Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Blue is the Warmest Color


Abdel Kechiche's "Blue is the Warmest Color" arrives in American cinemas trailing the Palme D'Or from Cannes and tabloid headlines, but it's really nothing special. You've seen gay and lesbian themes - and first love in general - handled with far greater nuance and effect in many other films, and at half the running time. 

Adѐle Exarchopoulos plays Adele, a feckless high school student, and Léa Seydoux is Emma, the blue-haired lesbian who, with her arm around her girlfriend, catches Adele's eye in a crosswalk and takes her breath away. Soon, the two are all but stalking each other: Emma stands waiting for Adele outside school one afternoon, and one night Adele follows Emma to a bar packed with more lesbians than the Clit Club at its peak. They come over to each other's houses, and the curious Adele throws herself into sexual exploration. The two huff and puff and pant so loudly, it's inconceivable their parents wouldn't hear them, but this gives us the defining scene of the film, an unbroken ten-minute sex scene that feels appropriately awkward and rapacious (though Julie Maroh, author of the source material adapted by Kechiche, has called its depiction of lesbian lovemaking "ridiculous" - and I did hear some nervous titters). 

"Blue's" portrayal of the reaction of Adele's friends to her involvement with the tomboyish Emma feels behind the times. Not that today's young people might not be so cruel, or so coarse, but I didn't buy that these yentas would be Adele's chosen friends. And I felt like I was emotionally a step ahead of the film at every turn. The arc of all-encompassing first love giving way to comfortable-old-shoe domesticity and petty jealousies is one we've seen often before. In one scene, Emma, upset that Adele (now an elementary school teacher) has spent a couple evenings out with a male colleague, throws her out of their house, deaf to Adele's sobbing pleas for a chance to be heard out. The scene achieves some power, but could have been one of primal rejection if we didn't feel that Kechiche was merely marking points on a pre-plotted trajectory. The women's parents, friends, colleagues are defined solely in relation to them, but the truth is that even Adele and Emma remain sketches, largely un-filled-in. I seem to be out on a limb, but I found Exarchopoulos to be nondescript, vaguely mousey, like a girl they'd found at a French mall; Seydoux's is the more interesting face, with at least some life in her eyes.

There is no reason "Blue is the Warmest Color" should take three hours to play out. I could cut an hour just in pointlessly extended takes and transitional scenes that a smarter film would have left for us to fill in. I didn't find the rewards to compensate for the investment of time.

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