Friday, November 1, 2013

MOVIE REVIEW Blue Is The Warmest Color (La vie d'Adèle)
Waves Of Joy, Oceans Of Heartbreak

Adèle Exarchopoulos as Adèle and Léa Seydoux as Emma in Abdellatif Kechiche's romantic drama epic "Blue Is The Warmest Color" (La vie d'Adèle).  IFC Films/Sundance Selects


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, November 1, 2013

It is very difficult to breathe during the three-hour epic "Blue Is The Warmest Color" (La vie d'Adèle), and that's because we are perpetually in the headspace of Abdellatif Kechiche and not necessarily the characters in his film, based on Julie Maroh's graphic novel Le Bleu est une couleur chaude.  The camera invests in extreme close-ups.  A lot of them.  We feel like voyeurs, not viewers.  The film is the story of Adèle, a high school teen who studies the book La vie d'Marianne and after a series of encounters has a torrid relationship with Emma (Léa Seydoux), an older lesbian art student. 

Adèle, played wonderfully by Adèle Exarchopoulos in her debut lead role, experiences a roller coaster of emotions.  A junior, her heart is set nowhere in particular.  Adèle loves literature, and all music except hard metal.  "He's totally checking you out," one of Adèle's friends says of a male senior who keeps stealing glances.  Soon they date, but Adèle's eye catches Emma, and a raw attraction explodes.  Emotions percolate in numerous characters, but for nearly an hour before Adèle and Emma first meet we are treated to previews of their sexual entanglements, with Adèle masturbating and daydreaming about Emma, who has short blue hair.  Emma will be Adèle's first true love, and lesson in heartbreak.

Throughout "Blue Is The Warmest Color", we see close ups of mouths eating, mouths open with food in them.  The more I looked at these mouths, the more I felt I was looking at vaginas.  This isn't because I'm a pervert.  It's because the psychological underpinnings and intellectual grounding of the characters hasn't been sufficiently established.  Adèle is smart, intellectualizes and talks a lot about philosophy and feelings, and the film exudes the latter, sometimes in powerful and passionate ways.  Yet the story itself, written by the director and Ghalia Lacroix, doesn't sufficiently give Adèle a solid grounding.  She looks like an abstraction, a symbolic pawn in a chess game of erotica, but it isn't her's or Emma's game, it's Mr. Kechiche's.

Emma, focused on getting her art work installed, is seasoned, a sage who is attracted to Adèle.  "What are you doing by yourself in a dyke bar?", she asks Adèle in the bar where they first meet.  Soon they will have breathless sex, and on at least three occasions, including one session that lasts four minutes onscreen.  Despite the explicit activity in "Blue Is The Warmest Color", which won the Palm D'Or at Cannes in May, the scenes themselves are tame, tasteful and as frenzied and intense as the film's other close-ups. 

The sex, in context, though, is more natural than it is graphic, even with views of female genitalia.  The film and its content does not merit its NC-17 rating.  A 12-year-old could see this film without issue.  After all, there's R-rated type graphic violence in PG-13 movies an under-ager could sneak in to see.

My issue with "Blue Is The Warmest Color" is that there isn't a deeper engagement in or a sincere exploration of female sexuality on anything other than a carnal level.  Sex involves the brain more than it does anything else, and for all the verbalizing Adèle does in her emotional journey and that of her literary doppelganger the film is wanting in a similar treatment of women's sexuality.  (The current film "Concussion", directed by Stacie Passon, does a far better job balancing sexuality through physical and cerebral lenses in its lead female character who also has sex with women.) 

Men are visual creatures, women more literal and verbal ones, and cinema, particularly here in Mr. Kechiche's hands, takes full and obvious advantage of the former.  It makes for a reinforcement of women as physical showpieces rather than dimensional beings.  

The sex scenes are the summer of Emma and Adèle's love, and the fall means an emotional fall for Adèle, who would obviously say that blue is the color of her true love's hair.  In the third hour it becomes even more clear however, that men, not women, are the focus of the director's film.  One man, Joachim (Stéphane Mercoyrol), spends time being curious, wondering about the ecstasy of sex between women.  "It just seems that the orgasm for a women lasts longer and feels better than a man's.  And I'll never know what that feels like because I'm a man," he says almost despairingly.  It's here that the director's cards are bared for all to see, for we realize that "Blue Is The Warmest Color", a well-intentioned, at times enrapturing film, has been Mr. Kechiche's own private peep show all along.

Also with: Salim Kechiouche, Alma Jodorowsky, Benjamin Siksou, Aurélien Recoing, Catherine Salée, Mona Walravens, Jérémie Laheurte, Sandor Funtek, Anne Loiret, Benoît Pilot, Fanny Maurin.

"Blue Is The Warmest Color" is rated NC-17 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for explicit sexual content, but it shouldn't be.  Context is key.  The film is in the French language with English subtitles.  The film's running time is three hours.

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