It’s not fun being poor. It’s not fun being poor especially if you just everything you lost because your wife left you due to your inability to consummate your marriage to her. After Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) has this situation happen to him, he’s left sitting in the subway system in Paris, hoping that someone will give him enough coins to spend the night in a hotel. His barber shop diplomas are now worthless.
It’s a problem, as well, that he doesn’t speak French particularly well. This was another problem he had with his now ex-wife, Dominique (Julie Delpy). He’s from Poland, she’s from France, and while she seems to understand lots of what he says, the opposite is not true. She packs up all of his belongings into a suitcase and is seen from only scarcely afterward. Once getting to this metro station, Karol is met by his fellow countryman, Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos), who offers to pay for Karol’s transport back to Poland. However, without a passport to get on the plane, Karol initially declines. The two men decide that spending the rest of the day drinking and talking would be productive, so that’s what they do.
They eventually decide that Karol must come back to Poland, but since he is without a passport, he’ll have to get stuffed in a suitcase. This works, partially, and once back in his home country, the scheming begins. He has to somehow improve his life, both financially and personally, while also revenge on his ex-wife for putting him in this situation. He also maintains his friendship with Mikolaj, who offers Karol a job that he might not want to take: Kill a suicidal man who won’t pull the trigger.
Effectively, these few plot threads are what make up most of our time spent with these characters. Things get more complex later on, a couple of the plots intertwine, and the pacing really picks up, but it’s mostly a story about this one man’s potential rise to greatness after sinking as far as one can go. It’s not as easy as I might make it sound, but suffice to say that this man is very smart and knows how to work business deals.
There are a few very thrilling moments in White, which surprised me. While Blue was definitely engaging, I would never classify it as a thriller. White has moments of real tension. The point that stands out in particular was when Karol decides to eavesdrop on a business deal, beat the participants to the punch, and then has to fight for his life because the other people find out. This scene actually had my heart pounding, which is a departure from the serene nature of something like Blue.
But it’s also a very funny film. Not really laugh-out-loud, slap-your-knee kind of funny, but the type of dark comedy that you don’t see a whole lot. Some of these situations are ridiculous, and the deadpan delivery from the actors really sells it. There’s a time in the film where one of the characters needs to buy a corpse. I won’t explain why, but just imagine that situation for a second. Not a big deal is made out of it by anyone in the film, but it was really quite funny.
This doesn’t take away from the touching moments either. When the time finally comes for Karol to go through with the murder or decline it, I was very unprepared emotionally for what happens next. Tears might just very well roll down your cheeks in this scene, even if the attempted mystery regarding who the target is likely won’t surprise anyone. There are a few other touching points of the film, but that particular scene stood out the most.
White is a balancing act among all three of these elements, and it pulls that off marvelously. None of these things is neglected; they’re all introduced and included frequently enough for us to remember that they are there. Yet, they’re all also given enough time to stand out on their own. If you can pick out specific stand-out scenes with each different tone, you know that the film has done something right. It made these moments memorable for an audience, despite them all being quite different in nature.
Where White wavers is when it gives us scenes with the ex-wife character. Because it doesn’t focus on her often, it’s jarring when director Krzysztof Kieslowski decides to give us an entire scene or two dedicated to her. We get large gaps when we don’t even think about her character, and cutting to her after such an extended period doesn’t quite work. She plays a pivotal part late in the picture, but her character doesn’t quite work because of these absences from the screen. The main character is Karol, and the secondary character is Mikolaj. That’s all that this film has room for, and Dominique’s inclusion, while it kick-starts the plot, doesn’t work as the film progresses.
Three Colors: White is a great film that manages to properly balance drama, thrills and comedy. It tells a story worth telling with characters that are worth investing in. It has many memorable moments all with different tones, and it will manage to make you cry and laugh, while also getting the adrenaline flowing. It does everything so effortlessly, even if the director seemed to be trying too hard to get us interested in the ex-wife character. That’s just about the only thing that White does wrong, but that’s hardly a hindrance.