Sunday, December 8, 2013

Blue movie

Still in high school when our story begins, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is about as close to a blank slate as an adolescent can be. The daughter of working class parents, she likes books, but doesn’t like too much analysis to get in the way of her reading. She clearly loves to eat, but as yet has no notion of good food. A girl not yet fully aware of her allure, her hair is always spilling in her face, her outfits are utilitarian, her lips most often in an unwitting pucker. She accepts the amorous attention of a boy, seemingly because it’s just what girls are supposed to do. Or are they? That question hangs in the air from the moment Adèle first catches a passing glimpse of Emma (Léa Seydoux) in the streets of the industrial city in northern France where she lives. Those sleepy, sexy eyes, the way she seems so cozy with her female companion, the blue wash in her hair that echo certain hues in the canvases of Picasso’s blue period: Emma is the first person Adèle has ever felt such an intense response to, though Adèle may hardly be able to process what that response is. Desire? Fascination? Envy? A longing for a mentor? Emma is several years Adèle’s senior, a student and painter, a lesbian with no inhibition or uncertainty about her sexual preference or lifestyle. She will come to change Adèle’s life, become her live-in partner, introduce her to a milieu of sophisticates—and pretentious dilettantes. In the film’s most discussed sequence, she will plunge her into languid, elongated, exploratory sex. It is a sequence to get lost in, just as they get lost, wrapped in each other, a glorious wandering all over each other that director Abdellatif Kechiche shares with us in protracted yet carefully composed, evenly lit doses, long enough to reflect something of a lover’s trance. 

But Blue is the Warmest Colour isn’t about sex. Based on Julie Maroh’s graphic novel Le bleu est une couleur chaude, Kechiche’s film, winner of this year’s Palme d’Or, is certainly graphic, but it is at heart a familiar coming of age story, as indebted to Pierre de Marivaux’s unfinished 18th century novel La Vie de Marianne—which Adèle is reading when the film begins—as it is to Maroh’s text. Indeed, the film’s French title is La vie d’Adèle, Chapitres 1 et 2, and its loose sense of time, of events rendered without urgency—the film is 179 minutes long, while the story spans years—is more akin to the rhythms of a novel, a form which cinema has often felt compelled to distance itself from yet from which it still has much to learn. There are scenes that by established cinematic standards would seem to be extraneous, yet one can argue that certain movies are more rewarding when they give story room to breathe. 

Not everything in Blue is the Warmest Colour coheres. There is a statement about class that isn’t fully realized, and some of the supporting characters lack dimension. I would concede that the sex is photographed in a somewhat voyeuristic nature—although accusing movies of voyeurism can be a little like accusing a desert of flatness. But the film’s insistence on finding its own pace, Kechiche’s attention to wordless exchanges, emotional tempests and youth’s reckless trajectory are all laudable and absorbing. The film is also a showcase for Exarchopoulos and Seydoux, who you might recognize from Midnight in Paris and Inglorious Bastards. I’ve heard that Kechiche put his actresses through the ringer, especially while filming the raw, explicit sex scenes. I can’t speak to the validity of his methods, but there’s no denying that Exarchopoulos in particular, jejune in the best sense, doubtlessly talented yet seemingly artless, is extraordinary. 

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