Dominique (Julie Delpy) steps out of the church into white light; she’s an unobtainable bride, too pure and too radiant to be made love to by her hapless Polish hairdresser husband. Or at least this is what Karlos’s (Zbigniew Zamachowski) flash-back images imply are the cause of his impotence, Domnique’s reason for divorce in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s White, the second installment in his majestic Three Colours trilogy.
In White the Tricolour’s middle stripe represents an ‘equality’ that’s manifested in a revenge fuelled by humiliation and heartache. Kieślowski directs with a humour that takes the shape of a chilly shiver with a fire just around the corner. He tells us life is beautiful and equally grim.
With French only a little more robust than his erection Karlo is forced to confess his inadequacy within the bastion of the French court. It’s a pitiful declaration and Dominique stands a woman once in love but now angry and disappointed. She’s hard, more resilient than her husband’s libido: Her whiteness belongs to ice.
In the meantime Karol is struck down and cast out. He’s without a wife, a passport and a job: a homeless alien on the streets in Paris. In a desperate measure to earn a few francs he plays a tune on his comb in the local metro station. The station is located just across the street from Dominique who torments him on the phone by making him listen to her cries of pleasure with a new lover.
Naturally, if Karol didn’t love Dominique he could walk away without the need to seek revenge. But he can’t.
From herein Kieślowski takes Karol on an upward trajectory kick-started by Mikołaj (Janusz Gajos), a fellow Pole who offers to help out Karol, in return for him helping to ‘administer’ a friend’s suicide. It’s a grim proposal, but Karol is desperate. He finds himself travelling back to Poland curled like a feotus in a suitcase. It’s a comic image, a new birth into his homeland.
Back in Poland Karol gets to know Mikołaj a little more. It transpires it’s not Mikołaj’s friend who wants to end his life but Mikołaj himself. Karl now knows a man who is experiencing enormous amounts of pain: he helps him pass through his need for death, and the two form a bond.
Their solid friendship is Kieślowski’s other redemptive ‘pure white’ scene (the other being Julie Delpy walking out of the church): Karol and Mikołaj sliding around on ice like two schoolboys. ‘Anything is possible,’ they exclaim, with gleeful optimism.
And anything is possible. Karol moves forward with his plan to entice Dominique to Poland by faking his death. He achieves this and succeeds in re-gaining control. And of course, Karol’s libido returns and he decides to surprise Dominique in the flesh. His appearance and subsequent disappearance renders Karol a ghost-like presence, and following some confusion with the local police, Dominique ends up in jail for his murder.
Equality has been achieved: but it’s a comic, confused and dirty kind. In fairytales this revenge works well; but Kieślowski is not interested in repeating myth. Instead, he reinvents it with his own cinematic humanism …
The final scene, an inverted portrait of the captivator and the captivated, sees Dominque standing behind bars making the sign of the bird with her hands. Outside, standing in freedom, Karol looks up with tears in his eyes.
Kieślowski is making a clear point: revenge cannot lead to equality, just sadness.
Director: Krzysztof Kieślowski (1994)