Skip to main content

Enjoying Philosophy?

Blue is the Warmest Colour
(La vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 et 2)
(2013)

When a movie about beautiful young French lesbians arrives with “explicit love scenes” as the selling point, goes on to win the Palm D’Or, and is generally gushed over (ahem) by the critical establishment, you’d be forgiven that chins aren’t the only things being stroked. But Blue is the Warmest Colour very nearly lives up to the praise lavished upon it. It comes up short in certain areas, and it’s so very European it’s impossible not to think of Seinfeld’s Rochelle Rochelle at points during the proceedings. Nevertheless, Abdellatif Kechice’s film is enormously affecting and this is mainly down to outstanding performances from Adèle Exarchopoulos (as Adèle) and Léa Seydoux (as Emma).


A young girl’s strange, erotic journey from Milan to Minsk.” I’ve seen it suggested that Seinfeld’s Rochelle Rochelle is based on Emmanuelle, but that film never had the cachet of critically lauded smut; Seinfeld’s joke is you can justify going to see it because it’s art, honestly. In Blue there’s no travelling, although Adèle would like to visit New York. Whether Blue can justify its 180-minute running time is a different matter; during the first half I’d have said absolutely. The (strange, erotic) journey of Adèle as she awakens to a new side of her sexuality carries with it an unhurried tension as she first catches sight of then pursues Emma. The second half misses this somewhat; it’s not just because we’re seeing a reflection of the inevitable souring of a relationship between two very different people, but also because the trajectory is so familiar; there are fewer and fewer fully immersive scenes, and realisation dawns Kechice hasn’t granted us sufficient insight into their relationship.


Perhaps that’s intentional. After all, the film is purpose-built around Adèle and we only see Emma in scenes involving both of them. Perhaps he chooses the moments he does because this is Adèle’s perception of their relationship. Which amounts to canoodling on park benches, making love in heavily choreographed manner and behaving incredibly awkwardly whenever Emma has some friends round. Do we not see their daily lives because Adèle has barely a thought in the world about them? Is that why, when they meet again after three years, her first impulse towards Emma is sexual? Maybe, but its difficult to get a clear train on this.


Either it comes from a director following a clear process or he’s simply got lost in the editing suite. There are a number of conflicting impulses at work, and its difficult to divorce his indulging every opportunity for lingering close-ups of Excarchopoulos’ open-mouthed, bee-stung lips from Emma’s reference to Adèle as her muse (the character and actress share first names, for goodness sake). The notion that this really is borne from high-flung artistic motives is rather undermined by the placement of the camera, ever fixated on Adèle’s arse. And there’s the decision to opt for the rather easy conflict of social/class divide between the two, as it cuts out a lot of heavy-lifting (the scenes where Adèle’s parents talk about a woman’s place belongs in a movie made 40 years or more ago, not one released last year; it’s not as if her parents are that old).


There are other problems too. We don’t feel Adèle has changed in three years, and don’t really feel that three years has passed at all. It’s been suggested the events of Blue encompass up to eight years, and I wouldn’t have known that was the intention; there are subtle methods of relaying the passage of time beyond a helpful subtitle or an elaborate montage, but giving Adèle a pair of glasses isn’t really sufficient. I also had a problem with the transition of time in 12 Years a Slave, so maybe it’s just me. Kechiche doesn’t even seem to care; how many years is it since Adèle last saw the actor she met at Emma’s show? Yet they pick up the conversation as if it were last week.


Nevertheless, Kechiche often applies himself with virtuosity. It’s easy to see why Blue has had such impact beyond the talking point of its sex scenes; we’re pitched headlong into Adèle’s experiences. In the early stages, her woozy, dreamy, subjective state is palpable. Her every encounter hits strongly, whether positive or negative; an unreciprocated advance made at a girl at school, her first sight of Emma, and the search for the object of her desire. The imbalance of their relationship is evident from the first; the unpretentious ingénue and the superior and affected artist. While aspects of Emma’s self-involved Henry Higgins persona work extremely well; the indifference towards what Adèle knows is her career passion, the possibility that she may have begun an affair with Lise (as this is from Adèle’s point of view we cannot be sure, but that’s entirely the point; it’s quite clear why Adèle feels marginalised into cheating on Emma). But the artistic clique’s pseudo-intellectualising comes across as cliché-strewn. But taking Adèle to an art gallery to show her all the painterly and statuesque nudes, and tutoring her in the ways of oysterness are verging on a fromage-fuelled piss-take of the Euro art flick.


It’s certainly ironic that the film becomes less compelling when the two get together, and still less so when they are torn apart. At which point we’re treated to endless scenes of Adèle teaching and moping and looking uncomfortable and bursting into tears (there is a lovely sequence in which she returns to the bench that hols so many memories and waits there disconsolately, before falling asleep on it). The second half’s longueurs are almost entirely justified by the extraordinarily charged scene toward the end where they meet again in an empty café, and Adèle is forced to realise there’s no chance of rekindling what once had been.


There aren’t a lot of giggles in Kechice’s film. Adèle’s guess at “Hairdresser?” for the blue-dyed Emma’s profession is about the extent of it, this side of Kechiche’s pastry-porn. Forget about the love scenes, this director is obsessed with Bolognese. He surely spends more time showing characters shovelling spaghetti into their mouths than he does them getting jiggy. Does Adèle eat all the time because the director adores Exarchopoulos’ pout so? (Actually, yes. Of their first meeting he recalls, “She ordered lemon tart and when I saw the way she ate it I thought, "It's her!””)


I’ll say this; Seydoux and Exarchopoulos richly deserve their Palme d’Or. Kechiche slightly less so. His subjective aesthetic seems to desert him when it comes to the meticulously indulgent sex scenes, and the picture’s time frame is so ungainly Adèle appears to mature barely at all in response to the changes in her life. Is that the intention? If it weren’t for these ellipses, Adèle would feel like a fully envisaged and completely realised creation. Perhaps all will become clear if Chapitres 3 & 4 ever arrive.


****  

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Don't give me any of that intelligent life crap, just give me something I can blow up.

Dark Star (1974)
(SPOILERS) Is Dark Star more a John Carpenter film or more a Dan O’Bannon one? Until the mid ‘80s it might have seemed atypical of either of them, since they had both subsequently eschewed comedy in favour of horror (or thriller). And then they made Big Trouble in Little China and Return of the Living Dead respectively, and you’d have been none-the-wiser again. I think it’s probably fair to suggest it was a more personal film to O’Bannon, who took its commercial failure harder, and Carpenter certainly didn’t relish the tension their creative collaboration brought (“a duel of control” as he put it), as he elected not to work with his co-writer/ actor/ editor/ production designer/ special effects supervisor again. Which is a shame, as, while no one is ever going to label Dark Star a masterpiece, their meeting of minds resulted in one of the decade’s most enduring cult classics, and for all that they may have dismissed it/ seen only its negatives since, one of the best mo…

What I have tried to show you is the inevitability of history. What must be, must be.

The Avengers 2.24: A Sense of History
Another gem, A Sense of History features one of the series’ very best villains in Patrick Mower’s belligerent, sneering student Duboys. Steed and Mrs Peel arrive at St Bode’s College investigating murder most cloistered, and the author of a politically sensitive theoretical document, in Martin Woodhouse’s final, and best, teleplay for the show (other notables include Mr. Teddy Bear and The Wringer).

Ruination to all men!

The Avengers 24: How to Succeed…. At Murder
On the one hand, this episode has a distinctly reactionary whiff about it, pricking the bubble of the feminist movement, with Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. On the other, it has Steed putting a female assassin over his knee and tickling her into submission. How to Succeed… At Murder (a title play on How to Succeed at Business Without Really Trying, perhaps) is often very funny, even if you’re more than a little aware of the “wacky” formula that has been steadily honed over the course of the fourth season.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

You just keep on drilling, sir, and we'll keep on killing.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)
(SPOILERS) The drubbing Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk received really wasn’t unfair. I can’t even offer it the “brave experiment” consolation on the basis of its use of a different frame rate – not evident in itself on 24fps Blu ray, but the neutering effect of the actual compositions is, and quite tellingly in places – since the material itself is so lacking. It’s yet another misguided (to be generous to its motives) War on Terror movie, and one that manages to be both formulaic and at times fatuous in its presentation.

The irony is that Ang Lee, who wanted Billy Lynn to feel immersive and realistic, has made a movie where nothing seems real. Jean-Christophe Castelli’s adaptation of Ben Fountain’s novel is careful to tread heavily on every war movie cliché it can muster – and Vietnam War movie cliché at that – as it follows Billy Lynn (British actor Joe Alwyn) and his unit (“Bravo Squad”) on a media blitz celebrating their heroism in 2004 Iraq …

This here's a bottomless pit, baby. Two-and-a-half miles straight down.

The Abyss (1989)
(SPOILERS) By the time The Abyss was released in late summer ’89, I was a card carrying James Cameron fanboy (not a term was in such common use then, thankfully). Such devotion would only truly fade once True Lies revealed the stark, unadulterated truth of his filmmaking foibles. Consequently, I was an ardent Abyss apologist, railing at suggestions of its flaws. I loved the action, found the love story affecting, and admired the general conceit. So, when the Special Edition arrived in 1993, with its Day the Earth Stood Still-invoking global tsunami reinserted, I was more than happy to embrace it as a now-fully-revealed masterpiece.

I still see the Special Edition as significantly better than the release version (whatever quality concerns swore Cameron off the effects initially, CGI had advanced sufficiently by that point;certainly, the only underwhelming aspect is the surfaced alien craft, which was deemed suitable for the theatrical release), both dramatically and them…