When Polish hairdresser Karol (Zbigniew Zamachowski) is left divorced and penniless by his unfeeling French wife Dominique (Julie Delpy), with the help of a fellow Pole he makes his way back to Poland and gradually builds a highly profitable business. But Dominique is forever on his mind, in spite of the harm that she caused him, and Karol comes up with a bold plan to get her back into his life.
Whilst not quite as involving as Blue, the previous film in Kieślowski’s beloved trilogy, the story of White is still very engaging and still has the power to enchant and fascinate in this day and age. First of all, it seems to be about suffering as the mild-mannered Karol is set up to be a Job-type figure, a perfectly nice everyman who has several bad things happen to him; the film gets off to a solid start as we can easily support our central protagonist who’s going through hell, watching him with interest as he moves forward on his journey. Then it moves into a “rags to riches” type of story as Karol comes up with a plan and he uses his sharp wits to successfully extort a great deal of money from his employers, getting him started on building a profitable business – it’s here where the interest dips slightly as this part of the story gets a little dry and the middle section isn’t quite as involving as the beginning and the end. Finally, Karol works to get Dominique back into his life with an initially befuddling scheme but once his endgame is made clear, this proves to be a highly rewarding and excellent direction for the story to take and it’s wickedly delightful to watch her get her comeuppance and then some. Overall, White may drag in a couple of places but overall, the story is refreshingly original, powerful and very satisfying for the audience, as well as being slightly more light hearted in tone than Blue.
As well as there being a couple of good minor characters in the film, White is upheld remarkably well by its two leading performances of Zbigniew Zamachowski and Julie Delpy. As the central protagonist, Zamachowski is an unshowy but incredibly effective lead; at the start he appears to be a perfectly likeable soul who falls on hard times, a lot of the time playing the part of the sad clown, and he grows in confidence during the film, developing a noticeable and ruthless killer instinct, but all the time showing plenty of heart, humanity and unquenchable longing for his lost love.
And as his manipulative ex-wife Dominique, Julie Delpy is really quite something; she’s that kind of femme fatale character that you just love to hate – incredibly beautiful and seductive but also emasculating and cold, taking a certain amount of pleasure in keeping Karol on her hook and feeling no shame in humiliating him when it’s revealed that he couldn’t consummate the marriage – the only reason for their divorce. Delpy shines in this intriguing role as she’s intriguingly alluring and ice cold, yet the story allows her certain moments when she shows plenty of tenderness and perhaps even sympathy.
And Juliette Binoche makes almost cameo appearance, confirming that both Blue and White take place at the same time.
Style-wise, White is shot quite beautifully and just like Blue, it uses the central colour in many instances – in white walls, sculptures, glue and ice and snow but most prominently in recuring flashback scenes of Karol and Dominique’s wedding, a happier time that is shot with an unmissable white filter. The music is also top notch and most of it is violin-heavy, suiting the film’s Polish location perfectly.