“Blue, liberty; White, equality; Red, fraternity… We looked very closely at these three ideas, how they functioned in everyday life, but from an individual’s point of view. These ideals are contradictory with human nature. When you deal with them practically, you do not know how to live with them. Do people really want liberty, equality, fraternity?”
– Writer/director Krzysztof Kieslowski
After watching WHITE this morning I did a little research to see what the general feeling of the picture was, too see how it sat alongside my own. The general concensus is that, compared with BLUE, WHITE is conventional, simplistic and straight. There’s something in this argument but I think it too easy to write this part of the trilogy off as the runt brother to BLUE and RED. It is surely the case that the bookend films are more abstract and artistic in their execution but it should be considered that the WHITE picture deals with equality; the very thing mankind is worst at. Realising and accepting this makes the direct approach of the film not only easier to take, but allows it to sit very nicely as a contrast against the other two. That is not to say the film is flawless of course.
We start in Paris with Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) stumbling his way to an appointment, we soon learn that it’s a divorce hearing but before we do, we are given a piece of metaphoric information (via a passing pigeon) that indicates how the proceedings are going to go, see below.
It quickly becomes apparent that the differences between the couple (Karol has been unable to consummate the marriage) are irreparable and that this is, most definately, the end of the road for them both. Dominique (Julie Delpy) is great in this scene, portraying a coldness towards her husband that, if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a “dumping”, is right on the money. Oh, we also find out in this scene that Karol is polish and Dominique, a native of France. It’s a very important detail.
It is this scene and the scene in the hairdressing salon that leads some reviewers to a conclusion that the film is misogynistic, I disagree with this angle. It is the case that Dominique disappears from the picture for the whole of act 2 but her presence is always felt. She is the catalyst for everything Karol does and reference is constantly made. Whether it be the bust that Karol steals bearing similar features or phone calls made in the dead of night, she is always there, driving Karols actions and feelings. It may well be that we do not get as complete a picture of Dominique as we do Karol, but that is not the equality we are dealing with here. In order for equality to be established, or Karols’ interpretation of it, we must stay with him as he is the one, in his own mind, who has been wronged. The point of Dominique being portrayed as cold is correct but it works as she is the one ending the marriage so therefore, will be the party who seems distant and devoid of emotion. It’s how things work in the real world and I don’t think it missrepresents Dominique as a person.
Things go from bad to worse for Karol as, soon after the unceremonious rejection by his wife, his bank accounts are frozen, he is rendered homeless and, after breaking into his ex wife’s salon for a sleep, is framed for arson (she sets fire to the curtains and indicates she’s phoning the cops) when she finds him there. This is the most questionable scene in terms of motivation, it just doesn’t make sense and leads to nothing.
It is at this point, though not yet his lowest, that Mikolaj discovers him in an underground station. This is quite a nice “meet cute”, Karol is playing a Polish song on the paper and comb to try and earn a few francs when Mikolaj recognises its Polish origin and, being Polish himself, befriends the down on his luck countryman.
I’ll not go into what happens in the last half of the picture as it really should be seen. Lovefilm are excellent at sending things in order so get it on your list, or buy it, or steal it…. Whatever you see fit.
The scene below shows Karol “arriving” back in Poland having decided, with Mikolaj, to find other means of getting onto the plane. It never quite went to plan.