Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Movie Review: Blue is the Warmest Color

Blue is the Warmest Color
Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche.
Written by: Abdellatif Kechiche & Ghalia Lacroix based on the graphic novel by Julie Maroh.
Starring: Adèle Exarchopoulos (Adèle), Léa Seydoux (Emma), Salim Kechiouche (Samir), Aurélien Recoing (Le père d'Adèle), Catherine Salée (La mère d'Adèle), Benjamin Siksou (Antoine), Mona Walravens (Lise), Alma Jodorowsky (Béatrice), Jérémie Laheurte (Thomas), Anne Loiret (La mère d'Emma), Benoît Pilot (Le beau-père d'Emma), Sandor Funtek (Valentin), Fanny Maurin (Amélie), Maelys Cabezon (Laetitia).
Blue is the Warmest Color has become one of the most talked about films of the year for three reasons – first, because it won the Palme D’or, which is arguably the most prestigious prize in film, second because of the nasty feud between director Abdellatif Kechiche and star Lea Seydoux (and to a lesser extent, Adele Exarchopoulos) – which doesn’t interest me very much, so this will be the last time I mention it – and third because it features graphic, extended lesbian sex scenes. Coming out of Cannes, all I read about were those sex scenes, which is odd, because the movie is three hours long, and I would say less than 30 minutes (probably significantly less, although I didn’t bring a stop watch) is taken up with those scenes. Yes, they are memorable and erotic – and yes, like pretty much all movie sex scenes, I don’t think they are particularly realistic, but I don’t really think they have to be. Most of the movie is a coming of age film – a film about a sexually confused young woman in the process of discovering who she is – emotionally and sexually, a process that the movie makes clear hasn’t ended when the movie does. The movie has some problems – but overall I found it a perceptive, insightful and emotionally charged story, that is brilliantly acted by the two leads.

The movie stars Adele Exarchopoulos as Adele – a junior in high school, who hangs out with the popular crowd of beautiful, but bitchy, teenage girls. Based on their talk, they are all sexually experienced – but Adele remains mainly quiet on the subject, even when they tease her about a boy a year older – Thomas (Jeremie Laheurte) who is clearly making eyes at her. She dates Thomas for a while – even sleeps with him in the movie’s first sex scene – but the spark just isn’t there. It is there when she locks eyes with Emma (Lea Seydoux) – first on the street, and later when she follows her to a lesbian bar. The attraction is immediate and strong – all their interactions are charged with sexual energy, well before the now infamous sex scenes. The movie charts their relationship over a number of years – first love blossoming, and then, inevitably, turning sour, even if that love and attraction is still there.

Exarchopoulos is wonderful in the movie. She plays a young girl who really doesn’t know who she is – she is scattered and messy, like the beautiful mess of hair she cannot seem to do anything with it, except let it cascade over her face. She is a girl of big appetites – Kechiche delights in watching her eat, which she does more often than Brad Pitt does in any of his films. She is a confused girl, who sometimes acts impulsively, and does things that end up hurting others, yet she never loses our empathy – she doesn’t mean to hurt others, but she behaves like a teenage girl, which she is, and that sometimes happens. Seydoux is equally great as the older Emma – unlike Adele, she has no confusion over who she is, or what she wants. She is an artist, and completely comfortable in her own skin – and projects the kind of confidence that Adele admires – although she can be thoughtless as well. There is a reason that for the first time ever the Steven Spielberg led Cannes Jury insisted these two actresses share the Palme D’or with the director – they are two of the very best performances of the year.

The movie itself is not quite as good as they are. At three hours, it is a little too long – especially in the third hour, which is tougher to watch because watching things fall apart is more painful that watching love bloom. Every scene in the movie – including the sex scenes – is overlong, which I think is kind of the point, but also does begin to drag a little as it continues. When Kechiche says there is a longer cut of the movie, I have no trouble believing him – there are plot threads that are left dangling, like what became of all of Adele’s high school friends the movie spends so much time with in the first hour, establishes some of their homophobia, and then abandons, and whether or not Adele ever “comes out” to her family – there are twin scenes, where each girl brings the other to her parents for dinner – Emma’s parents know, and Adele’s clearly do not as the women lie to them, yet Adele clearly lives with Emma later. Do they think they’re just roommates? Perhaps there are cut scenes that illuminate these issues – and perhaps Kechiche was right to cut them, but they stood out to me (and there are a few others).

I guess I have to say something about the sex scenes in the movie – and the charge that they represent the male gaze on behalf of Kechiche. I find it impossible to refute the charge that Kechiche’s camera is clearly in love with Exarchopoulos – her face, seen in close-up a lot, is always loving framed, and there are numerous shots where Kechiche equally lovingly frames her ass (it is, it must be said, a very nice ass). The sex scenes are extended and graphic, watching these two beautiful actresses in the throes of ecstasy. Yes, to a certain extent, the male gaze is on full display in Blue is the Warmest Color. Yet the sex scenes do actually serve a larger purpose in the movie – especially Adele’s disappointing experience to Thomas and that extended, passionate first scene with Emma – that establish better than any dialogue could the difference between Adele’s two lovers, and how she feels about them. Besides, is it inherently wrong to make a movie about sex that is actually erotic and sexy? Do movie sex scenes ever portray what actual sex is really like, or do they all somewhat exaggerate? Kechiche and his camera may feel a degree of lust towards Exarchopoulos, but given the context of the movie, it’s feels appropriate, not exploitive.

Blue is the Warmest Color is not quite the masterpiece its biggest supporters believe it to be – but I also don’t feel it’s as perverted as its detractors think it is. At its heart, it’s a wonderful story of a young woman discovering who she is – and where her place in the world is. Even with the sex scenes and the NC-17 rating in the States, I think the movie is appropriate for teenagers – in fact, I think they’ll get more out of the film than anyone else will. Many of them will undoubtedly see a little of themselves in Adele.

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