Three Colors: White (French: Trois Couleurs:
Blanc, Polish: Trzy kolory. Bialy) is a 1994 Polish-film
co-written, produced, and directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski.
White is the second in the Three Colors trilogy, themed
on the French Revolutionary ideals, following Blue and preceding
This film illustrates the second theme
of the Three Colors trilogy, equality, through the two desires
of the protagonist Karol Karol: improving his station in
life, and revenge. In contrast to the introspective, melancholy,
and eventually hopeful stories of Blue and Red, White is
a black comedy.[cite this quote]
After opening with a brief, seemingly
irrelevant scene of a suitcase on an airport carousel, the
story quickly focuses on a Paris divorce court where Karol
Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is pleading with the judge
the same proceeding that Juliette Binoche's character
briefly stumbled upon in Blue. The immigrant Karol, despite
his difficulty in understanding French, is made to understand
that his wife Dominique (Julie Delpy) does not love him.
The grounds for divorce are humiliating: Karol was unable
to consummate the marriage. Along with his wife, he loses
his means of support (a beauty salon they jointly owned)
his legal residency in France and the rest of his cash in
a series of mishaps, and is soon a beggar. He only retains
a 2 Fr. coin that he got as change from the phone while
trying to speak with his now ex-wife.
In a Paris Métro station, performing
songs for spare change, Karol meets and is befriended by
another Pole, Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos). While Karol has lost
his wife and his property, Mikolaj is married and successful,
he offers Karol a job consisting of killing someone who
wants to be dead but does not have enough courage to do
it himself. Through a hazardous scheme, Mikolaj helps him
return to Poland hidden in the suitcase shown at the beginning
of the film, which was later stolen by employees at the
airport. He returns to working as a hairdresser with his
brother (played by Jerzy Stuhr; Stuhr and Zamachowski also
played brothers in the tenth episode of The Decalogue, likewise
a comedy about a money-making scheme).
Karol takes a job as a bodyguard in a
seemingly innocent cash exchange office. Mikolaj meets Karol
in a Warsaw Metro tunnel for the execution of the "suicide",
it turns out to be that Mikolaj is the intended victim and
asks Karol to kill him. Karol shoots a blank into Mikolaj's
chest and asks him if he really wants to go through with
it, because the next bullet is real, Mikolaj refuses and
is able to feel alive again. Using his position as a deceptively
aloof bodyguard to spy on his bosses who were scheming to
purchase different pieces of land that they knew were going
to be targeted by big companies for developments and sell
them with big profits, Karol beats them to it, and then
tells his ex-bosses that if they kill him all his estate
shall go to the Church, therefore they are forced to purchase
all the land from him. With the money he gained from this
scheme and with the payment by Mikolaj, the two go into
business (of a vaguely defined but possibly illegal nature)
together. Karol becomes ruthlessly ambitious, focusing his
energies on money-making schemes while learning French and
brooding over his wife's abandonment. He uses his new financial
influence in a world where, as several characters observe,
"you can buy anything" to execute a complex scheme
to first win back Dominique, and then destroy her life by
faking his own death after which she is imprisoned for his
'murder'. The final image of the film shows Karol staring
at Dominique through the window of her prison cell, while
The climax of the film was shot months
after the rest of the film, and was intended to soften Dominique's
image; Kieslowski has said that he was dissatisfied with
the ending shot previously and wanted her to seem less of
The film has a political subtext, in which
Karol's impotence and financial helplessness in France,
and subsequent rise as a somewhat shady capitalist, mirror
the attempts of Poland to advance from its disadvantaged
position within Europe. Though Kieslowski had cheered the
downfall of Poland's former communist regime, in later life
he expressed a nearly equal distaste for the free-market
adjustments that followed, believing that opportunities
for real equality had been passed up in the pursuit of money
and European prestige.
Like Blue, the film's cinematography makes
heavy use of the title colour: the sky is almost always
white, and a scene in Poland is filmed in a white snowscape.
An explosion of white is also the colour of the long-awaited
orgasm. As with the rest of the Three Colors trilogy, White
contains numerous images that at first appear unconnected
but are revealed to be flashbacks, flash-forwards, or references
to other films in the trilogy. In the opening scene in the
courthouse, Juliette Binoche, playing Julie from Blue, briefly
enters the courtroom by accident, as she had been seen doing
in the earlier film.
A symbol common to the three films is
that of an underlying link or thing that keeps the protagonist
linked to his/her past, in the case of White the items that
link Karol to his past are a 2 Fr. coin and a plaster bust
that he stole from an antique store in Paris, the first
one inexplicably sticks to his hand when he want to throw
it away until he buries it with "his" corpse.
In the case of Red the judge never closes or locks his doors
and his fountain pen, which stops working at a crucial point
in the story. In the case of Blue it is a lamp of blue beads
and a recurring image of people falling.
A recurring image related to the spirit of the film is that
of elderly people recycling bottles; in Three Colors: White,
an old man in Paris is trying to recycle a bottle but cannot
reach the container and Karol looks at him with a sinister
grin on his face (in the spirit of equality). In Three Colors:
Blue, an old woman in Paris is recycling bottles and Julie
does not notice her (in the spirit of freedom); in Three
Colors: Red an old woman cannot reach the hole of the container
and Valentine helps her (in the spirit of solidarity).
It has been interpreted as an anti-comedy, in parallel with
Blue being an anti-tragedy and Red being an anti-romance.
White is the soundtrack to the film Three
Colors: White by Polish composer Zbigniew Preisner and performed
by Silesian Philharmonic choir along with Sinfonia
Directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski
Produced by Marin Karmitz
Written by Krzysztof Piesiewicz
Starring Zbigniew Zamachowski
Music by Zbigniew Preisner
Cinematography Edward Klosinski
Editing by Urszula Lesiak
Distributed by Miramax (USA)
Release date(s) January 26, 1994
Running time 88 min.
Preceded by Three Colors: Blue
Followed by Three Colors: Red
Zbigniew Zamachowski: "Karol Karol"
Julie Delpy: "Dominique Vidal"
Janusz Gajos: "Mikolaj"
Jerzy Stuhr: "Jurek"