Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Blue is the Warmest Color: the Palme D’Or Winner Revealed

If nothing else, this graphic novel adaptation shows how far the comic medium has matured. As most festival followers already know, this French coming of age story is strictly for adults.  There will be no cut-aways to drapes billowing in the wind during Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York at the IFC Center.

Fifteen year-old Adèle dreams of romantic fulfillment, but cannot find it with her high school classmates.  The big man on campus just does not do it for her.  A lesbian fling is more promising, but the lack of emotional reciprocity turns somemwhat embarrassing for her.  Nursing feelings of alienation, she resolves to find the punky blue-haired college art student who turned her head.  At first, Emma approaches her with caution, but they soon embark on a torrid sexual relationship that the audience witnesses in vivid detail.

Presumably there is an element of mutual support to their time spent together, but Kechiche focuses on the sex and the betrayal.  At one point we are told Adèle means “justice” in Arabic as if that held earth-shaking significance, but it would be just as relevant to learn it meant “do the locomotion” in Inuit.  This is essentially an apolitical film, because the only opposition to their relationship comes from their own efforts to sabotage it.

Blue has its biting moments, especially when it asks whether infidelity is more or less hurtful when committed with a straight man.  Likewise, it offers a provocative portrait of the borderline exploitive artist, with a constant need for newer and more stimulating lovers.  Yet, Kechiche’s editorial choices guarantee the film will be defined by its sexual content.

Reportedly, Kechiche refused to choreograph to sex scenes, but everyone seems to know what they are doing and where to put the camera to get the best angle on it.  If everyone is improvising then they are doing it on a jazz musician’s level.  There is an awful lot of it, regardless.  That is not prudery speaking.  It is only natural to look for someplace to cut a three hour movie.  Any film clocking it at one hundred seventy nine minutes should burn Atlanta and storm the Czar’s Winter Palace.  Yet, Blue simply follows the rise and fall of relationship, with a third act denouement dedicated to regrets.

Blue’s two co-leads are certainly bold, exposing everything for Kechiche’s camera.  Léa Seydoux is hugely charismatic and seductive as Emma, even when sporting a ridiculous blue hair color that would be more appropriate to a Florida retirement home.  However, Adèle Exarchopoulos is so young and immature looking as her namesake, it adds an additional level of creepiness to the film.

Many were disappointed Blue did not meet the qualifications to be submitted as France’s foreign language Oscar contender, but they probably had not seen it yet. Instead of a film to ride the crest of the gay marriage court victories, Blue presents an under-aged girl left emotionally damaged with an affair with an older woman—not exactly an empowering statement.

To recap: three hours.  There are some honest moments in Blue, but for better or worse, the sex trumps everything.  Ultimately, it becomes rather repetitive once the eye-popping shock wears off.  Frankly, Blue is a perfect example of the on-screen substance not warranting the off-screen controversy.  Overlong and self-indulgent, Blue is the Warmest Color is only really recommended for the ogglers when it opens this Friday (10/25) in New York at the IFC Center.