Friday, November 22, 2013

Blue Is the Warmest Color - Review

After all of the universal acclaim at this year's Cannes Film Festival, after riding through much discussion about gay cinema and the controversy continuously spreading from the words and actions of its director Abdellatif Kechiche, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR ends up being another standard lesbian melodrama. The plot, loosely adapted by Kechiche from a French graphic novel, is basic as can be yet decompressed to fill up three whole hours, all of which is claustrophobically filmed in medium close-ups. There's no spontaneity to the proceedings, nor a titillating charge to the slow-burn romance or the explicit lovemaking. Frankly, you're better off watching KISSING JESSICA STEIN, which follows the same path of storytelling but with better writing, a better grasp of modernity, and a shorter running time. I don't mean to flog the picture as a ghastly time at the theater because it is quite satisfactory and refreshing. It's just certainly not one of the best films of the year.

Adèle Exarchopoulos plays Adèle, a French teenager whose direction in life is constantly fluctuating, like the wind that blows her long hair into a tizzy in nearly every scene. One day, as she is late for a date with her new boyfriend, she walks past a blue-haired woman (Léa Seydoux) hanging her arm over another woman at a cross-walk. Though their lives are currently tied with others, the two exchange a mesmerizing gaze that haunts their souls. Adèle eventually breaks up with her boy-toy, due to an unstimulating sexual encounter, and eventually meets up with the colorful woman at a lesbian bar. She introduces herself as Emma, a college student studying the fine arts. The two share a quiet friendship at parks and museums, amid all of the high-school gossip and drama for Adèle. They eventually evolve into a committed relationship, experiencing the pains of sharing dreams and lifestyles, as the film jumps further ahead in its second half.

Kechiche does craft some exquisite moments, whether when the love is fresh or slowly numbing itself, but he often chooses to implement scenes and metaphors that would have been laughed off the screen at a Film Schoo1 101 class. For instance, when the couple is older and they move in together, Emma no longer dyes her radiant color. Gee, I wonder what that could mean for their relationship. Another great example is an outdoor party being held for Emma and her pretentious art allies. Why is it outside? Because they need to have an old silent movie projected on a big screen. Why is the movie included into the festivities, despite the fact no one pays attention to it? Because Adèle needs to have a sad moment dancing on her own, as the heroine in the film-within-the-film convey her inner feelings. I will gladly point and chuckle at these tripes compared to the overlong, tedious sequences of characters wallowing around nowhere, excruciatingly awaiting for Kechiche to call "cut". Still, at least all of those things are at least interestingly put together, unlike the pathetic sex scenes that somehow wowed the Cannes critics.

Anybody that thinks and says this movie is erotic hasn't seen many European movies or desperately wants to praise their adoration for porn. Except for an early heterosexual fling, which could factually be truncated, there is no need for any of the raunchy romps. Sex in film needs to have a purpose, conveying something about the characters or to the plot to warrant its inclusion, especially when the leads bare completely all or, in the rare cases, go unsimulated. They also often need a set-up to the intercourse, to make the viewer feel okay with spying on their bedroom techniques. None of that is here because Kechiche clearly doesn't care about anything but boobs and butts. The sex is routinely filmed in a disastrously stale long shot, with no decorum beyond a green bed, as if the film was intercutted with an amateur porno. The direction seemingly given to Exarchopoulos and Seydoux was to embark on all of the most impractical, goofy-looking positions and fake the orgasmic ecstasy as if their career depended on it.

What this film greatly shows off instead of steamy sex, whether Kechiche intended or not, is delicious food. You absolutely do not want to go into this with an empty stomach. Everybody is munching, chewing, and slurping to their hearts' content and you will want to join them, from the gyros to a glass of strawberry milk to fried wontons clumped with shrimp. The two most important treats are Adèle's family recipe for spaghetti and Emma's favorite dish of oysters. Both are given the time and attention to them in order to show how they speak to the characters' stomachs. They also correspond with their respective characterization: Adèle is overbearing with her rich flavor of emotions while Emma is more complicated to enjoy and requires some finesse.

Exarchopoulos and Seydoux give good, not startling, performances. Sadly, Seydoux isn't as featured as much as Exarchopoulos, largely because Kechiche changed the focus of the story and the original name is translated as "The Life of Adèle". Despite this setback, she does suffer from the same predicament as her co-lead: the extended devotion to their lives mellows out their abilities to wow the viewer. When the time thankfully calls for a major plot development, the two relinquish all barriers and go hard with their acting. Exarchopoulos is the MVP in this case because she frequently turns into a flood of tears and snot. She also is able to handle the truly hardest scenes, namely a couple of confrontations where she buries herself further and further due to her consistent lies. However, probably her biggest disservice, other than her unlikable character, is that her acting method makes her out to be the French version of Kristen Stewart: Her mouth is kept firmly open, showing off her chipmunk-like teeth and unaware of what she should be feeling at the moment.

Surveying over this review, I spent more energy lambasting it then truly expositing why its a fairly quality picture. BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR could have been the spectacular groundbreaker it wishes to be or what the people at Cannes said it was. I simply feel that the faults of the picture greatly rest on Abdellatif Kechiche. Even though he crafted some fine moments and made an overall satisfactory movie, he also showed that he's just another flavor of the week, a director who brings more damage to the silver screen than anything beneficial.


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