Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: It’s 1994 Week at the A.V. Club, so we’re recommending our favorite movies of that year.
As the final chapter of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Three Colors” trilogy—which investigates the French Revolution ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity—Red gains additional thematic resonance from its connection to its predecessors, Blue and White. Yet even on its own terms, it’s a masterpiece of dramatic maturity, nuance, and power. Set in Geneva, Kieslowski’s film concerns a model and student named Valentine (Iréne Jacob, the star of the director’s The Double Life Of Véronique), who accidentally runs over a stray dog and, following the address on the animal’s leash, comes into contact with Joseph (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a retired judge whose hermetic life is primarily spent eavesdropping on his neighbors. The meeting proves a catalyst for events involving an aspiring young judge (Jean-Pierre Lorit) and his weather-reporter girlfriend (Frederique Feder), whose own fractured affair comes to reflect the various issues that arise from Valentine and Joseph’s initially tense, then increasingly empathetic, relationship.
The compassion with which Kieslowski treats his characters is only enhanced by his refusal to shy away from their failings. As it progresses down its unpredictable path, Red in fact argues that, in certain unexpected ways, failure (and tragedy) is often the first step to achieving an unlikely positive outcome. From an opening image that races along a phone line, to its innumerable scenes of people chatting or listening to others on the phone, Kieslowski’s film fixates on communication and alienation, togetherness and isolation. His deft direction conveys Valentine and Joseph’s fluctuating stance toward each other through beautiful visual spatial arrangements, and delivers startling emotional jolts via both piercing close-ups and florid camera movements, none better than a late shot that swoops and plummets in time with an anecdote told by Joseph. Bolstered by fantastically quiet, complex performances from its two leads, as well as a luxurious visual schema drenched in the titular color, Red finds poetry in its portrait of life as a cyclical dance of people tearing apart and coming together.
Availability: Red is available on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix or your local video store, and to stream on Hulu Plus.