Trois couleurs: Rouge
France / Poland, 1994
Review by Rumsey Taylor
Posted on 11 July 2004
In a peripheral action, consistent throughout the “Three Colors” trilogy, a hunched-over, older woman attempts to place a glass bottle in a recycling bin, placed, inconveniently, at the extent of her feeble reach. The action occurs in each film.
In Blue Julie sees the woman and becomes briefly piteous. The screen flashes white and the two are positioned as equals. Similarly, Karol in White, in the aftermath of losing his money and wife, watches the woman from a blanket on a nearby street corner and measures the immediate purpose of life. For him, it is to return home. For her the simple task of discarding garbage is elevated to an appreciated position; it requires her utmost concentration and strength.
Red concludes this sequence. Valentine is the principle character, a beautiful model in school in Geneva. She sees the woman, and without hesitation aids her, and places the bottle into the bin. This action characterizes Red and its primary character (whose name is an unsubtle ode to the film’s corresponding color); Red is the color of fraternity.
In what is one of the most excitingly paced tracking shots in film, Red opens with the image of a hand picking up a phone and dialing numbers. The camera pans and follows the cord into the wall, down the street, into and across the English Channel, and ultimately to another phone in France. Complimenting this sequence are the voices of other simultaneous conversations. This sequence embodies the underlying mechanism in Red, as it exposes the connections people share with each other, however brief and unknown.
Red is divided among the stories of two characters: Valentine, who dominates the exposition, and an unknown man. The man occupies a noticeable portion of screen time, and because his story is told voyeuristically his name (Auguste) is only revealed at incident midway through the film. Between these characters exists an intangible bond, not dissimilar to the one that Red shares with Blue and White.
Valentine and Auguste are unaware of each other (single shots often find the two in each other’s unnoticing sight). Valentine drives at night, and passes Auguste on a street corner. He drops the books he’s carrying; she hits a dog. Both actions will come to garner tremendous importance later in the film.
Valentine returns the injured dog to her owner. The man, Joseph, is a retired judge, and occupies his time listening to the phone conversations of his neighbors on surveillance equipment. Valentine finds this practice disgusting, and is unhappy to find him indifferent towards the fate of his injured dog.
Like the friendship between Karol and Mikolaj in White. Red finds two characters whose outlooks bear a diametric opposition. Valentine is young, optimistic, and friendly. Joseph, contrarily, experiences intimacy and companionship vicariously. Though his spying is dishonorable, it is given merit once he speaks of his past experiences. As a former judge, deciding what is true, through the lens of subjectivity, lacks modesty; it is the height of vanity. In regard to his current position as a voyeur, he says, “Here at least I know where truth is. My point of view is better than in a courtroom.” Though his means is debatable his practice is justifiable — Joseph is ultimately seeking truth in a world where lies and deceit are common play.
Known to the viewer is the mysteriously prophetic similarity between Joseph’s past and Valentine’s present. “Maybe you’re the woman I never met,” says the retired judge. As they part the two press their hands on either side of a car window. The glass between them signifies the impenetrable barrier of time.
Every word, action, and shot in Red resonates with a cosmic importance. It is a film that relies upon a perpetually contradictive play between fate and karma. I would contend that it is impossible for a viewer to see Red and not, for once, measure his position in the enormity of existence. This is a rare film that employs the most redeeming quality of film: Red is transcendent.