1994, R, 91 min. Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. Starring Zbigniew Zamachowski, Julie Delpy, Janusz Gajos, Jerzy Stuhr.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 24, 1994
White is the second part of Polish filmmaker Kieslowski's three-color trilogy. Based on the French Tricolor of blue, white, and red, Kieslowski (The Double Life of Veronique) uses these colors as a structure for examining their symbolic implications of liberty, equality, and fraternity. Though Kieslowski's interests lie in the pursuit of abstract concepts, he uses all the skills of a master storyteller to achieve his goals. At heart, White is a black comedy with intriguing characters and a plot that plays its cards close to the deck. Whereas Blue, which was released last year, was located in France, White begins its action in Paris and then moves it to Warsaw. It opens in a courtroom during divorce proceedings between Karol (Zamachowski), a Polish hairdresser, and his beautiful French wife Dominique (Delpy, who, as a side note, is currently cast as one of the leads in Richard Linklater's next movie). After six months of marriage, the grounds for divorce are failure to consummate the marriage although this problem never seemed to occur prior to marriage. Karol is left with nothing: his car, his business, his credit cards, his wife's love, and ultimately, his dignity are all gone. After one more failed attempt at lovemaking (combined with equal portions of hatemaking), Dominique sets their shop on fire and reports it as arson to the police; thus Karol loses his passport and his freedom to move about. He is reduced to living in the subway and playing tunes on his comb for spare change. Befriended by a compatriot, Karol eventually is smuggled back into Poland as one picaresque event keeps leading to the next. His life continues to take unusual turns and keeps the viewer guessing about where it all is leading. Through a twisted plan that only becomes clear at the movie's end, Karol and Dominique become united unto death though remaining forever apart. What does White tell us about the Tricolor thematic of equality? Perhaps, that it doesn't exist. What is made more clear is inequality: in love, in wealth, in luck. Shot with great economy of images, White reverberates with connections. Central to the storytelling are the actors' faces, each so telling and reactive. And, unlike Blue, which used a sad story to explore possibilities of optimism and hope, White is dominated by the wry humor it uses to color an Everyman kind of journey. This White is guaranteed not to fade.