Three Colours: White, the second film in the Three Colours Trilogy, is a bleak and pessimistic work. In contrast to Three Colours: Blue, which has selflessness at its heart, White is terrifying in its lack of trust and compassion. The film follows Polish hairdresser Karol Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski). He is living in Paris with his wife Dominique (Julie Delpy), before she demands a divorce on the grounds of the non-consummation of their marriage. After the court ruling, Dominique drives her white car across the concrete as Karol desperately pulls at her door handle, believing he can save the marriage—that the love isn’t gone. Karol is left out in the cold, with his bank accounts frozen and cards invalidated. He is even without a passport. He despises the apparent lack of equality with his wife, being a Polish immigrant in France amongst other things.
Karol meets a fellow Pole, Mikołaj (Janusz Gajos), in an almost empty Paris train station. The man offers him a peculiar job: to kill a man who doesn’t want to keep on living, but who can’t kill himself because of the effect it might have on his wife and kids. Karol leads the man up the station stairs to glimpse at Dominique’s apartment. They see her silhouette, and one of a man. Karol calls her shortly after and she picks up—he listens. This is the last real sight of Dominique until the final movement of the film. Karol agrees to Mikołaj’s request and is smuggled back home to Poland in his luggage—via an unexpected detour. It is in his homeland that he begins to rebuild his reputation through a number of questionable business schemes. He fights for his own self-created and self-distorted form of equality. The right to be equally ruthless.
There are brief moments of ecstasy in the film. The scene in which Karol and Mikołaj gallop across the snow is bizarrely divine, but the feeling quickly subsides as the more revengeful matters ensue. Karol is determined to seize control over his own immediate existence but, in doing so, he only remakes himself according to the ideal he thinks Dominique is seeking. He removes the parts of himself that he believes she has rejected in him. He seeks to become the embodiment of Dominique’s desire and then to destroy it in front of her eyes. Karol is a problematic central character, well-acted by Zamachowski, who seethes and hardens until the very last moments.
Three Colours: White is a more enjoyable film to analyse than to watch. There is evidently a lot working beneath the surface, particularly regarding trust and compassion in relationships, and how someone rebuilds and reinvents themselves in the face of a life-altering rejection. This being said, the film’s middle section lacks direction and Dominique’s character is not explored in nearly enough depth, rarely behaving as anything other than a phantom of female deviousness and distance. The conclusion is chilling, but doesn’t quite land due, in large part, to the lack of relational development earlier in the film.