Nov 15, 2013
Blue Is The Warmest Color
It is fitting that for the first time in history, the Palme D'Or at Cannes this year was awarded to director Abdellatif Kechiche in conjunction with the two actresses of this film, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux. In fact, I think the women deserve the award more than him. He gets a prize for casting them in the first place, for unleashing the miracle that is Exarchopoulos into the world, and certainly for eliciting incredible performances from both. He is hobbled, however, by a blunt, inelegant touch, and lack of discipline. With a three hour running time, I was not bored until the last half hour. Somehow, even with repetitive scenes, and an unsubtle overuse of handheld close ups, the coming of age story of Adele (Exarchopoulos) and her amour fou for Emma (Seydoux) rivets our attention. It is a story of young love, confusion and loss, and if it is moving, it is because the actresses, in their transparent emotional nakedness, make it so.
The physical nakedness, alas, is not as effective as Kechiche hoped for. The now notorious, literal and lengthy lesbian sex scenes have a dulling effect on the intimacy he aims to achieve. They feel heavy, staged, and awkward. Kechiche uses a cinema verité camera approach at all times in order to get as close to the characters' emotions as possible, but when it comes to their time in bed, the filming resembles the pedestrian hack work of porn. He clearly wants to achieve results and instead of letting the actresses explore the lovemaking naturally, which would have been much sexier, he is compelled to orchestrate and choreograph, using clumsy editing. What little imagination he has fails him, and he is unable to offer anything new, creative or even mildly interesting in the quest for rendering effective erotic scenes in film (a rarity). These scenes feel as if a plutonium bomb was dropped in a field of flowers.
Kechiche has never heard of "less is more", and his more is unfortunately, less.
I approached this film with trepidation, since I detested his last film, Black Venus, which I found indulgent, pretentious and exploitative of the main actress.
La Vie D'Adele (the original title in French) is the best he has done so far, but he sabotages his own power by being overpowering. He has no confidence in subtlety.
Exarchopoulos is a charismatic force of nature, and the only living being I could think of that is close to her animal magnificence was Brigitte Bardot at the height of her powers. Exarchopoulos also happens to be a wonderful actress, and you cannot take your eyes off her (nor does the camera). She is strong, vulnerable, transparent, lost, a marvel to behold. She is also the sexiest being to hit the big screen in a long time, so there is no need to capture her in private, either having a wet dream or taking a shower, by moving as if she were a Playboy centerfold. Her disheveled, natural self is all we need. A scene where she dances salsa with a guy is somehow sexier than all the writhing and heavy breathing and acrobatic tableaux that comprise the lengthy, distracting sex scenes with her female lover. A fraction of those borderline ridiculous scenes would have been enough for the audience to understand the pull of the chemistry between the two women. It's a pity, because the movie has moments of great visceral power, like a harrowing schoolyard argument between Adele and her inquisitorial friends, but it squanders them with too many obvious scenes of close ups of people slurping spaghetti. They are meant to signal Adele's big, sensual appetites: we get it. No need to hit us over the head repeatedly with a bowl of pasta. Opportunities to deepen our identification of Adele are lost in Kechiche's quest for getting under his characters' skins. He establishes very adeptly her confusion about her sexuality and her inner conflict with the expectations of her family and friends, and then forgets all about it. We don't need the weepy martyrdom of a gay coming of age, but it would have been revealing to see more of the parents as Adele comes into her own as an adult. Did she ever come out of the closet? How did they react?
Then there are needless scenes where Kechiche goes for the literal. It is not enough for Adele to claim she misses her lover, she needs to put Emma's hand into her mouth in the middle of a café. She needs to guide Emma's hand to her crotch. I didn't buy it. Sadly, all the pain one recognizes in Adele's devastating loss of love is blunted and diminished by Kechiche's inability to restrain himself.