Faculty of the Arts, Tel-Aviv University, June 98

Haim Calev
Ideology versus Mimesis
in 'Three Colors: White' by Kieslowski

In defiance of the anticipation of a cinematic exploration of political ideology, elicited by the colors of the French flag as film titles, the major thrust in Kieslowski's trilogy is rather toward the metaphysics of the individual spirit. The French revolution's political slogan - "Liberte, egalite, fraternite" - is used almost metaphorically to designate existential values in the individual's aspiration for transcendental significance beyond quotidian manifestations of conventional human behavior.

Such intellectual acrobatics in the film medium, which is still striving to develop adequate means of abstract expression, lead Kieslowski to an extensive usage of non-dramatic cinematically expressive tools. A close examination of 'Three Colors: White' reveals contrived dramatic situations, poor character motivation and implausible plot developments (mistaken by some critics as comedy conventions). Fortunately, the film medium is tolerant to such transgressions, by virtue of the compelling visual and spatial presence of cinematic action and due to its brief temporal screen occurrence. On the other hand, by creating this cinematic representation of implausible human behavior, the filmmaker halts expectations for psychologically convincing character motivation and calls attention instead to the existence of metaphysical powers in the human spirit, beyond earthly values, which inspire human behavior.

The film's narrative is in line with the filmmaker's ideological intentions. A minimal and functional shot selection and bold transitions enhancing thematic purposes, create large narrative gaps, thus neglecting a fuller developmental continuity. On the other hand, the ensuing austere, almost ascetic narrative, enables a concise cinematic articulation, which could serve as a paradigm in the search for cinematic expression of abstract ideas.
Complementary to this functional narrative is the direct (non-dramatic) cinematic expression of ideas through reoccurring images, which accumulate significance by their repetitive appearance throughout the film. The 'suitcase', the 'two-franc coin', the 'woman's bust icon', the 'white wedding' and the 'white orgasm' become epitomes of complex ideas.
Despite this powerful instrument of direct cinematic expression and despite the austere functional narrative, the film still suffers from a definite surplus of ideas over medial ways of fleshing them out, of ideology over mimesis. This deficiency seems however trivial in view of the film's enlightening power and cinematically riveting effect.

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