Saturday, October 26, 2013

Review: Blue is the Warmest Color

Image courtesy of IFC Films.
There's been a lot of talk about "Blue is the Warmest Color" since it went on to win the Palm d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival and, unfortunately, much of the discussion has centered on the picture's semi-graphic sex scenes between the two female leads, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux.

The real story is the intense, naturalistic performances by Exarchopoulos and Seydoux, neither of whom are particularly recognizable to me, despite that they have both been acting in films for the past four or five years. Regardless, I'd bet that their names will become a lot more familiar now following their star making turns in Abdellatif Kechiche's movie.

At the beginning of the film, Adele (Exarchopoulos) is a bright high school student who loves to read. At school, she listens to a lecture about love at first sight and regrets in terms of a French novel that she is reading, even though both themes will come into play in her own life.

Adele appears to be sexually frustrated and her coupling with a young man from her high school does little to ease her tension. But when she spots blue-haired - and older - art student Emma (Seydoux), she becomes fixated, eventually following her to a gay bar, where the two strike up a conversation.

Emma wants Adele to pose for her and Adele agrees. It's not too long before the young women's friendship becomes much more. Yes, there are some fairly graphic - and, in one case, extremely prolonged - sex scenes in "Blue," but the real heart of the story, which runs just a little over three hours, is the relationship between the two women and how it grows and, eventually, changes over a period of several years.

There are some particularly adept juxtapositions in the film, including one in which Emma, who is openly gay with her parents, takes Adele, who is about as closeted as one gets, to meet the parents and the four of them talk about food and culture. Then, Adele takes Emma, posing as her tutor, to meet her own parents, who end up lecturing the both of them about the importance of having a job and a rich husband.

The film's sex scenes may be intimate, but so is the rest of the picture. Kechiche follows Adele through her daily life in the classroom, in which she is, at first, a student and then later a teacher. There is a great sequence during which Adele cooks the food for a party Emma is throwing for her artist friends. Adele appears to feel nervous and out of place, despite that Emma's friends appear to be pretty welcoming toward her. The film perfectly captures the experience of being thrown into a new group of people and all the excitement and nervousness that entails.

I'm not going to give away any of the story, but I can say that two particular scenes late in the film that are emotionally grueling display the many talents of Exarchopoulos and Seydoux. Both actresses have now spoken out against the intense process Kechiche required on the set of his film, but it's clear that this process has led to a movie that feels entirely lived in. A scene in which the two women get into a rather dramatic argument doesn't feel like two actresses playing their parts, but rather two people actually fighting.

"Blue is the Warmest Color" is a pretty amazing film. It takes a series of fairly simple concepts - a first love, a coming of age story, a coming out story - and turns them into something epic, which is likely how any one of these types of stories feels to the person living them. It's a warm, funny, heartbreaking, sexy, brilliantly acted, completely alive movie.

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