Polish immigrant Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) finds himself out of a marriage, a job and a country when his French wife, Dominique (Julie Delpy), divorces him after six months due to his impotence. Forced to leave the France after losing the business they jointly owned, Karol enlists fellow Polish expatriate Mikolah (Janusz Gajos) to smuggle him back to their homeland. After successfully returning, Karol begins to build his new life, while never forgetting his old one.
Three Colors: White (French: ) is a 1994 French-Polish comedy-drama art film co-written, produced, and directed by Krzysztof Kieslowski. White is the second in The Three Colors Trilogy, themed on the French Revolutionary ideals, following Blue and preceding Red.
White is about equality, with the film depicting Karol Karol, a shy man who, after being left by his wife in humiliating circumstances in Paris, loses his money, his residency, and his friends. As a deeply ashamed beggar in Warsaw, Karol begins his effort to restore equality to his life through revenge.
Polish immigrant Karol Karol finds himself out of a marriage, a job and a country when his French wife, Dominique, divorces him after six months due to his impotence. Forced to leave France after losing the business they jointly owned, Karol enlists fellow Polish expatriate Mikolah to smuggle him back to their homeland.
After opening with a brief, seemingly irrelevant scene of a suitcase on an airport carousel, the story quickly focuses on a Paris divorce court where Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is pleading with the judge — the same legal proceedings that Juliette Binoches character briefly stumbled upon in Blue. The immigrant Karol, despite his difficulty in understanding French, is made to understand that his wife Dominique (Julie Delpy) does not love him. The grounds for divorce are humiliating: Karol was unable to consummate the marriage. Along with his wife, he loses his means of support (a beauty salon they jointly owned), his legal residency in France, and the rest of his cash in a series of mishaps, and is soon a beggar. He only retains a 2 franc coin.
In a Paris Metro station, performing songs for spare change, Karol meets and is befriended by another Pole, Mikolaj (Janusz Gajos). While Karol has lost his wife and his property, Mikolaj is married and successful; he offers Karol a job consisting of killing someone who wants to be dead but does not have enough courage to do it himself. Through a hazardous scheme, Mikolaj helps him return to Poland hidden in the suitcase shown at the beginning of the film, which is later stolen by employees at the airport. He returns to working as a hairdresser with his brother (Jerzy Stuhr).
Karol takes a job as a bodyguard in a seemingly innocent cash exchange office. Mikolaj meets Karol in a Warsaw Metro tunnel for the execution of the "suicide", it turns out to be that Mikolaj is the intended victim and asks Karol to kill him. Karol shoots a blank into Mikolajs chest and asks him if he really wants to go through with it as the next bullet is real. Mikolaj refuses and is able to feel alive again. Using his position as a deceptively foolish bodyguard, Karol spies on his bosses and discovers their scheme to purchase different pieces of land that they knew were going to be targeted by big companies for development and resell for large profits. Karol beats them to it, and then tells his ex-bosses that if they kill him all his estate shall go to the Church, and they are therefore forced to purchase all the land from him.
With the money he gained from this scheme and with the payment from Mikolaj, the two go into business (of a vaguely defined but possibly illegal nature) together. Karol becomes ruthlessly ambitious, focusing his energies on money-making schemes while learning French and brooding over his wifes abandonment. He uses his new financial influence in a world where, as several characters observe, "you can buy anything" to execute a complex scheme to first win back Dominique, and then destroy her life by faking his own death after which she is imprisoned for his murder. The final image of the film shows Karol staring at Dominique through the window of her prison cell, while crying.Zbigniew Zamachowski as Karol Karol
Julie Delpy as Dominique Vidal
Janusz Gajos as Mikolaj
Jerzy Stuhr as Jurek
Aleksander Bardini as Le notaire (The Lawyer)
Grzegorz Warchol as Lelegant (The Elegant Man)
Cezary Harasimowicz as Linspecteur (The Inspector)
Jerzy Nowak as Le vieux paysan (The Old Farmer)
Jerzy Trela as Monsieur Bronek
Teresa Budzisz-Krzyzanowska as Madame Jadwiga
The climax of the film was shot months after the rest of the film, and was intended to soften Dominiques image; Kieslowski has said that he was dissatisfied with the ending shot previously and wanted her to seem less of a monster.
The film has a political subtext, in which Karols impotence and financial helplessness in France, and subsequent rise as a somewhat shady capitalist, mirror the attempts of Poland to advance from its disadvantaged position within Europe.
Like Blue, the films cinematography makes heavy use of the title colour: the sky is almost always white, and a scene in Poland is filmed in a white snowscape. An explosion of white is also the colour of the long-awaited orgasm. As with the rest of the Three Colors trilogy, White contains numerous images that at first appear unconnected but are revealed to be flashbacks, flash-forwards, or references to other films in the trilogy. In the opening scene in the courthouse, Juliette Binoche, playing Julie from Blue, briefly enters the courtroom by accident, as she had been seen doing in the earlier film.
A symbol common to the three films is that of an underlying link or thing that keeps the protagonist linked to his/her past, in the case of White the items that link Karol to his past are a 2 Fr. coin and a plaster bust of Marianne that he steals from an antique store in Paris. The first inexplicably sticks to his hand when he tries to throw it away, and he keeps it until he buries it with "his" corpse. In the case of Red the judge never closes or locks his doors and his fountain pen, which stops working at a crucial point in the story. In the case of Blue it is a lamp decoration of blue beads and a recurring image of people falling while bungee jumping or sky diving.
A recurring image related to the spirit of the film is that of elderly people recycling bottles; in Three Colors: White, an old man in Paris is trying to recycle a bottle but cannot reach the container and Karol looks at him with a sinister grin on his face (in the spirit of equality). In Three Colors: Blue, an old woman in Paris is recycling bottles and Julie does not notice her (in the spirit of freedom); in Three Colors: Red an old woman cannot reach the hole of the container and Valentine helps her (in the spirit of solidarity).
It has been interpreted as an anti-comedy, in parallel with Blue being an anti-tragedy and Red being an anti-romance.
Three Colors: White was met with critical acclaim by film critics, but is considered by many to be the weakest of the trilogy; it holds a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, while the first and third films hold 100% ratings.
Kieslowski won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 44th Berlin International Film Festival in 1994.