One Shot is a series that seeks to find an essence of cinema history in one single image of a movie.
Your lungs contract and you realize that you’ve been holding your breath. This is what watching Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Blue (1993) feels like. You’re reminded that cinema is a bodily experience, not only that it engages the senses but that it is affective, drawing you to your limbs and organs, shaping how you exist in the world. There’s a shot of Julie (played by the luminous Juliette Binoche) making a fist and dragging her knuckles against a brick wall. The camera tracks a close-up of the fist, scraping stone and ivy, as Julie resolutely walks away from her past life, holding a box that contains only one memento, a blue-crystal hanging lamp. It’s a transition shot: Julie has just left everything and everyone she knows behind after the tragic death of her husband and daughter in a car accident, an accident that she survives. She is heading to a new apartment, and a different life. In the previous scene, after making love to her husband’s long-time collaborator, she reminds him that she’s just a woman who sweats, coughs, and has cavities—not a romantic ideal to be loved, but a vulnerable human body. “You won’t miss me,” she declares. Julie is grieving, and the core of grief—as of cinema—is felt, first and foremost, in the woundable body. But forcing skin against stone, like Julie’s earlier attempted suicide, rejection of material possessions, and emotional isolation, is not to be mistaken for pathology. Julie’s actions are not self-negation, erasure, or disassociation, as some reviewers have described. Instead, they are her fraught struggles to stay in this world that has ceased to make sense or add up. This shot, and the film, depicts the difficulty of not dying, of learning to live and inhabit a body, again, in the wake of devastating loss. To know death doesn’t make life more precious or meaningful. To know death makes life stranger and more jagged—this is a simple truth of mourning—and Julie must rediscover herself in her own way. If, in the end, Julie comes to the realization that she needs others, that belongings, memories, friends, and love are not just traps but things that help her to hold on, then her realization is not progress from a seemingly pathological condition but its consequence. Everything she’s done has allowed her to get where she is—to feel and be inside her body once more. The “liberty” that blue signifies in Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy is an attachment to weighted living. When Julie pulls her fist away from the wall and up toward her mouth, the skin broken and bleeding, she is most alive, and so are you because your heart is pounding, blood coursing through veins that reflect blue in light.