Being a lover of all things film and a devoted student of the Cinematic Arts, I join in the proud tradition of creating infinitely expanding lists of movies that my existence depends on seeing, and then hopelessly attempting to cross off all entries before my time here on Earth comes to a close. Like all cinephiles, particularly my comrades in film school, I am dutifully trudging my way through the AFI’s Top 100 Movies of All Time list – 61 films seen thus far. To this list of classics, I add films that I am interested in or which have been recommended to me. And over the years, I have been able to see enumerable interesting and important movies because of these insatiable lists.
Recently I have decided to diverge to a degree from my fellows and attempt to complete another canon of films – the Criterion Collection. I had heard of the mysterious foreign and avant garde films that the list comprised of and while they piqued my interest, I didn’t know much about them, so I avoided the Collection for the most part. However, I recently rediscovered the list and upon closer inspection found it to be teeming with fascinating films that have more cultural significance (in my opinion) than half of the works on the AFI list. Also, I received strong recommendation to try the list from my 18-year-old brother, Travis, who has seen roughly 250 of the 600+ titles.
Thus, as well as embarking on my third Summer Film Challenge, I have pledged to see as many Criterion films as possible this summer to better round my cinematic education. This post is the first of what I hope to be many Quickee reviews for films of the Criterion Collection. Over the summer, I plan to see more of the approved films and post the occasional Quickee compilation here to review them. So, without further ado, lets jump into this!
Trois Couleurs: Bleu
The first films I sought out when I decided to take on the Criterion Collection were the stylistic and interconnected “Three Colors” trilogy from Polish filmmaker, Krzysztof Kieslowski. His work was recommended to me by one of my professors who loves this trilogy and always refers to it in his lessons. So, Ryan and I decided to see what all the fuss was about and rented the collection from our library one week. I must say, my professor was right.
Bleu is the first film in the Couleurs trilogy and it is absolutely gorgeous, visually and in tonal atmosphere. I created the picture above because after seeing the film, I came to realize that the best way to describe it is to label it as Amelie’s Doppelganger. The film focuses on a French woman who has an emotionally stylized sense of the world and who searches for meaning and love. Where Amelie is bright and cheerful in it’s vivid colors which reveal her inner childishness, Bleu creates a darker and more depressing world of blue and black tones which flawlessly mimic the character’s internal despair. Both women allow their view of the world to be shaped by their emotions and Kieslowski masterfully crafts this into his aesthetic vision.
Visually amazing, I found myself constantly impressed by the way the shot selection and music were implemented to craft a powerful emotional tone. Bleu is a gorgeous and touching film that beautifully explores the harsh realities of sorrow, and I recommend it to anyone interested in cinematography, aesthetic motif in film, or people who are simply fans of a well told story.
Trois Couleurs: Blanc
What I particularly enjoyed about the Colors Trilogy was that each film is its own stylistic narrative and yet they are all connected in the story world. When I started the second film of the trilogy – Blanc/White – I was pleasantly shocked when the film started out with a scene of the new protagonist accidentally stumbling into the courtroom of the first film before going on to do his own thing. The interconnectedness is only in that the stories occur in the same world but that level of detail in the creation of each story made it a joy to watch and see how each life intermingled with the two others.
Just as Bleu had a clear cinematic comparison, one can see that Blanc also juxtaposes another classic film. Blanc centers around a Polish man who finds himself down on his luck because of a messy divorce and a vindictive ex. He meets a man who smuggles him out of Paris and back to his homeland where, instead of continuing his career as a famous hairstylist, he decides to enter a life of crime in order to get back at his love. We watch as this mild-mannered gentleman slowly dissolves into a darker place as he becomes the most awkward and love-driven Godfather figure of all time.
Largely different from Bleu in tone, Blanc had a great dark wit about it that was hilarious and somewhat sinister to watch. It feels like a cross between the careful entrapment of “A Cask of Amontillado”, the dry wit of Life is Beautiful, and the plucky protagonist of Rocky. An odd mix, I admit, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching this Polish Hairdressing Nobody turn into a hard-edge crime boss, all for the sake of love. The middle film of the Couleurs Trilogy is magnificently crafted, just like the first.
Trois Couleurs: Rouge
And so we come to the third and final installment of the Three Colors trilogy. I have spent every minute since I saw this film trying to figure out what film Rouge/Red compares to and honestly I can’t find the right connection. In a lot of ways, it reverts back toward the Amelie–Bleu connection – a woman meets an older shut-in and both discover what it means to live life, all the while circling around a man who is in need of love. In fact, that analogy might fit better with Rouge than the former, but the reason I left it this way is because the latter lacks that extreme emotional overtone of Bleu. Of the three, the third installment is definitely the most slice-of-life realist.
While this was probably my least favorite of the three, please don’t believe that this reflects poorly on the film’s quality. It is just as well written and crafted as its predecessors. My only qualm with the film is the lack of visual or narrative surrealism which make the Bleu and Blanc so interesting and fun to watch. Rouge holds its own by having a great story and, most importantly, a great payoff. I’d rather not spoil the ending but sufficed to say the narrative conclusion is satisfying in almost every way. It completes the trilogy and gives the series its meaning – the conjoining of human life in immeasurable and incalculably intricate ways. Please find some time to work your way through all three of Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs, because you will not find a better crafted story world with such powerful aesthetic cohesion.
For the fourth and final review of this first Criterion Quickee, I turn to one of the most beloved and most important Japanese filmmakers. Akira Kurosawa all but invented the genre of the Samurai film and inspired a generation of filmmakers at home and across the sea in Hollywood. Most of the Film Brats credit “the Emperor’s” work as inspiration for their own careers, and for inciting some of the greatest cinematic creations in US history – Star Wars, Magnificent Seven, and most importantly here, A Fistful of Dollars.
The last of this list is the 1964 American recreation of the 1961 Kurosawa film Yojimbo (meaning “Bodyguard”), about a rogue Samurai-for-hire who gets himself caught in between two warring parties. Fun and funny, well shot with compelling characters, and despite being a bit too slow and long, Yojimbo is an excellent narrative story that is a joy to watch. The modern viewer can clearly see the Western stylisms which merge flawlessly with this more ancient tale and the cinematography is wonderfully incorporated into that overarching genre motif. Kurosawa crafted a fun and engaging tale that is great from start to finish and a perfect film to jump-start my journey into the Criterion Collection.
And with that I come to the conclusion of my first Criterion Quickee. I highly recommend each of these four films, both as excellent works of Cinema as Art and as great films to start into the Collection. They aren’t overtly weird but they do give you a taste of what you are in for. Check them out sometime and let me know what you think.
It should go without saying but I have a lot more reviews coming your way here really soon. I am way behind on my Summer Film Challenge (as usual) but you can expect the first two reviews to be out very soon. And, if I can figure out how to make it work, I will be sharing a special surprise that Ryan and I cooked up to make the Apocalypse Edition of the Summer Film Challenge even better. So, be on the lookout for that in the near future. Until then, have a marvelous week, enjoy something artistic, and I will leave you with this clue: “It’s not an ooorrrrgy! It’s a TOGA party!”