Studies in French Cinema Volume 6 Number 2 © 2006 Intellect Ltd Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/sfci.6.2.


Space, theme, and movement in Trois couleurs: Rouge
Daniel Yacavone University of Edinburgh Abstract
Defying easy classification in the traditionally opposed terms of ‘realism’ and ‘formalism’, and poised between conventional narrative cinema and more experimental European art-film traditions, Kieslowski’s Three Colours trilogy is characterized by a deep interpenetration of form and content. This article explores the conjoined camera movement and construction of cinematic space in Kieslowski’s Trois couleurs: Rouge. Close visual analysis reveals a number of ways in which the film’s dynamic camera presence, together with the movement of actors and the contrapuntal use of objective and subjective points of view, formally dramatizes its thematic concerns with fraternité, conceived as an individual’s being-with and acting-towards others in a shared perceptual environment. The film’s mise-en-scène, emphasizing spatial relations, linear motion and change is contrasted with that of Trois couleurs: Bleu, which privileges duration, circularity and stasis. Merleau-Ponty’s existential phenomenology provides a theoretical framework within which to situate these features.

Kieslowski Three Colours trilogy camera movement space point of view empathy

One of the most striking features of Kieslowski’s Three Colours trilogy is the stylistic divergence among the films it comprises, despite their many similarities. As in the case of Kieslowski’s ten-film series Dekalog (Kieslowski, 1988) this is no doubt partly due to the Polish director’s collaboration with different cinematographers, each with his own favoured techniques and approaches to translating the reality before the camera into a moving image: Slavomir Idziak on Trois couleurs: Bleu/Three Colours: Blue (Kieslowski, 1993), Edward Klosinski on Trois couleurs: Blanc/Three Colours: White (Kieslowski, 1993) and Piotr Sobocinski on Trois couleurs: Rouge/ Three Colours: Red (Kieslowski, 1994).1 Apart from periodic narrative ellipses and visual ‘flash-forwards’, time and space tend to be treated in a more conventional fashion in Blanc than in Bleu and Rouge, which, as the bookends of the trilogy, represent two contrasting models of spatial-temporal construction, resulting in the presentation of two quite different filmic worlds. As pertains to the mise-en-scène of Bleu and Rouge, the distinct contributions of Idziak and Sobocinski should not be overlooked. Yet to view these two original and accomplished cameramen as wholly responsible for these differences, and to suggest that the visual presentation in each film is but one of a number of possible ways in which the same ‘story’ could have been shown, is to miss the defining feature of Kieslowski’s fictional cinema: a remarkably tight unity of form and content, style and subject.
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1. Kieslowski says that the three cinematographers’ styles amounted to three different world-views, and that he matched a cameraman to each film on the basis of his conception of each screenplay (Stok 1993: 222).


And, of course, the films of the trilogy, as much as those of the Dekalog, are self-consciously thematic, if never programmatic. Following some initial comparisons with Bleu, I will focus on Rouge and how one crucial technical/stylistic aspect of the film, its dynamic camera movement, articulates cinematic space in the shape of what Noël Burch calls a ‘formal dialectic’ (Burch 1973: 70–71), one which simultaneously conveys and reinforces the film’s emblematic theme of fraternité. In Rouge the narrative exploration of this third Revolutionary ideal of the French tricolore is centred ethically on the nature of moral judgments and the possibility of selfless action. The film also dwells on the contingent physical and psychic connections between individuals, as predicated on the characters’ concrete perceptual engagement with a given environment. Visually, one of the principal ways in which these overlapping thematic concerns are expressed is through the restless movement of the camera, often as a counterpoint to that of the characters. Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s existential phenomenology, his theories of embodied perception and intersubjectivity, in particular, offer new perspectives on these aspects of Rouge. Against this theoretical backdrop, by distinguishing between two different types of camera movement (and allied point-of-view perspectives) I will both provide a more detailed and complex account of what has been referred to as the film’s ‘omniscient camera’ (Insdorf 1999: 169) and substantially qualify this as an overall, or exclusive, stylistic description.

Bleu and Rouge: contrasting worlds
The world of Rouge is above all determined by spatial as distinct from temporal relations. In contrast, in Bleu, a psychologically introverted film that describes the main character Julie’s (Juliette Binoche) condition of being metaphorically stuck in one place – in grief, memory, the web of a predetermined life, in short, in the past – a sense of time as duration is paramount. This is reflected in its much more static mise-en-scène. It is true that Bleu opens with a sequence of forward movement, the camera fixed to the car in which Julie rides with her husband and daughter. With the subsequent tragic accident, however, everything comes to a standstill, and, with a few exceptions, the camera moves only when Julie does, usually in the form of hand-held, over-the-shoulder tracking shots. As Kieslowski suggests, this restricted camera movement coupled with close-up shots built around perceptions limited to her immediate material environment (and there are significantly more close-ups in Bleu than in Rouge) are intended to convey Julie’s womb-like self-enclosure and defiant inaction, as a defensive reaction to the pain she has suffered (Stok 1993: 215–16). The visual form of Bleu thus follows from the life-situation of its central character. This is also true of Rouge, but here a similar mirroring of form and content occurs within a more objective presentation. In a broad sense, Rouge depicts a breaking out of the cocoon of selfabsorption depicted so lucidly in Bleu. In this respect the trilogy itself comprises a kind of dialectical movement from self-identity and from freedom (liberté) defined in opposition to, or in isolation from, other people, to their redefinition in terms of complex and inherently risky interpersonal relations. Whereas Julie’s emotional and psychological paralysis translates into a physical one upon the loss of her family, Valentine’s (Irène Jacob) life is marked by
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constant motion seeking its opposite, in the permanence and rootedness both she and the Judge (Jean-Louis Trintignant) on her behalf, associate with a stable, mutually fulfilling relationship. (This search for balance in Valentine’s life, a centre of gravity, is outwardly expressed in Valentine’s two main pursuits, ballet and modelling.) Rather than being determined by the past, like Julie, her character is defined by continual anticipation and a preoccupation with the future: ‘What will happen in 20 years?’, ‘Will I find happiness?’ Valentine asks the Judge. Fitting with the film’s pattern of predetermination and (endless) return, the movement prescribed by the camera view in Bleu is frequently circular. The film’s concluding sequence is a set of revolving tableaux. This series of highly composed set pieces, sealed off from one and another and passing in succession before the camera, leaves all the principal characters in a kind of holding pattern. In Rouge, on the other hand, the camera tends to move along straight, perpendicular axes, forward or back, and no event appears wholly determined or complete before the camera enacts its perception. Although its Geneva locations (the Judge’s house, the theatre), certain actions, and even particular compositions, often reappear in the course of the film, in each case the significance of these images has been dramatically altered by events which have subsequently intervened, and by the additional knowledge the viewer has gained. Thus these events and places are perceived and experienced differently each time they appear. Kieslowski has said that this narrative construction ensures that the viewer must constantly exercise his or her memory and ‘retroactive reasoning’ (Insdorf 1999: 171). Although on this imaginative level the film moves backwards and forwards simultaneously, the fact that a precise chronology can be established reinforces the inherently linear and directional cause-and-effect relations between the film’s represented events. Rouge, which Kieslowski describes as his most ‘complex’ work (Stok 1993: 222) is, with respect to its narrative, the most decentred film of the trilogy. Although Valentine is at its emotional and observational ‘heart’, it traces the interconnecting lives of three principal characters – Valentine, the Judge, and Auguste, as a kind of reflection or incarnation of the Judge’s younger self – rather than one, as in Bleu and Blanc, focused on Julie and Karol respectively. Accordingly, in charting the shared space these three people inhabit, the camera point of view in Rouge remains largely objective. In those cases when the camera does adopt a purely subjective point of view (where its position is identical with that of the perceiving character), these stand out as dramatically privileged, fulcrum-like moments. Following naturally from their greater reliance on subjective points of view, and corresponding intercuts, both Bleu and Blanc have a larger number of shots than Rouge, and they tend to be shorter in duration. Structurally, Rouge is a film built around the extended sequence rather than the discrete shot. If in Bleu the tangible atmosphere of mystery and portent, a consequence of a heightened perception of the material world, can be equated with Julie’s disturbed psyche projecting a subjective ‘mindscreen’, as part of its ‘free indirect narration’ (Orr 1998: 62–67), the similar mood of Rouge is, in contrast, an ‘objective’ property of the film’s represented world as it is, in itself. To conclude the basic comparison, because the camera view in Rouge often remains independent where it might instead adopt a character’s
Space, theme, and movement in Trois couleurs: Rouge


direct point of view, or, alternatively, represent an apparently subjective vision as if it were objective, both of which occur in Bleu, its movement is not completely dependent on the external movement of the characters, nor does it exclusively chart an inner mental landscape. The primary stylistic consequence is that in Rouge the camera is freed both to counterpoint the character’s movement and to explore space in a number of dramatic ways, which a more subjective presentation, founded on the default conveyance of a character’s point of view, substantially restricts.

Movement and intentionality
The film’s justly celebrated pre-title panning/tracking shot follows the physical route of a telephone call, as it moves down wires, through walls and switchboards, and ends in a flashing light indicating a busy signal, as the film’s first titles appear on the screen. Hitchcock decried this sort of shot, where the camera goes where no human eye possibly could, as visual gimmickry (Truffaut 1967: 41). Far from a gratuitous exercise in camera pyrotechnics, however, it dramatically announces the film’s interest in ‘communication’ in the broadest sense. Mental intentions toward others are translated into physical signals in a shared space, with their reception or failure often dependent on chance, unless something or someone intervenes. This is also the first of a number of instances in Rouge where the camera emphatically adopts the spatial position/orientation of an object in a closely framed composition and then moves along its targeted trajectory. In another of Kieslowski’s more flamboyant shots, the camera rapidly tracks right behind a bowling ball from the moment it leaves Valentine’s hand until it strikes the pins. Later, in the film’s set-piece theatre sequence, in which the Judge recounts to Valentine what happened to him in the same place as a younger man, the swooping camera takes the position of the Judge’s textbook, re-enacting its accidental fall from the balcony to the orchestra pit some twenty years earlier. At the bottom of this horizontal tracking movement the Judge and Valentine are reframed in a Wellesian extreme low-angle shot from the imagined book’s ‘point of view’; but this is more than Kieslowski’s famous attention to material objects taken to an anthropomorphic extreme. A conventional subjective point-of-view shot evokes the off-screen presence of the conscious observer it implies, recasting what is visible in the frame from that external perspective. Here, however, this is reversed. With the camera adopting the clearly established position of the book, the viewer’s attention is kept firmly within the frame and centred on the character’s concrete act of perceiving the off-screen, in this case imaginary, object. Throughout Rouge the moving camera view is ‘intentional’, in the sense of the term used in the phenomenology of Franz Brentano and Edmund Husserl to describe the directional nature of consciousness (Merleau-Ponty 1969b: 38–39). Thought is always directed towards or at some object, whether it is an actually existing one or – like the Judge’s book for both the characters and the viewer – imaginary. Of course, it could be argued that film as photographic representation is always ‘intentional’, in that, as Siegfried Kracauer and André Bazin suggest, it clings to the surface of things (Bazin 1967: 14–15, Kracauer 1960: 299–301) and thus, as a medium, cinema is in sympathy innately with Husserl’s rallying call for philosophy to ‘return to the things themselves’
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(Merleau-Ponty 1969b: 29). Many film styles, however, systematically undermine the concrete facticity of the camera’s gaze and the discrete objects it represents, either through the sustained use of expressive effects which literally blur the boundaries between objects and events (expressionism and surrealism, for example), or an analytical detachment of the perceptual object from its given environment and spatial relation to others (as often occurs in ‘invisible’ Hollywood style and Eisensteinian montage). Kieslowski scrupulously avoids these two tendencies in Rouge. The sharply individuated objects the camera intently fixes on only have a narrative meaning (and whatever wider symbolic significance they possess) within the total perceptual/experiential field the image establishes, of which the viewer remains keenly aware at every moment, and where these objects are not so much placed as seemingly discovered. At the same time, however, Kieslowski’s mise-en-scène decisively diverges from the ‘metaphysical realist’ ideal of ontological ambiguity which Bazin and other critics and theorists – some, like Amédée Ayfre, directly influenced by phenomenological thought – saw embodied in Italian neo-realist films (and which, more problematically, Bazin also attributed to Welles) with their long takes and deep-focus cinematography (Ayfre 1985: 184–85). As it is well known, for these theorists a film’s creation of a positive ambiguity expressing the fundamental mystery of the visible world is aided by the viewers’ opportunity freely to choose or determine for themselves what to ascribe significance to within a given shot/image as allowed by its multiple, equally weighted centres of attention within the frame; thereby the potentially inexhaustible significance of the image’s representation links up with the opacity of the physical world of which that image is a direct material trace. Kieslowski’s image seldom partakes of this sort of indeterminacy; not only is the selection of a privileged object/reality within the frame made by the camera, but it frequently records its own motion towards this object, emphasizing the fact of its selfaware selection at the decisive exclusion of other possibilities. (This is also to be found in the films of Welles – a seminal and under-explored influence on Kieslowski2 – and is an aspect of Welles’s style which Bazin underrepresents.) In Rouge, and in many of Kieslowski’s films, a positive narrative ambiguity with ‘existential’ or ‘metaphysical’ overtones is certainly present. However, it pertains less to the ‘open-ended’ film image in itself (as a trace of the real over which a fictional representation is inscribed) than to the contingent relation between the camera’s object of attention and its potential perceiver within the dramatic context of the film’s self-enclosed fictional world. Correspondingly, as opposed to passing above or behind it, the viewer’s interpretative interaction with Kieslowski’s cinematic image is always anchored in the representation of the characters and their actions. In this sense, Kieslowski’s cinema is less a matter of the ‘ontological’, pertaining to the objective being of things in themselves, than the ‘phenomenological’, as describing the specific acts of their conscious apprehension. Because in Rouge Kieslowski largely rejects insert-shot close-ups and other techniques designed to dissect space analytically by separating objects from each other and their environment (positing them in that abstract cinematic space so easily created through editing), and instead
Space, theme, and movement in Trois couleurs: Rouge

2. Kieslowksi has referred to Welles as the most daunting example of pure cinematic genius, expressing particular admiration for Citizen Kane, a film that he claims to have seen nearly a hundred times and calls the ‘highest peak in cinema’ (Stok 1993: 34, 194).


employs the moving camera that goes towards the significant object of perception, there is no externally imposed rupture between the character seeing and the object of sight, and no experiential short cut for the viewer. When, for example, Valentine sees the Judge for the first time, his back turned to her, the camera, following her line of sight through space, moves past her and right up to him. As a result, the viewer experiences not just the object of Valentine’s perception, what it is that she sees and focuses on (which another film-maker might well have chosen to convey all at once, most economically, by a quick-cut close-up) but the act of perception itself, as a movement towards something in time, made spatial and imaginatively ‘embodied’ (for one can be fooled into thinking that it is Valentine who has moved here along with the camera) via a deliberate movement of the camera towards the object, which is simultaneously a total reframing of the contents of the image from this new perspective. Rather than a montage construction which implicitly despatializes or disembodies perception, moving the action from a physical arena (rooted in the shot/image) to a mental one (rooted in the edited sequence) here, in a highly stylized fashion, the radical ‘intentionality’ of the characters’ consciousness is channelled through their perception in the ‘real’ time and space of the image. This presentness of the camera’s action in Rouge, its grounding in the events it records, does not mean that its movement and that of the narrative remain totally distinct. Unlike the camera following the electrical phone signal and the bowling ball, where its motion seems to follow as a direct representational consequence of a discrete physical event the character initiates in the present tense of the image and narrative, with respect to the falling book, the movement of the camera is prompted by the Judge’s on-screen narration of a past event. Here the action of the camera is part and parcel of the movement of the film’s narrative itself, with past and present ‘story’ times fused through one interrupted movement, triggered and maintained by the character’s conscious perception of the intentional object it replaces. This unusual presentation – which is repeated two or three times in the film – is a self-conscious alternative to a conventional flashback sequence that would disrupt the spatio-temporal continuity of the action, and likely break the electric atmosphere of anticipation that has been carefully orchestrated throughout the sequence. In all of these examples the camera goes where the characters within the dramatic moment cannot plausibly go, observing what they cannot observe. The camera’s movement appears to be caused by an agency whose spatio-temporal awareness, if not absolute, certainly transcends the character’s current perceptions and knowledge of their surroundings, and in this sense could be termed ‘omniscient’. Just as significantly as what the camera may know, however, which the narrative subsequently reveals, is what it can do. The seemingly unlimited perceptual possibilities of the nonlocalized camera view moving freely through space, and even, in some cases, time, contrasts with the limited perception of the characters, and the restricted horizon of their worlds. Thus the distinctive camera movements in Rouge discussed so far (of which there are many variations) correspond to the ‘existential’ pole of the film, and, in the terms of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, convey the characters ‘being-in-the-world’ as marked by the radically ‘embodied’ nature of consciousness and perception.
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In a lecture delivered in 1945 entitled ‘Film and the New Psychology’, Merleau-Ponty draws an analogy between cinema and the methods and aims of his form of ‘existential phenomenology’ rooted in the concept of embodied perception. Perception, for Merleau-Ponty, is not merely a mental activity, the passive taking in and processing of raw sense data, but the full sensory orientation of a conscious body towards the world and its unceasing exploration of that world.3 As a consequence, he advocates a shift away from a psychology and philosophy founded on the intuition, explanation or analysis of internal psychic states, towards one rooted in a full description of external behaviour and the visible ‘signs’ of consciousness (Merleau-Ponty 1964: 52–53). Film as both a technological capability and an art in its infancy – and speaking in 1945, Merleau-Ponty regarded it as such, expectantly looking forward to new developments in film form – is founded on the camera’s ability to convey, and the viewer’s ability to directly apprehend, those direct ‘signs’ (in which the signified and signifier are inextricably conjoined) within the context of a cinematic representation that is ‘finer grained than life’ and shows that ‘what is inside is also outside’ (Merleau-Ponty 1964: 58–59). Curiously, MerleauPonty confines most of his argument to sound and editing in film rather than camera movement or point of view, those aspects of cinema which, as Rouge exemplifies, are optimal for dramatizing the dynamic field of perception as the ‘commingling of consciousness with the world, its involvement in a body, and its co-existence with others’ (Merleau-Ponty 1964: 59).4 As embodied, consciousness and perception are intrinsically perspectival, and, for Merleau-Ponty, any theoretical consideration of ethics and social life in general must remain rooted in this existential fact. Similarly, revealing his take on the concept of fraternité while making Rouge, Kieslowski has said that the ‘principal theme’ of the film is that a person can only see and judge others from an inherently limited, subjective perspective – always a ‘selfish’ one in this sense – and its attendant psychological and ethical implications (Stok 1993: 217).

3. Merleau-Ponty’s theories of embodied perception and the life-world, concepts he traces back to Kant, attempt to overcome Cartesian mind/body, subject/ object dualities, and elevate the cognitive status of perception and imagination. 4. This is not to suggest that Kieslowski, who persistently refused to discuss his films in relation to particular philosophers or schools of thought, was either familiar with Merleau-Ponty’s writing or set out to illustrate his ideas.

Intersubjectivity, point of view and empathy
A different sort of camera movement in Rouge, which both complements and counterpoints those we have looked at, expresses this existential relativism in a visual form that more fully engages the viewer with the film’s unfolding action on a perceptual and imaginative level. While still ‘intentional’, directed at specific objects/events, the camera’s movement in these instances is marked by a complex, balletic interaction with the characters, their psychic, as well as physical, movement. Rather than triggered by a specific physical event, or set in motion by the external narrative consciousness of the film, these movements are intrinsically bound to the character’s visible thoughts or intentions. The camera view becomes a more direct extension of the character’s (particularly Valentine’s) contingent perceptual awareness, or, as the case may be, occlusion. Closely preceding or following these movements, the camera often adopts a wholly subjective point of view, only once again to depart from it, conveying a sense of the potentially unlimited field of perception within which the characters are situated, but the totality of which escapes their conscious grasp. This total represented field is essentially the ‘phenomenological
Space, theme, and movement in Trois couleurs: Rouge


5. ‘Ethical’ here is meant in its widest sense as Heidegger’s mit-sein, the existential condition of ‘beingwith-others’.

world’ as described by Merleau-Ponty, ‘where the paths of my various experiences intersect, and also where my own and other people’s intersect and engage each other like gears. It is thus inseparable from subjectivity and intersubjectivity’ (Merleau-Ponty 1969b: 41). Charting this area where the outer edges of one character’s ‘life-world’ overlaps with that of another, this aspect of the camera’s motion in Rouge pertains to the ethical dimension of the film.5 Two examples will help to illustrate exactly how the independent camera represents this network of intersubjectivity and draws the viewer into it. Near the conclusion of the extended post-titles sequence, Valentine glances in the direction of her bedroom window. This is followed by a seamless, almost unconscious cut, whereby the camera reverses its view and follows her look forward in space, tracking up to the window and peering out of it. After a moment, Auguste is seen walking across the street and re-entering his building, at which point Valentine enters the frame from the off-screen space to the left and looks out the window onto the now empty street. In what will become a recurring pattern in the film, an opportunity for a perceptual connection between the two has been missed by a matter of seconds. As was the case earlier in this sequence, when the camera travelled right through Valentine’s window, tracked up to her ringing phone and fixed on it, as if patiently waiting for it to be answered, here, as well, its movement is anticipatory in relation to the actor/character. That is, it, and the viewer, get to where the character is, or should be, going or looking, first. We, as viewers, apprehend and explore the new space that the camera reveals, before the character catches up, as it were, usually entering into the frame from a previously established off-screen space. As is customary in classical continuity-style film-making, the directionality of the camera here and elsewhere in the film is initially determined by a point-of-view cue, an eye-line correspondence or the actor’s movement in the direction of something in or out of the frame. But often in Rouge the camera will then unexpectedly detach from the character’s immediate area of bodily action or perception. Moving off on its own, it frequently perceives what, in the concrete situation, the character does not observe but, in contrast to the examples looked at earlier, potentially could have seen. This presentation suggests that when the perceptual circuit fails, as in this case, when the character does not see that which they could or should have perceived (and in Kieslowski’s cinema of heightened perception, for both the character and the viewer to see is to begin to know, even if this knowledge is incomplete, perspectival, and calls for subsequent modification), this failure of perception is attributable to the vagaries of chance, to self-limiting psychological impediments (one chooses not to see something), the wilful action of others, or a complex combination of all of these. Another instance where this dialectical relation between the film’s independent and anticipatory camera presence and the privileged occurrences of a direct subjective point of view reaches a peak, comes in Valentine’s first encounter with the Judge. The front door of the Judge’s house is shot from Valentine’s point of view as she opens it and enters. The camera slowly tracks down the hallway and then moves a little way into a kitchen area before coming out again and turning at a right angle into
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another hallway. We assume that the camera is fully in Valentine’s ‘shoes’, adopting her visual perspective and location in space, and that at any moment this will be conventionally confirmed in a frontal reverse-shot reaction to what she is seeing, most likely, in a close-up of her face. So it is all the more startling that, as the camera is completing its turn, Valentine, in facial profile, enters the frame at another right angle to the camera (that famous left-facing profile, which is a key visual motif in the film and, as its last image, a powerful emblem of the trilogy as a whole). The camera has taken a detour as if it were another person also exploring this place for the first time, and has subsequently rejoined Valentine. Rather than as an omniscient eye, the camera in this sequence behaves like a quasi-subject, which, although possessing a curiosity seemingly born of limited information, is also strangely in tune with the character’s consciousness. If not a full participant in the events befalling the characters, the camera in this and other sequences is a concerned, sympathetic witness, somewhat as if the watchful angel figure from the Dekalog films is also present in the trilogy, but now invisible. Kieslowlski, in this sequence, refuses to employ a simplistic, subjective point-of-view construction that through visual substitution (putting and keeping the camera/viewer in the character’s place) appeals solely to the viewer’s purely sensory, unreflective identification with the character and which, in attempting to allow the viewer direct access into the characters’ consciousness, risks neglecting the full representation of the object of that consciousness. In contrast, he allows the viewer to share in Valentine’s perceptual unease (finding herself in the unknown house of an unknown person, whose dog she has just accidentally hit with her car) in a more distanced, critical and self-aware fashion, one that mirrors the highly self-conscious editing and camera movement, yet loses nothing of its experiential immediacy. Let us now try and pull all of these descriptive strands together. Throughout Rouge, by alternating between the limited adoption of the direct point of view of a character, that of a potentially unseen observer and finally, a more ‘omniscient’ narrational perspective, the camera inaugurates a series of dialectics of spectatorial identification vis-à-vis the characters, while describing from the ‘outside’ the intersubjective reality they share. As we have seen, this convergence of perspectives through the camera is just as often negatively anchored in a disjunction between what one character does not happen to see or know in relation to others and to the viewer, at any one moment, as what they do. In these ways, the camera movement fuses the representation/construction of filmic space and the viewer’s identification with the characters exploring that space into one expressive fold, the apparent contingency of which perpetually calls into question the representational and experiential basis of this unity. Empathy towards other people, and an understanding and fair appraisal of their actions, can come about only from imaginative contemplation of the environment within which they act. As viewers, our empathy towards the characters in Rouge is rooted in our fully attentive perceptual involvement with the film’s detailed representations of their environments. This spectatorial empathy, in turn, reflects the concerned interaction between the film’s three principal characters, deliberately
Space, theme, and movement in Trois couleurs: Rouge


depicted as a series of contingent perceptions, judgements, and consequent actions, each of which has crucial and, in some cases, life-altering implications for each of them. Merleau-Ponty holds that one enters into a true relation with another person when ‘the body of the other … tears itself away from being one of my phenomena, offers me the task of true communication, and confers on my objects the new dimension of intersubjective being’ (Merleau-Ponty 1969a: 53). It is the creation of this ‘dimension’ where the presence of others in a shared perceptual field becomes a essential concern for the ‘I’ that Kieslowski traces in Rouge. He does this through the relationship between Valentine and the Judge (and, more elliptically, Auguste), founded on an innate curiosity and a desire to explore space and the given perceptual environment on the part of the characters, camera and the attentive viewer. And this is also where the film’s detailed representation of the ‘intentional’ objects of perception that constitute the character’s life-world (including their own body and that of others) and the intersubjective relations between them (the sphere of love, ethics and morality), as well as the two types of camera movements that have been described, come together. In tune with Merleau-Ponty’s characterization, the intersubjective field of perception and action in Rouge, as well as in Bleu and Blanc, is marked by the heightened presence of particular objects charged with an intense personal significance for the characters, owing to the presence of the loved ones they evoke. Here one needs only think of all of the objects in the trilogy, often colour-coded, which serve as tokens and mementos, and how we, as viewers, witness the often accidental process by which these objects come to embody significant people and events for the characters. Of course, not all of the objects the camera picks out for view play this special role in the characters’ lives, but their inclusion signifies this latent potential. When such significant objects do emerge from the characters’ background environment, the viewer feels as if they really originate from there, rather than from the contrivance of the screenplay. In a film overtly addressing ‘brotherly’ and romantic love, the movement of the camera towards others and to significant objects which signal their presence (love classically defined as the external movement of the soul/self – anima – out towards others), represents a movement not from selfishness to a pure selflessness, but from a concern for others rooted in authentic self-concern. In this sense, the exploration of the secular humanist ideal of fraternité in Rouge – a film replete with allusions to the Old Testament and endlessly fascinated with the ways in which living one’s day-to-day existence in and around other people in an urban environment impacts on self-identity – is very closely aligned with the biblical injunction, previously explored in Dekalog, to ‘love one’s neighbour as oneself ’. If, as Kieslowski says, people act according to their narrow selfinterest as the result of being ensconced within a limiting perceptual frame of reference, how is this limit to be transcended? Merleau-Ponty suggests that the answer to such a pessimism of ‘sensibility enclosed within itself ’ (Merleau-Ponty 1969a: 62) comes as a response to the recognition of a shared ground of being: ‘in the perception of another, I find myself in relation with another “myself ”, who is, in principle, open to the same truths as I am, in relation to the same being that I am’
Daniel Yacavone

(Merleau-Ponty 1969a: 53). A prerequisite for less self-serving communication leading to more authentic relationships, in this view, is a greater awareness of the perceptual conditions shaping the concrete environment one shares with others. The experience of art works as complex spatio-temporal objects presenting ‘worlds’ that both overlap with, and diverge from, our own, can foster this type of environmental awareness. Similarly, by putting us into imaginative contact with lives, situations and forms of being-in-the-world other than our own, representational works of art can cultivate empathetic understanding, a recognition of this shared ground of being. As a cinematic work, Rouge attempts to fulfil both of these potentials, and largely succeeds. In spite of the film’s high degree of expressive stylization and a reflexive self-awareness, which immediately distinguishes it from the cinematic ‘phenomenology’ of Italian neo-realism as characterized by Bazin and Ayfre, Rouge is also an attempt to describe the concrete life-world of individuals through attention to subtleties of experience and perception that most films seldom depict, let alone dwell on. In Bleu, as we have seen, Kieslowski aims to achieve this same end through different stylistic means. Yet it is in Rouge, through the camera’s dynamic movement, that an additional expressive link is forged between the particular cinematic techniques used to represent the filmic fiction and the thematic, or ‘philosophical’, issues that this fiction consciously addresses. References
Ayfre. A. (1985), ‘Neo-Realism and Phenomenology’, in J. Hiller (ed.), Cahiers du Cinéma, The 1950s: Neo-Realism, Hollywood, New Wave (trans. D. Matias), Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, pp. 182–92. Originally published in Cahiers du Cinéma, 17 (1952). Bazin, A. (1967), ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’, in What is Cinema? (trans. H. Gray), vol. 1, Berkeley: University of California Press. Burch, N. (1973), Theory of Film Practice (trans. H. Lane), New York and Washington, DC: Praeger. Insdorf, A. (1999), Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieslowski, New York: Hyperion. Kracauer, S. (1960), Theory of Film: The Redemption of Physical Reality, New York: Oxford University Press. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1964), ‘The Film and the New Psychology’ (lecture given in 1945), Sense and Non-Sense (trans. H. Dreyfus and P. Dreyfus), Chicago: Northwestern University Press, pp. 48–59. —— (1969a), ‘The Primacy of Perception’, in A. Fisher (ed.), The Essential Writings of Merleau-Ponty, New York: Harcourt Brace and World, pp. 47–63. Originally published in J. Edie (ed. and trans.) (1964), The Primacy of Perception and Other Essays, part 1, chap. 2, Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, pp. 12–27. —— (1969b), ‘What is Phenomenology?’ in A. Fisher (ed.), The Essential Writings of Merleau-Ponty, New York: Harcourt Brace and World, pp. 27–43. Orr, J. (1998), Contemporary Cinema, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. Stok, D. (ed. and trans.) (1993), Kie´lowski on Kie´lowski, London and Boston: s s Faber and Faber. Truffaut, F. (1967), Hitchcock, London: Secker and Warburg.

Space, theme, and movement in Trois couleurs: Rouge


Suggested citation
Yacavone, D. (2006), ‘Space, theme, and movement in Trois couleurs: Rouge’, Studies in French Cinema 6: 2, pp. 83–94, doi: 10.1386/sfci.6.2.83/1

Contributor details
Daniel Yacavone is completing a Ph.D. thesis on painting and post-1960 cinema at the University of Edinburgh, where he is a tutor in film studies. In addition to film and the visual arts, his research/teaching interests include filmic representations of space and time, cinematic reflexivity and modernism. Contact: Film Studies, University of Edinburgh, David Hume Tower, 9th floor, Edinburgh EH8 9JX, Scotland, UK. E-mail:


Daniel Yacavone

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