2019 Tarkovsky Prize Third Place: Sofi Orkin
Sofi Orkin (14, Ruth Asawa School of the Arts)
Three Colors: Red
Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Red has a simple plot but is filled with intricacies that, while complicated, are never confusing. Valentine, a young woman living in France, runs over a dog, and when she goes to return it she meets Joseph, an old judge who she discovers is eavesdropping on his neighbors. Joseph, moved by Valentine’s insistence that he is doing something wrong, turns himself in, and this sets off a chain of events that leads to Valentine and her neighbor, Auguste, who she has never met but who the reader sees is perfect for her. Through the use of a motif of broken glass, a story about a book, and the color red, Kieślowski connects these three characters so deeply that, although none of them have known each other for long, or even face-to-face, there is a clear path that they are all taking towards one another.
Red: the color of love, but also of pain. The color of passion, but also of fear. It is the color that is starred in the movie, and Valentine and Auguste are both literally and figuratively connected by red. In a figurative sense, they are surrounded by it, suggesting that they themselves are very similar. There is red in their houses, on their clothes, Auguste has a red car, and they both have red names. They are connected in their love for the world, especially Valentine’s caring nature, but also in the pain and fear they have. They fear their partners do not love them, and they hurt because of it. Red also has a more literal importance to the story. It represents Rita’s blood after Valentine hits her, and how Rita’s injuries eventually connect Valentine and Auguste. Upon returning Rita, Valentine discovers Joseph’s habit of eavesdropping on neighbor’s conversations. They develop a friendship and Joseph eventually turns himself in. In court, where his whole neighborhood has gathered, Karin, Auguste’s girlfriend, meets a man who she ends up choosing over Auguste. Hurt and angry, Auguste decides to travel for some time, boarding the same ferry as Valentine.
Glass, and specifically broken glass, is a motif that ties Auguste and Joseph together in a sideways fashion, making it seem as though Auguste is like a second Joseph, living Joseph’s life over again but this time correctly. The primary example of this takes place first in a bowling alley, where Auguste’s glass is shown broken at the top but still full of beer and upright. A while later, a scene in Joseph’s house shows a glass full of beer that is blown over by the wind. Its contents pour out of it but the glass remains unbroken, the exact opposite of Auguste’s glass. These similar but different endings to a tipped glass mirror the similar but different paths that their lives are taking, even before either of them is shown to be very similar.
To strengthen the connection, Kieślowski shows Valentine cleaning up broken glass from the judge’s floor, which has a double meaning. She is simultaneously cleaning up his house and caring for him, but it is also referencing Auguste’s own broken glass, suggesting that Valentine, with her caring nature, will help both him and herself be fixed after the ferry sinking.
The idea of the similar but different paths of Joseph and Auguste’s life is shown once again by a book. Towards the beginning of the movie, Auguste is crossing a street when he drops one of his schoolbooks on the ground. It falls open to a page on which a question that could potentially be on his exam has been underlined, and he is later shown studying that question. After his exam, Auguste’s then-girlfriend Karin asks him if they asked the question and he says no. Later in the movie, this experience is echoed when Joseph is telling Valentine about his past. He describes how he had dropped his book and it had fallen open to a question that he had not yet studied. But when Valentine asks if he was assigned that question, the judge says yes, showing the difference once again in he and Auguste’s experiences. A similar journey, but a different ending.
Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Red is a beautiful almost-love story full of coincidences that are just barely within the limits of possibility. Be it books, glass, or the color red, Kieślowski gives the viewer an experience that is both nuanced and moving throughout, despite the many motifs. There is not a single moment where a line of dialogue or facial expression appears unnatural or contrived, and because of that I, at least, felt as though I was watching real life, and was therefore fully invested in the story all the way to the end, leaning forward in my seat until it was proven to the viewer that Valentine and Auguste were safe.