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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Simply Foreign: Blue Is the Warmest Color

HONEST
I had heard a lot about Blue Is The Warmest Color a few months back.  It made some history at the Cannes Film Festival by being the first to win the Palme d'Or for both lead actresses and director. (Palme d'Or is a very fancy French award in case our "Freedom Fries" audience was confused)  The critics who got to see the film early were raving that it was a must watch.  With that being said, I was a little worried that the film would not live up to all the hype.  I'm not an avid watcher of foreign language films to begin with, short of a Run Lola Run or an Irreversible here or there. (Still squirming after that one Gasper)  So, forgive my vastly limited knowledge or absent mindedness when I say that Blue Is The Warmest Color is perhaps one of the most well acted, well shot, emotionally gut wrenching foreign films I have ever seen.  This is not because of the lesbian subject matter.  This is not because it breaks new ground in terms of a love story.  This is because of how HONEST and real of a film experience it is.

Blue Is the Warmest Color is the film adaptation of the 2010 Julie Maroh graphic novel of the same name.  It spans the adolescent to adult life of a young girl named Adèle.  During this time, Adèle struggles to find her sexual identity, discovers her first true love, and rides the rollercoaster of her first real relationship.  As I watched the film, I almost began to feel a little uncomfortable.  And that's not because of the much ballyhooed love scenes throughout.  With the film's almost nonexistent score, alarmingly close closeups and frequent steadicam shots, I felt as though I was more of a voyeur than an audience member.  The super subjective, documentary style way the film is presented brings you so deep into Adèle's world that you begin adopting a more knowledge based need from scene to scene, as opposed to an entertainment based one.  A smart thematic choice that amplifies the story's HONESTY.  Nothing you see feels as though it were scripted.  It feels like a telescopic look at the most important years of a girl's life.

The graphic novel is mostly structured as if you were thumbing through the main character's diary.  Not to say I have a lot of experience reading through someone's diary(I swear sis), but director Abdellatif Kechiche captures this feeling brilliantly.  It doesn't have the cliched narration or overbearing on screen captioning of other journal/diary structured films.  Instead, the film's scenes are put together with a stark, yet, similar feel to the way diary entries would read.  You might be watching Adèle in a scene where she is having an uneventful day at school, then suddenly thrust into an emotionally relevant scene with her and a boy in the park.  There are missing events and missing days that reinforce this.  You don't write well structured stories in a diary.  You write down moments of your life that struck you as relevant at the time, no matter how irrelevant they might be to someone else.  When Adèle sees the blue haired Emma for the first time, a stereotypical romantic film score doesn't come in and highlight the moment.  It's clumsy and not beautifully shot.  However, it feels real.  The same with their first kiss.  It feels like we're stealing a moment between two people, not watching a 'Harlequin' romance come to life.

I also loved how the lesbian aspect of Adèle and Emma's relationship did not completely define the film.  I mean, it is there, and the common trope of one partner hiding their sexual preference from their friends and family while the other is open and HONEST about it does happen.  However, it does not define the story for me.  Perhaps I missed the point, but I saw the most important part of the film being a story about a girl growing up.  A girl discovering who to love and how to love and struggling to maintain that love.  Adèle's sexual proclivities weren't as important to me as her love and dynamic with Emma.  And while we're on the subject, I did not see the big deal made by critics in regards to the love scenes in this film.  Yes, they might border on gratuitous.  However, I attribute this again to the way the film is presented.  We are experiencing these moments the way Adèle experienced them.  The way she remembered them.  Most teenagers don't have perfectly paced sex in a perfectly lit room set up by a perfectly chosen Hollywood cinematographer with a perfectly appropriate musical score.  Well...maybe Angelina Jolie did.  Adèle would more than likely remember every sensual, exciting and awkward moment of her first sexual encounter with Emma.  Their passion in these scenes also establishes the almost carnal chemistry the two share.  After being apart for a long time, the two are almost unable to keep their hands off each other in a public restaurant.  Not because of promiscuity, but because of that chemistry.

The best compliment I can give an actor's performance is that it did not feel like a performance.  This film is a great example of a cast doing that.  Everyone felt genuine and nothing felt forced.  The two lead actresses Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux both are well deserving of their awards and acclaim.  However, it is Adèle that really stands out here.  She has, what I like to call, the 'Anti-Richard Gere Effect'.  Where as you almost can't read anything on Richard Gere's face during a performance, Adèle is the exact opposite.  Every emotion she is having, every emotion she is hiding, and every decision she is contemplating is expressed on her face before she ever utters a word.  A selfishly helpful thing for me, seeing as this is a subtitled film.   Adèle's face as she watches Emma from afar during their house party tells you everything you need to know about her feelings, and it is played without dialogue.  Even the transition in the way Adèle carries herself from her adolescent years to her adult years is totally convincing.   Now don't get me wrong.  Léa's portrayal of Emma is terrific.  Adèle's character doesn't work without a strong enough, spirited enough, and HONEST enough character like Emma for her to fall in love with.  Léa certainly breathes that kind of life into the character.  It is as powerful of a cinematic relationship you hope for as any you've ever seen.

Even though it comes in at just under three hours, Blue Is The Warmest Color is still worthy of your time.  The film's conclusion is a bit different than the darker one in the graphic novel.  Some might say that this was done to achieve a happier ending.  Though, it may be a little less dramatic than graphic novel, I believe it is equally as sad.  The scenario only plays out in a more realistic and HONEST way.  Read the graphic novel...watch the film...compare them...contemplate your desire to try oysters...then tell me I'm wrong.


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