechoslovakia are a testament to the uncanny ability of God's Word to reach beyond historical, cultural, and even political boundaries to speak to the most fundamental issues of human life even in the midst of unspeakable hardship and suffering. In the words of the Japanese novelist Shusaku Endo, "The important thing in this life is to link your sadness to the sadness of others. That is the significance of [the] cross." Moreover, these works show that it is only through that meaningful relationship with our fellow human beings, who are created in the image of a living God, that our sadness can be transformed into joy.

1 Kieslowski on Kiesluwski, Dannsia Stok, ed. (London: Faber and Faber, 1993), 150
2 Danusia Stok, rntroduction to Riestowski on Kieslowski, xiv.
3 Kieslowski on Kiesrowskr; 144.
4 Jose Ortega y Gasset, On Uve: Aspects pf a Shigle Theme, Toby Talbot, trans. (New York: Meridian, 1957), 20.
5 Kiestowski on Kiestowski, 146.
6 Kieslowski on Kieslorwski, 146.
7 Kieslowski on Kieslowski, 150.
8 Kieslowski on Kieslowski, 34, 194-95.

Blue © 1998 Miramax Films. All Rights Reserved.