Three Colors: Red is one of the greatest films ever made.
Many a film has been dubbed "the feel-good hit of the summer."
Red is the "keep you from committing suicide" hit of all
Red is about a young woman named Valentine, a model and
student in Geneva, Switzerland. She is good. Not good like the
heroine of a story; this is a story, of course, but it's not set
in the World of Stories. Valentine is earnest, loving, loyal,
innocent, good — and real. That she could sell
both sides of this equation made me think for a while that
Irène Jacob was the greatest actress in history. Then
I saw some of her other films and wasn't really taken by her
work in any of them. No matter. For an hour and a half she
is the greatest actress in history.
One evening Valentine is driving home when the radio goes
screwy. Valentine, distracted, hits a dog. She stops her
car, gets out, and finds the dog is still alive. Valentine
picks up the big German shepherd, loads it into her back
seat, and rushes to the address she finds on the dog's collar
to ask what to do. At that address she finds an unlocked house
and inside is a mean old man who tells her he doesn't care and
to go away. Valentine, distraught, finds a vet who patches up
the dog. A few days later, she receives an envelope full of
money to reimburse her for the vet bill. Way too much money.
She returns to the old man's house to return the excess
The old man turns out to be a retired judge who spends his time
hunched over a piece of surveillance equipment listening in on
his neighbors' phone calls. Now that he's no longer behind the
bench, he can finally get all the facts of everybody's case.
And they're all guilty. The heroin dealer, the heart-attack-faking
mother, the faithless lovers... humanity is a waste. Valentine is
appalled, not just at the judge's spying but at his attitude
towards his fellow man. "People are good," she insists. He
finds this laughable. The old man becomes less a judge than a
prosecutor. He makes the case that beneath her do-gooder exterior
she's as base and as selfish as the rest.
He loses because Valentine is not naive; she's just awesome. She
actually has quite a lot of shit in her life. She's a devoted
girlfriend — she sleeps with her lover's jacket while he is
traveling abroad and fends off passes from photographers —
but every phone call with him devolves into defending herself from
baseless, paranoid accusations that Valentine (Valentine!)
is cheating on him. She's a loving sister to a sullen teenage
brother with a heroin addiction. She lives in the same crappy world
as everyone else and yet her goodness is not the self-serving shell
the judge would make of it. She is good, truly good, all the way through.
And that's it. That's all it takes. This is not a matter of a
crusty old git being won over by a young gal with a heart of gold;
it's a philosophical issue. If there is a good person in the world,
then it is not the world the judge thought he was living in, and
the rules all change. Ethics matter, the welfare of living creatures
matters, it is worth venturing out of the house. It is worth
continuing to breathe. There are other elements to the film, lots of
stuff about fate and coincidence and interconnectedness and things, but
as far as I'm concerned, this is the important one. A world with
Valentine in it is worth living in.
This is less a review than a swoon, because that is how this movie
makes me feel. It would not be entirely wrong to say that it played
a part in helping me survive 1994. There is a gimmick at the
end that is very cheap but still works: for just a moment Krzyzstof
Kieslowski looks like he might be vying to become the cruelest man
ever to live. Surely he couldn't—! ...and, sure enough, he doesn't.
But just the suggestion of what could have happened makes the last
shot of the film (and of Kieslowski's career, as he died shortly
after Red was finished) incredibly powerful. It is, in its
own way, like Grant Morrison's concluding Yes.
On the French flag, Red stands for brotherhood. By
extension, sisterhood too. In Blue
and White there's a stooped old
woman who tries and fails to push a glass bottle into a tall
recycling bin. Julie from Blue and Karol from White,
wrapped up in their own problems, watch her with detachment. Valentine
trots over and helps her push it in. Krrsshh. Forget about
bells — that is the sound of an angel getting her wings.
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