Red, 1994

Red is an intricately constructed parable on the need for connection and the complexity of fate. Valentine (Irene Jacob) is a model whose vacuous existence is disrupted when chance intercedes and, one evening after a runway show, runs over a German shepherd. She meets the dog’s owner, Joseph Kern (Jean-Louis Trintignant), a reclusive, retired judge. We later see that the seemingly misanthropic judge has been intercepting the telephone conversations of his neighbors, and amplifying them through his stereo. Through a series of peripheral characters and events, we gain insight into the judge’s traumatic past, and a sense of the universality of isolation. It is not accidental that the deepest secrets of the human soul are revealed in moments of absence and separation. But Red is also a love story – a deep intimacy that is cerebral and not corporal. There is an especially poignant scene where the judge, inside the car, places the palm of his hand onto the window, and Valentine, outside, presses her hand against the glass, to match his. It is obvious that they are deeply in love, but are separated by invisible barriers. This is a film of intoxicating beauty and profound revelation that continues to unfold long after the conclusion.

The suffusive use of red throughout the film has an overwhelming intensity reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers. Red is the color of love and blood – life and death. Kieslowski uses the color to portray a contemporary liebestod. Valentine is Joseph Kern’s “breath of life”. She is the catalyst that can awaken his hollow soul, heal his callous heart, and, in the midst of tragedy, find closure. The element of chance is a recurrent theme in Kieslowski’s films (note the near encounters in The Double Life of Veronique). Valentine methodically places a coin in a newsstand slot machine every morning. Two lovers decide what to do for the evening by tossing a coin. The judge tells Valentine, “Perhaps you’re the woman I never met.” It is a powerful device in the master’s hands – a means to explore the need for connection – to find Joseph Conrad’s proverbial secret sharer of one’s soul. The idea that chance can cause happiness as easily as it causes pain, unite or divide, bring love or loss, is a profoundly unsettling thought.

© Acquarello 1997. All rights reserved.

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