Under the Sign of Sadness: Zbigniew Preisner’s Three Colors Scores
Music looms as a spectral presence over Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Blue, White, and Red, collectively known as the Three Colors trilogy. Like the triad of colored lights that bounce on the beautiful, sad faces in the films, Zbigniew Preisner’s multi-hued scores reflect on the images and refract from the inside out. Stern, lonely, and at times almost unbearably passionate, they often penetrate the ears and hearts of the characters. When the grieving heroine of Blue is suddenly overwhelmed by notes from a stoic oratorio, those notes are Preisner’s; when the lost protagonist of Red finds solace in an aria she plays at a record store, the music flowing through her headphones is his. Kieślowski may have written the stories—with the help of screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz and screenplay consultants Agnieszka Holland, Edward Zebrowski, Slawomir Idziak, Edward Kłosiński, and Piotr Sobociński—but Preisner deserves credit for cocreating the trilogy’s mood of existential despair.
“Krzysztof always said that people were born in the positive moon or the sadness moon, and he thought I was born in the sadness moon,” Preisner told me in conversation. “Me too. It was easy communication between us.” Actor Juliette Binoche observed this dynamic between the two men while working with them on Blue. “Krzysztof and Zbigniew really found each other, as they were deeply complementary in their need of emotional expression and spiritual interrogations,” she told me. “It’s probably why I felt close to them.”
There is something spiritual, even liturgical about Preisner’s scores, though God is never mentioned by name in the trilogy. “All my films have a metaphysical or spiritual dimension,” the director said in an interview given fourteen months before he died of a heart attack in 1996 at the age of fifty-four. “But really, it’s not so special: every person’s life comprises those things, to some degree.” The magic of Kieślowski’s cinema lies in the way he suffuses that “not so special”—the quotidian fragments of an ordinary life—with deep poetry, like a white sugar cube slowly dissolving in a cup of coffee. These films frequently hold on close-ups of mundane details, and Preisner works to highlight the sacred meaning of these images.