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

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.

One final thing I have to do, and then I’ll be free of the past.

Vertigo (1958) (SPOILERS) I’ll readily admit my Hitchcock tastes broadly tend to reflect the “consensus”, but Vertigo is one where I break ranks. To a degree. Not that I think it’s in any way a bad film, but I respect it rather than truly rate it. Certainly, I can’t get on board with Sight & Sound enthroning it as the best film ever made (in its 2012’s critics poll). That said, from a technical point of view, it is probably Hitch’s peak moment. And in that regard, certainly counts as one of his few colour pictures that can be placed alongside his black and white ones. It’s also clearly a personal undertaking, a medley of his voyeuristic obsessions (based on D’entre les morts by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac).

You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything about you.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s two-decades-later remake of his British original. It’s undoubtedly the better-known version, but as I noted in my review of the 1934 film, it is very far from the “ far superior ” production Truffaut tried to sell the director on during their interviews. Hitchcock would only be drawn – in typically quotable style – that “ the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional ”. For which, read a young, creatively fired director versus one clinically going through the motions, occasionally inspired by a shot or sequence but mostly lacking the will or drive that made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much such a pleasure from beginning to end.