Sunday, March 09, 2014

Penny Thoughts ‘14—Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) ***½

NC-17, 179 min.
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Writers: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix, Julie Maroh (comic book “Le Blue est une couleur chaude”)
Starring: Adéle Exarchopoulis, Léa Seydoux, Salim Kechiouche, Aurélian Recoing, Catherine Salée, Benjamin Siksou, Mona Walravens, Alma Jodorowsky, Jérémie Laheurte, Anne Loiret, Benoît Pilot

In case you don’t recognize it by the title, “Blue is the Warmest Color” is the three-hour long Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winning NC-17 rated film about a lesbian relationship from last year. Of course, that’s not a good way to categorize the film, but it is how many people did. It has been accused of being pornography, but I’ve read little about what it’s really about. It’s really a one-sided telling of that relationship from the point of view of the younger woman who is desperately trying to discover herself in a world that discourages it, even in the confines of a “non-traditional” relationship.

The movie tenderly observes young Adéle and the choices she makes in forming and defining her life. Never quite as sure of who she is as others think she should be, Adéle tries a heterosexual relationship with a boy that her group of school friends alternately tease her about and encourage her to pursue. Despite the fact that he’s very into her, something is missing for her. She experiments with the notion of a lesbian relationship when another female student shows interest in her, but she’s more willing to jump in than the other student.

It isn’t until she meets Emma in a lesbian bar she wanders into one night that she realizes the possibilities of passion, infatuation, lust, and even love that is available to her. Emma may very well be the love of Adéle’s life, but she comes from a world of artists and café philosophers who alienate Adéle. Despite the fact that Adéle purely loves Emma, she begins to question her choices once again and makes a mistake that will cost her dearly.

The film’s original title was “The Life of Adéle, Chapters 1 & 2”, which brings to mind the films of the great French New Wave director François Truffaut and his autobiographical character Antoine Doinel, who appeared in several films including Truffaut’s feature debut “The 400 Blows”. I’m guessing any autobiographical nature to this story is reflective of the original comic book’s author rather than the director of the movie, but surely it’s there. Adéle certainly seems as if she could be a character as important to cinema as Doinel should we get more chapters of her life in the future.

Much has been made of the film’s sex scenes. There are four very graphic sex scenes and one masturbation scene, but they hardly dominate the three-hour running time. What seems most dominant in this story is Adéle’s face. In a brave performance by Adéle Exarchopoulis, there is hardly a moment when the camera is not focused on her face. Even in sleep the camera is adamant about observing her face. This film is about as intimate a portrait of one person as any film has ever given. Adéle wears her confusion on her sleeve as she does all her other emotions. The investment level for the audience is automatic and the running time is inconsequential. We want to know what happens to Adéle, both when she’s making bad decisions and good ones.

It isn’t a perfect movie. There are some elements that are introduced without any follow through. When Adéle meets Emma, Emma is already involved. That girl just disappears once the their affair begins. Emma’s parents are open to the idea of their relationship, while they lie to Adéle’s parents about it. That lie is never dealt with. I think these omissions are more by design than by accident. It seems important to the filmmakers that Adéle’s struggles with her identity be purely internal. In that, the film is expertly executed; and I welcome the future chapters in Adéle’s development.

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