Perhaps your first response is to sob uncontrollably. Maybe another's is to just stare blankly off into space, the emotions too weighty to fully process. For still another, they may devote themselves entirely to working, to keep their mind distracted from fully processing their new reality. All of these are valid coping mechanisms with processing unspeakable tragedy and show the varied nature of coping with unspeakable turmoil. One strain of managing these kinds of feelings is seen in the Three Colours: Blue, the first installment of director Krzysztof Kieślowski's widely acclaimed trilogy. If the subsequent entries are as good as Blue, it'll be easy to see why these movies are so revered.
Blue begins with Julie (Juliette Binoche) going off on a seemingly normal day as she, her composer husband, and her daughter head off for a day at the beach. Tranquility turns to tragedy when the trio is involved in a car accident that leaves Julie as the only survivor. Now, this woman has to pick up the pieces of her life and figure out where to go next. For Julie, coping with the past means cutting herself off from it completely. She doesn't exhibit pronounced emotions around others, she burns a score her husband was working on, and she moves into a new apartment where she keeps her real identity concealed.
Her feelings are kept so close to the chest that, at one point, Juliet encounters a supporting character sobbing intensely because she wants to cry all the tears that Julie is not shedding. But just because she doesn't pour out her feelings at every moment doesn't mean Blue keeps Julie's feelings at bay. An early scene depicts the character in her hospital bed watching a recording of the funeral for her spouse and her child. As the camera lingers on the tiny coffin housing the corpse of her daughter, one of Julie's fingers press against the screen. Just with this tiny gesture, Binoche conveys not just all the loss Julie is feeling but why she would find these emotions so overwhelming that she'd want to keep them at bay.
Of course, Julie can't keep the past at arm's length forever and Kieślowski's screenplay finds many thoughtful ways to have the ripple effects of the past reverberate through this character's modern life. These include someone uncovering and continuing the work of her husband's unfinished score as well as the discovery that her husband was carrying on an affair with a woman named Sandrine. The latter scenario plays out in a most unexpected fashion that didn't just keep me glued to the edge of my seat, it also captivated me as an example of how much empathy Kieślowski extends to his characters. Sandrine isn't a one-dimensional antagonist, a punching bag for Julie to unload her woes on. In one scene, she's depicted as a complicated person whose story could serve as the crux of her own film.
This empathy goes hand-in-hand with the discernibly realistic qualities of these characters, who all do come across as naturalistic humans. "I'm like any other woman," Julie observes at one point. "I sweat. I cough. I've cavities." Those kinds of shortcomings are what make Julie's equally nuanced struggles with grief so interesting to watch. We're not witnessing a polished vision of what grief looks like, one that's distinctly detached from the complication of reality. There's something so fascinatingly authentic in what Kieślowski taps into, especially as someone who has dealt with a lot of loss in the past few years.
The reminders of loved ones now gone don't just manifest in other human beings, Kieślowski also works those reflections of the past into the production design through rampant use of the color blue. The title is not just referring to a state of emotions, Three Colours: Blue is drenched in this particular hue as the color. There's a compelling quality to how the cinematography and production design utilize the shades of blue and it's also impressive how such a distinct visual choice is utilized without upending the naturalistic flow of the movie. Breaking down the use of color in Three Colours: Blue is as fascinating of an exercise as breaking down the differing relationships certain characters have with the past (such as Julie consciously tucking away her past while her Alzheimer's stricken mother struggles to hold onto hers). Just like with the feelings that come with loss, there's so much to unpack in Three Colours: Blue and all that unpacking will constantly keep your mind and soul occupied.