Saturday, 9 November 2013

Blue Is The Warmest Colour (18) | Film Review

Blue Is The Warmest Colour, dir. Abdellatif Kechiche, scr. Ghalia Lacroix, based on Blue Angel by Julie Maroh, st. Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux

Love, grief, passion, friendship - these are things we all experience in our lives. They play out over intensely concentrated days, emotionally fatiguing weeks, joyously untiring months or even relentlessly unforgiving years. Cinema has always sought to condense these time periods into a concise, manageable running time for its audiences, and great dramas have won their laudations by presenting journeys that flutter seamlessly from resonance to resonance, spanning chronology yes, but also portraying the temporal delineation of emotion in a way that feels natural and recognisable. It is fortunate then, that in employing an expansive and decidedly noncommercial 180-minute running time, director Abdellatif Kechiche has woven a thorough and immersive tale that vividly portrays the meeting of two lovers, and that has enough core narrational and performance heft to warrant the extended hour. You don't end up watching Blue Is The Warmest Colour, you end up living through it with Adèle and Emma, every kiss, gaze, embrace, breath and gasp.

The film's chequered introduction to public consciousness has been well documented by now; its big win at Cannes earlier this year when the panel decided Exarchopoulos and Seydoux should share the Palme d'Or with Kechiche, the film's status as the first award winner to be based on a graphic novel, the synchronicity between the movie's win and France's legalisation of gay marriage within a week of each other, the beaming photos of the three that followed, and the finger-pointing from both stars and director that followed that, each accusing the other of unprofessionalism during the production process. All of this however, is mere window dressing to the more pertinent question that concerns the film's quality and credibility. Firstly, to address the quite naked elephant in the room; the sex. No, it is not gratuitous or lascivious. To accuse Kechiche, as some have, of peddling smut is odd. The author of the original novel, Julie Maroh, denounced the sex as it appears in the film, saying "The heteronormative laughed because they don't understand it and find the scene ridiculous. The gay and queer people laughed because it's not convincing at all, and found it ridiculous." Well, I'm heteronormative and had no problem placing the film's sex into the context I assume it was meant; as an informative part of the relationship narrative. True, I have never watched gay women having sex, but then again, I've never witnessed straight couples having sex either. I remain curious as to what "convincing sex" might look like. Additionally, surrounding ten minutes of sex, however graphic, with two hours and fifty minutes of intimate character observation that comprises long takes and plentiful and utterly absorbing inaction, surely qualifies Kechiche as the worst pornographer ever.

Kechiche is, however, wholly fascinated by his leads, and the ways in which his camera captures their detail. Exarchopoulos has talked about how close-up filming heightens the sense that Adéle and Emma want to devour each other. Particularly Adéle, whose story this is after all, and with Emma the more reserved of the two, Kechiche is fascinated by the way in which the teenager functions - not just the way in which she thinks or feels. Thus we have scenes that depict her noisily wolf down bolognese, shots that linger on her tear-streaming face, nose running and flushed, or close-ups of her nervously and impulsively re-fixing her hair. Emotionally, Adèle is battered and buffeted like a cork on the ocean. An initial attraction with a (male) school friend loses its appeal after discovering where her sexual predilections may reside, and the subsequent buzz Adèle observes at the chance of some kind of a burgeoning same-sex liaison with another school peer is curtailed when it transpires a kiss is sometimes, heartbreakingly, just a kiss. But on meeting the azure-blue-haired Emma, something stirs within Adèle. The knotty issue of a relationship between a 20-something student and a minor never truly becomes part of the film's central discussion, although Adèle's school friends respond to their suspicion of her sexuality with typical adolescent disgust and back-of-the-bike-shed prurience. Emma is, recognisably, everything we know fascinates those on the brink of adulthood. She is confident and self-assured. With her punky hair and sleeveless denim gilet, arm draped casually around her partner, and possessed of an easy swagger, she embodies the kind of 1950s rebel-cool that we associate with that kind of abandoned recklessness we know may be so mesmeric. A world away from Adèle's gameshow-watching family dinner times.

As the film progresses, the pair draw closer and eventually, engage in a full blown relationship. But the nature in which this is depicted is so subtly rendered and gently metered, we feel every aspect of the pair's ascent into love. Every facet of each stage of attraction is marked out and given room to breathe, held up to the light for close-perspective consideration. The flirting, the dates, the sex, when it eventually and organically unfolds, the meeting of the other's parents - are all given scenes that are meticulously detailed and eminently watchable. Distressingly, this also means that Adèle and Emma's breakup is as comprehensively illustrated. It begins, as we know these things do, through niggling doubts and nagging uncertainties. At one point, two parties are shown juxtaposed against one another; the first, Adèle's birthday, is depicted as a traditionally tepid surprise event in the garden, complete with cake and bopping along to Lykke Li's I Follow Rivers. Later, and later on in the relationship, Emma hosts a party in her garden, where her friends talk about Art and the clandestine exclusivity of the female orgasm. Even their families are polar opposites. Emma, sensing Adèle's Father's leading questions, diverts attention from her sexuality and the nature of her relationship with his daughter, while Emma's parents free-spiritedly toast the couple's love with fine wine. Adèle's is the tragedy of those keen to rush towards adolescence's finish line, hungry for the perks adulthood brings, yet unable to quicken the unrushed progression of teenage life. Her connection with Marivaux's La Vie De Marianne (the novel she studies at school) - a passion atypical of girls her age, and one she enthusiastically attempts to share with her male schoolfling - shows a yearning for answers she's not yet ready to experience for herself. In fact so strongly does this book, that tells of a young girl similarly inducted into the ethics of love, resonate with Kechiche, he's named his film after it in its original national title - La Vie d'Adèle - Chapitres 1 & 2.

And on top of all this, Kechiche, along with his cinematographer Sofian El Fani, has delivered a beautifully presented film too. Emma and Adèle's first date is played out on a park bench, the camera shooting into the sun, capturing backlit strands of stray hair and dappled light through branches. The whole scene radiantly glows in golden hues. Later, Adèle revisits the same location, the Autumnal breezes dislodging the trees' leaves around her as she lays down forlorn on the very same bench. I suspect this is the essence of what has won over so many to the film. The glut of truths on display. Awareness of our physical surroundings, of our own hearts. How we can be forever altered by a glance or a touch. Our frustration with ourselves, with our desires, with others, those we love. It's all here, in all its agonizing splendour.