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…

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

They make themselves now.

Screamers (1995)
(SPOILERS) Adapting Philip K Dick isn’t as easy as it may seem, but that doesn't stop eager screenwriters from attempting to hit that elusive jackpot. The recent Electric Dreams managed to exorcise most of the existential gymnastics and doubts that shine through in the best versions of his work, leaving material that felt sadly facile. Dan O'Bannon had adapted Second Variety more than a decade before it appeared as Screamers, a period during which he and Ronald Shusett also turned We Can Remember It For You Wholesale into Total Recall. So the problem with Screamers isn't really the (rewritten) screenplay, which is more faithful than most to its source material (setting aside). The problem with Screamers is largely that it's cheap as chips.

Well, we took a vote. Predator’s cooler, right?

The Predator (2018)
(SPOILERS) Is The Predator everything you’d want from a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator (or Yautja, or Hish-Qu-Ten, apparently)? Emphatically not. We've already had a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator – or the other way around, at least – and that was on another level. The problem – aside from the enforced reshoots, and the not-altogether-there casting, and the possibility that full-on action extravaganzas, while delivered competently, may not be his best foot forward – is that I don't think Black's really a science-fiction guy, game as he clearly was to take on the permanently beleaguered franchise. He makes The Predator very funny, quite goofy, very gory, often entertaining, but ultimately lacking a coherent sense of what it is, something you couldn't say of his three prior directorial efforts.

Right! Let’s restore some bloody logic!

It Couldn't Happen Here (1987)
(SPOILERS) "I think our film is arguably better than Spiceworld" said Neil Tennant of his and Chris Lowe's much-maligned It Couldn't Happen Here, a quasi-musical, quasi-surrealist journey through the English landscape via the Pet shop Boys' "own" history as envisaged by co-writer-director Jack Bond. Of course, Spiceworld could boast the presence of the illustrious Richard E Grant, while It Couldn't Happen Here had to settle for Gareth Hunt. Is its reputation deserved? It's arguably not very successful at being a coherent film (even thematically), but I have to admit that I rather like it, ramshackle and studiously aloof though it is.

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 …

My pectorals may leave much to be desired, Mrs Peel, but I’m the most powerful man you’ve ever run into.

The Avengers 2.23: The Positive-Negative Man
If there was a lesson to be learned from Season Five, it was not to include "man" in your title, unless it involves his treasure. The See-Through Man may be the season's stinker, but The Positive-Negative Man isn't far behind, a bog-standard "guy with a magical science device uses it to kill" plot. A bit like The Cybernauts, but with Michael Latimer painted green and a conspicuous absence of a cool hat.

The possibilities are gigantic. In a very small way, of course.

The Avengers 5.24: Mission… Highly Improbable
With a title riffing on a then-riding-high US spy show, just as the previous season's The Girl from Auntie riffed on a then-riding-high US spy show, it's to their credit that neither have even the remotest connection to their "inspirations" besides the cheap gags (in this case, the episode was based on a teleplay submitted back in 1964). Mission… Highly Improbable follows in the increasing tradition (certainly with the advent of Season Five and colour) of SF plotlines, but is also, in its particular problem with shrinkage, informed by other recent adventurers into that area.

What a truly revolting sight.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (aka Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) (2017)
(SPOILERS) The biggest mistake the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels have made is embracing continuity. It ought to have been just Jack Sparrow with an entirely new cast of characters each time (well, maybe keep Kevin McNally). Even On Stranger Tides had Geoffrey Rush obligatorily returning as Barbossa. Although, that picture’s biggest problem was its director; Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge has a pair of solid helmers in Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, which is a relief at least. But alas, the continuity is back with a vengeance. And then some. Why, there’s even an origin-of-Jack Sparrow vignette, to supply us with prerequisite, unwanted and distracting uncanny valley (or uncanny Johnny) de-aging. The movie as a whole is an agreeable time passer, by no means the dodo its critical keelhauling would suggest, albeit it isn’t even pretending to try hard to come up with …

Bring home the mother lode, Barry.

Beyond the Black Rainbow (2010)

If Panos Cosmatos’ debut had continued with the slow-paced, tripped-out psychedelia of the first hour or so I would probably have been fully on board with it, but the decision to devolve into an ‘80s slasher flick in the final act lost me.

The director is the son of George Pan Cosmatos (he of The Cassandra Crossing and Cobra, and in name alone of Tombstone, apparently) and it appears that his inspiration was what happened to the baby boomers in the ‘80s, his parents’ generation. That element translates effectively, expressed through the extreme of having a science institute engaging in Crowley/Jack Parsons/Leary occult quests for enlightenment in the ‘60s and the survivors having become burnt out refugees or psychotics by the ‘80s. Depending upon your sensibilities, the torturously slow pace and the synth soundtrack are positives, while the cinematography managed to evoke both lurid early ‘80s cinema and ‘60s experimental fare. 

Ultimately the film takes a …