Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Review: Blue Is the Warmest Color

A movie about love is always, in the end, about nothing and everything all at the same time. That apex emotion is as intangible as it is desired. You know it when you see it. Yet whether it lasts five minutes or forever, it leaves its indelible stain on your body.

So much has been written and said about “Blue Is the Warmest Color.”

Extraordinary. Exploitive. Passionate. Pretentious.

And much like the multi-faceted love, the movie is a bit of all these things. To break it down to its most base parts, this is a three-hour French film shot without a soundtrack or score that traces 10 years in the relationship between Adèle and Emma.

If that sounds like a journey you’re willing to commit to then come a little closer and let me pour you a cup of strong black coffee. If not, well, no harm no foul and please give a warm smile to the hostess as you leave.

The first thing you’ll need to know is this movie is French, so French. Nothing much happens in the framework of the narrative. No car crashes, no big explosions, no ninja attacks, no meet cutes, no unexpected twists, no artificial obstacles, no tidy endings. Nothing, that is, except for love. (Also lust, but we’ll get to that.)

The second thing you’ll need to know is regardless of the ongoing and equal parts troubling and tiresome “feud” between the actresses and the director and the graphic novel’s author, the movie ultimately lives or dies by its own merits. And in this case it lives – and breathes and cries and eats and fucks and smokes. A lot of all of those things, a lot.

The question of whether or not this is a good movie isn’t really the right question. That one is pretty easy – yes, this is a good movie. The question is whether you’ll enjoy this movie is much harder to answer.

I enjoyed this movie, but was not blown away by it in the rapturous terms that many mainstream critics have been. Perhaps the reason I don’t feel the “Oooh la la, isn’t this exceptional”-way that many (presumably straight) reviewers have is because it felt so much like real life. I don’t need to sit through a three-hour film about two women falling in love and experiencing heartbreak to tell me that a story about two women falling in love and experiencing heartbreak can be universal. Been there, you know.

There are exceptional qualities to this film including but not limited to the fact that these are 180-minutes exclusively about the emotional lives of two young women. Even more exceptional still are the performances by lead actresses Adèle Exarchopoulous (oft open-mouthed Adèle) and Léa Seydoux (initially blue-haired Emma) who are so natural and so vulnerable you lose all sense that a camera is following them. You’re just there, with them. Watching it all happen.

And when I say watching it all happen, I mean watching it ALL happen. The turn the camera on and see what happens cinéma vérité of it is inescapable. We get scene after scene of characters sitting down unremarkably for plate after plate of pasta, just as we get scenes of fully lit, uninhibited sex – the longest of which last about 6 minutes (just under 7 if you count the naked intertwined post-coital cool down). I counted for science – I am a professional, I’ll have you know.

Yes, all the eating (of food, mostly) is a metaphor for Adèle’s hunger. It’s her big brown eyes we watch most of this film through. As she goes from teenager to young woman, we see her search, find and lose that thing that finally satiates her appetite.

And speaking of appetite, how about those sex scenes? The initial one, the one getting the most press, is as far away from the standard American sex scene as you can get. This is no chaste clinch which fades to black only to reveal crumpled morning sheets, nor is it softcore sensationalism resembling horizontal calisthenics set to smooth jazz music.

I wasn’t bothered by the explicit sex, though some of it wasn’t necessarily typical of what I do in the bedroom area. (Seriously, what is everyone except actual lesbians’ obsession with scissoring?) And, yes, after a while I did think that perhaps we were watching the director’s sexual obsession instead of Adèle and Emma’s. Make no mistake, he’s a butt man.

Aside from the sex, another way this is atypical of your average movie was its presentation of the passage of time. This movie does not hold our hands when it comes to space and time. The central relationship runs from when Adele is in high school to her early 20s, but I only really know that because of the press notes and their slightly changing hairstyles. Like, at first Emma looks like a blue-haired punk and then later she looks like young Jon Bon Jovi.

In the end, I think “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is really about the mundanity of both love and heartbreak. Nothing happens, everything happens. We live and we breathe and we fuck and we eat spaghetti. C’est la vie, you know?

15 comments:

Carmen SanDiego said...

Great review, convinced me to see the movie. I was going to but all the controversy had made me lose interest

lorinb79 said...

I enjoyed it a bit less than you, Dorothy.(One more shot of Adèle crying, I may have left the theatre.) But everything else here is spot on. I mean, scissoring? Enough already. When I watched there were a lot of older straight couples and men, which meant frequent low rumbles of uncomfortable male laughter.

Alicia said...

"We live and we breathe and we fuck and we eat spaghetti." that should have been The L Word theme song.

Tristen said...

You counted ... For science. TOO FUNNY !!!!!

azinthesun said...

I saw the movie yesterday. I thought it was a coming of age-love found-love lost type of movie and the great anguish suffered when your first true love is lost. The sex was not pretty and super smooth like American movies but it seemed real, like regular people in the throes of passion and love not the manicured sex in American movies. It didn't feel like 3 hours had passed. In fact, I wanted more story.

Anonymous said...

Best review of this movie I've read so far. And I've read a lot these past two weeks. Thanks for that, you never let us down :3

Anonymous said...

thank you for your review, snarker, i've been looking forward to it. now all i have to do is wait until i can watch the film. then i'll agree or disagree with you. :)
(@oblitenation)

Sara said...

Typical Dorothy lack of standards and taste. I mean, you think The Kids Are Alright was a good movie, so no one should be shocked that you have no problem with a male director abusing actresses and putting his pornish fantasies all over the screen and calling it art.

Anonymous said...

I agree with lorinb79, I almost left the movie due to the extreme close ups of Adele crying with an extreme amount of snot (really really close up)and all that open mouth chewing of food made me have to turn away from the screen and the fact that Adele NEVER closed her mouth the entire movie which would have been fine had the camera not been 2 inches from her face. After suffering through the first 20 mins of all this, the sex scenes were nothing because my stomach was already churning.

Anonymous said...

Sara, dear, you seriously need to get your nose out of your ass and chill.

Good job, Dorothy.

PS: The Kids Are Alright is actually a good movie.

egghead said...

"The first thing you’ll need to know is this movie is French, so French."

Are they fatalists? I've never figured the frenchies out through vis-a-vis) their cinema. You would think with all their bourgeois clamoring about sex they would know a thing or two 'bout lesbionic sex. Haven't seen it yet, & now wondering if I ever will with these revelations about asses and spaghetti, open mouthes and such other unlikely combinations. Please!!!

spitfire said...

yes yes word, words and wait did you say you have loved and experienced heartbreak DS?

put more words to that please. tell us; we need to know.


thanks

chimolera said...

Thanks for this review. I am not even sure I can say "scissoring" without thinking of my gay brother, he a teen, me about 8 or so, playing with my sister's Barbies and putting them in that position and cackling, doubled over. So far from erotic, I am not sure there is a word for it.

Paula said...

I am a lesbian and seeing this film has given me a deep disgust and rejection of seeing a morbid bastard sadly reduces us to the same old thing: mere objects of male curiosity and porn. Here there is no depth, no brilliant script, no plot, no transcendent issue... nothing more than 15 minutes of ridiculous wild sex for men with the intention of selling the movie disguised as the biggest love history story ever told, but it's only pornography. If two men have been the protagonists (or a man and a woman), the director would never have recreated in a sex scene between them like this and the movie would not have been so brightfull for critics. This movie offers nothing more than the curiosity of female homosexuality and especially the explicit images to prove it. If the couple had been heterosexual and if realistic sex had been treated in a more subtle manner, this movie never had been so praised. But of course, heterosexual critics liked it a lot and for that reason this film won Cannes. It sucks. What a shame.

Anonymous said...

I am a lesbian and seeing this film has given me a deep disgust and rejection of seeing a morbid bastard sadly reduces us to the same old thing: mere objects of male curiosity and porn. Here there is no depth, no brilliant script, no plot, no transcendent issue... nothing more than 15 minutes of ridiculous wild sex for men with the intention of selling the movie disguised as the biggest love history story ever told, but it's only pornography. If two men have been the protagonists (or a man and a woman), the director would never have recreated in a sex scene between them like this and the movie would not have been so brightfull for critics. This movie offers nothing more than the curiosity of female homosexuality and especially the explicit images to prove it. If the couple had been heterosexual and if realistic sex had been treated in a more subtle manner, this movie never had been so praised. But of course, heterosexual critics liked it a lot and for that reason this film won Cannes. It sucks. What a shame.