' ' Cinema Romantico: Blue Is The Warmest Color

Monday, November 18, 2013

Blue Is The Warmest Color

I cannot recall a movie camera ever having as intimate a relationship with a main character as the camera for “Blue Is The Warmest Color”, the Cannes sensation and subsequent controversy-generating machine, has with Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos). A vast majority of the film is framed in close-ups, of all the characters, yes, but mostly of Adele, our teenage heroine who ages several years as the movie charts her course and whose ever-evolving personality is worthy of so many differing adjectives I will refrain from spouting them for fear this entire review might merely become a list. The work of Exarchopoulos is a genuine revelation, an exhaustive account of the fragility and beauty of the human condition.

The camera is relentlessly in her face, yet she never acts aware of it or bothered by it, perhaps distracted by a severe bout of Adolescent Confusion. Her hair, which she is forever re-arranging, almost seems to mirror this plight, up and down and askew. And the camera, to be sure, ogles that hair, just like it ogles her puffy cheeks and billowy lips, even going so far as to revel in the culinary – Adele slopping spaghetti off a fork and slovenly shoving a gyro into her mouth. It's all refreshingly unflattering, a raw young woman uninterested in traditional glamour, and more power to her.

Or it could just be overtly symbolizing sexual appetite. Sexuality is at the forefront of Adele's odyssey. The film opens with a classroom conversation revolving around notions of destiny and love at first sight. If that sounds like cheesy rom com fodder, it is important to address the manner in which director Abdellatif Kechiche presents it – kids paying attention and tuning out, answering honestly and cracking jokes. It feels authentic, cut straight out of any classroom in any country anywhere in the world, kids taking it seriously and not taking it seriously at all, because they don’t know what to think. Adele doesn’t know what to think, particularly about the boy in her class all her friends view as the cat’s pajamas.

Adele and he go out. They kiss. They sleep together. It’s all okay, but we sense that Adele senses a spark she assumes is supposed to exist is missing. She doesn’t feel, anyway, what she felt in that one momentary encounter with the blue-haired mystery girl. It seems abnormal to her, perhaps only because it’s “supposed” to, and so she acquiesces to her teenage hormones, dumps the dude and goes exploring.

The first meeting between Adele and The Blue Dahlia, Emma (Lea Seydoux), is a pitch-perfect, exemplary-acted sequence in which Adele finds herself out of place at a gay club and Emma swooping to a version of “the rescue.” Throughout Exarchopoulos employs facial expressions - stealing glances and unsure smiles - and body language to illustrate a person undergoing a wholly new experience she both can’t quite understand and can’t quite get enough of. And Seydoux, reveling in her young charge’s fawning affection, plays the response to the hilt, providing indoctrination as she subtly slides closer and closer, suggesting what she really wants. You know what she really wants.

And so we come to the sex scenes, the source of so much controversy, especially here in America where if sex scenes are not softly lit and body parts are not concealed by bed sheets, we have media freak-outs and the MPAA threatens NC-17 ratings like a frazzled homeroom teacher threatening detentions. Real life lesbians are apparently calling out these sex scenes as being unrealistic, and I don’t doubt it. Then again, as a scotch enthusiast, when someone in a film references “good scotch” and then pulls out a bottle of Glenlivet I don’t start shouting “Hey! That’s not good scotch!” Rather, I might be inclined to observe what the scotch's presence in the scene represents.

The sex scenes are crucial, first, simply because they are shown, as opposed to the film fading to black after hugs and kisses and then fading back in the morning after. A 180 minute film chronicling the rise and fall of a whole relationship should not skimp, and it does not. But the scenes and their length and their explicitness are crucial, second, because it is meant to demonstrate Adele’s experimentation. Is this what she likes? Or is Emma what she likes? Or are they one in the same?

These matters of sex and orientation, however, become more blurred for Adele as the film progresses and she moves in with Emma and takes a job as a teaching assistant. Quietly, a social chasm opens up between the two. Emma is as an artistic free spirit with academically inclined friends, a fact which leaves Adele intimidated and overwhelmed, and occasionally confounded. When a hoity-toity male guest of an Emma-thrown party pontificates about the quality of the female orgasm compared to the male orgasm, it seems less the film lumbering to make a point than Adele confounded by such frank discussion in the presence of strangers.

The film's set up and much of its story suggests a journey of self-discovery, yet the further into the film Adele wades, the less certain of herself she is. In that way, those contentious scenes, accused by some of being too perfect, make that much more sense. Under the covers with Emma it all makes sense. Out in the real world, not so much.

She hedges on her relationship with Emma, dabbling with guys, but not with any point or purpose. She is focused on having a solid job that provides an income, but she doesn't come across that happy in this job. The final shot, appropriately, is about as far away from her as we ever get. She is no longer in close up. Her back is to us. She is walking away. We are losing sight of her.

I fear she is losing sight of herself.

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