The Polish-born director Krzystof Kieslowski has specialized in casting some of the most beautiful actresses in the world today, and his bejeweled eye is at the heart of what’s haunting and irritating about his films. Fixing his camera on the full lips and royal cheekbones of Iréne Jacob in the The Double Life of Véronique (1981), on the almond-eyed luster of Juliette Binoche in Blue (1993), Kieslowski creates a new kind of art house chic. He hypnotizes us with the gorgeous enigma of his actresses’ faces, but he also surrounds those faces with extravagantly empty narrative games that keep us from unlocking the mystery. His movies are postmodern perfume commercials in which ”tragedy” is treated as a visual fragrance, seductive yet remote.
Now, though, in Red, the conclusion of that tricolor triology that began with Blue and White, Kieslowski discovers a new kind of face. His star, once again, is Jacob, who is cast as Valetine, a Geneva fashion model who has reached the dead end of a love affair. But what draws you into the film is the great Jean-Louis Trintignant, who, in late middle age, has become eloquently withered, a haunted mask of suffering. He plays the man Valentine turns to for comfort, a retired judge who is finishing out a lifetime of hard-bitten misery by spying (via phone tap) on his neighbors. Portraying this burnt-out misanthrope, Trintignant lends Red a quality none of the other performers in Kieslowski’s films have quite achieved: a primal sense of loss. As the movie progresses, the central event in the judge’s life begins to repeat itself in a karmic pattern. Where he was once betrayed by the woman he loved, the same fate no befalls a young man who lives nearby. In bringing him together with Valentine, the judge gives birth to the very passion that he himself was denied. This is a movie about reincarnation, yet for all its delicate mysticism it’s as emotionally straightforward, as rooted in its feelings of hope, desire, and pain, as Kieslowski’s earlier films were blank and diffuse. The director has said that Red will be his final film, but my guess is that his retirement will provide to be about as permanent as David Bowie’s. After carving out a career as Europe’s most dazzling cinematic poseur, Kieslowski has created his first full-blooded movie. A