Revenge (most satisfying when performed cold) forms the centrepiece of the ironic and amusing second part of Kieslowski's Three Colours trilogy. Stumbling along a Parisian boulevard Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski), dishevelled and worn, looks like a man who's lost everything. In simple terms, the woman whom he loves beyond reckoning, Dominique (Julie Delpy), is divorcing him because of his inability to consummate their marriage. Before their wedding day Karol performed adequately, back in Poland, but now he's lost that ability. Perhaps it's due to living in a foreign country, where he can't even speak the language, or because Dominique wields the power in their relationship. Whichever, she wants to separate and is taking everything; money, home and business. Cast onto the streets, with only a suitcase for company, Karol rapidly ends up in the Metro, playing the comb for a few centimes

At this low ebb Karol meets Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos), another ex-patriot pole. They get to talking and drinking, mulling over the strange situation whereby Karol aches for a home and family while Mikolaj knows of a man who has everything (money, wife, kids) yet wants to end his life. Mikolaj is happy to help Karol return to Poland but unfortunately he has no money, passport or tickets. Then Karol comes up with the idea that he'll travel in his suitcase, as excess baggage, for the 4-hour flight to Warsaw. Every aspect of this cunning plan works to perfection until Mikolaj comes to collect his special luggage at the other end. Astonishingly, Karol has been stolen by thieves, who are less than pleased when they extract him from his cramped quarters. After a hasty beating, Karol is left bleeding in the snow and filled with joy at returning home.

His brother, Jurek (Jerzy Stuhr), welcomes Karol back with surprise and concern. Pretty soon Karol is helping out in the hairdressing salon, delighting customers who thought that they'd lost his deft touch forever. Impressive though his styling skills are, Karol has big plans and becoming a bodyguard for a black-marketeer is only the first step. With his new-found contacts Karol is able to pick up tips on what to invest his money in, if only he had some. Then Mikolaj appears again, glad that Karol survived the difficult journey unscathed, and mentions that his associate is still keen to die. Since he doesn't want to commit suicide, this man will pay his executioner handsomely. Karol decides to take the job, mentioning to Mikolaj that it's only right to help someone who needs it.

Although an integral piece of the trilogy, with figures from other parts making brief appearances, White is entirely self-supporting in its examination of how far absolute devotion can take someone. Karol lives for, dreams about and lusts after Dominique, yet the lengths to which he goes in reclaiming her love are phenomenal. The script is crammed with touching moments, subtle jokes and situation reversals, yet it never loses touch with the humanity of its characters. Such a build-up is firmly bolstered by the way in which each role is inhabited by the actors, revealing elements which resonate with their on-screen behaviour. This feeling of completeness is entirely fulfilling (Delpy comes off worst in this comparison, partly because she is under-used). The bittersweet nature of the ending is, however, somewhat at odds with the optimism of Blue and Red, perhaps because Kieslowski regards the stalemate of such a marital battle as the closest approximation to equality available. Life is simply unfair, though not always in an obvious way, and White projects this thought beautifully.


Berlin International Film Festival 1994 - Silver Berlin Bear (Best Director, Krsysztof Kieslowski)

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