15 January 2014

Best of 2013: #2. Blue Is the Warmest Color (Abdellatif Kechiche)

#2. Blue Is the Warmest Color (La vie d'Adèle - chapitres 1 et 2). d. Abdellatif Kechiche. France/Belgium/Spain.

Chances are you’ve heard some of the controversy surrounding Blue Is the Warmest Color, this year’s recipient of the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival which, in an unprecedented move, Steven Spielberg and his jury divided between the director Abdellatif Kechiche and the two lead actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. Becoming not only the gayest but also the most sexually explicit film to claim that honor was just the beginning of months of headlines and back-and-forth brouhaha. In short, both actresses said they’d never work with Kechiche again after discussing the director’s grueling methods to getting the scene just right, Kechiche fired back at them, threatening (unfounded) legal action against Seydoux and even stating that he wished the film would never get released. This all came following claims from the crew of lousy work conditions and labor law violations, not to mention harsh criticism from Julie Maroh, the author of the graphic novel on which the film is based, calling the film pornographic and taking issue with the absence of real lesbians involved in the making of the film. Toss in some prosthetic vaginas, debates about whether actual lesbians do in fact scissor, an NC-17 rating, accusations of the film’s “male gaze” rendering it anti-feminist, a three-hour running time, two more major film prizes (the FIPRESCI Grand Prix and the Prix Louis-Delluc), and you’ve got a pretty good summary of the noise around Blue Is the Warmest Color.

But, in the grand scheme of things, nothing beyond what we see on the screen actually matters. And what I saw took my breath away. Divided into two “chapters” of the life of Adèle (which is literally how the original title translates into English, a nod to the character’s favorite book La vie de Marianne), from her high school years hanging out with bitchy girls and going through the expected motions of dating with a cute boy (Jérémie Laheurte) at school to her early adulthood as she begins her first year as an elementary schoolteacher, the film depicts Adèle’s journey of self-discovery through a series of glorious long takes, usually in medium close-ups of characters’ faces. Scenes linger beyond what one might consider “the norm,” and the camera captures the mundane and the sublime as if they were the same thing. The film moves in such a way that makes three hours still seem like three hours, but that is an alluring, captivating, and magical 179 minutes. In, hands down, the best performance of the year (sorry, Cate Blanchett), newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos radiates onscreen in a star-making turn in a role that demanded a helluva lot. She appears in every scene in the film, and I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. While Seydoux is quite good as Adèle’s blue-haired art student girlfriend Emma, I’m not sure why the Palme d’Or was given to both actresses, as the entire film rests on Exarchopoulos’ shoulders. In fact, it probably would have been appropriate to award her mouth a special jury prize. Whether devouring spaghetti, kissing her lover, reading aloud to her students, singing along to a Lykke Li song, swallowing oysters, or smoking a cigarette, her mouth is a treasure. To both Adèle’s, I could have watched you dance, snot, cry, fuck, dance, shout, cum, bawl, teach, swim, kiss, eat, and live for another three hours.

Blue Is the Warmest Color will be released on Blu-ray and DVD through The Criterion Collection on 25 February, the following day in France through Wild Side Vidéo, and on 17 March in the U.K. through Artificial Eye.

With: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux, Salim Kechiouche, Mona Walravens, Jérémie Laheurte, Alma Jodorowsky, Aurélien Recoing, Catherine Salée, Fanny Maurin, Benjamin Siksou, Sandor Funtek, Karim Saidi, Baya Rehaz, Aurelie Lemanceau, Anne Loiret, Benoît Pilot, Samir Bella

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