If you can picture Charlie Chaplin crossed with Franz Kafka, you may have some idea of what "White" is all about . . . but probably not.
The second in Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Three Colors" trilogy, "White" is a delightfully wry dark comedy about a hap-less Polish hairdresser named Karol Karol (played superbly by Polish star Zbigniew Zamachowski) whose already upside-down life is twisted further by his gorgeous, enigmatic French wife Dominique (Julie Delpy) when she divorces him.
This is not just a divorce, however. This is an exercise in humiliation. And not just by Dominique — but by life in general.
Sitting in a Paris courtroom, Karol squirms, straining to comprehend the French language, as he realizes he must confess aloud before everyone present that he has been unable to consummate his marriage.
The next morning, in his salon, Dominque shows up and Karol tries one last time to remedy their hopeless situation. When he fails, Dominique promptly sets fire to the shop and tells the police Karol is responsible.
Pursued by the law and in utter despair, Karol is reduced to begging. In the Metro, he makes a new friend and gets him to agree to help him get back to Poland. How? As luggage. Karol climbs into a trunk and is taken aboard a plane. Of course, upon his arrival in Warsaw, the trunk is stolen by sadistic thieves who beat him up and steal his clothes.
Karol doesn't care. He's home at last.
So, he seeks out his brother, who helps him begin life anew, and at first it seems as if he's simply going to start over and forget his former wife. But as the film progresses, it becomes clear that he is plotting an elaborate and complex revenge against Dominque.
If you saw the first of this trilogy, Kieslowski's "Blue" (which is scheduled for video release next week), you can tell from this description that the two films are as different in tone as night and day. (Although you can spot "Blue" star Juliette Binoche in a very brief cameo during the opening courtroom scene of "White.")
Where "Blue" was a morose observation of tragedy and grief, "White" is very much a comedy, albeit a dark one. How these films fit together will supposedly be revealed in the final entry, "Red," scheduled to open in theaters this fall.
But "White" can be taken on its own terms, of course, and as such it is a sharp-eyed satire, agreeably realized and with a marvelous central performance by Zamachowski.
"White" is rated R for some violence, sex and profanity.