Monday, March 24, 2014

The Exquisite Agony Of Reality: Blue Is The Warmest Color Sinks.

The Good: Direction, Most of the acting, Realism
The Bad: Pacing, Direction, Adele Exarchopoulos’s performance, Lack of spark
The Basics: Delightfully real, slow as filming literary analysis, Blue Is The Warmest Color is an overrated foreign film failure.

Coming into 2014, there were very few films from 2013 that I felt I missed and actually wanted to make an effort to catch. At the top of my list was the controversial French film Blue Is The Warmest Color. Blue Is The Warmest Color was hyped to be engaging, erotic, and intense, but ended up being one of the most erratic films I have seen in recent memory. Not at all the logical successor to The Incredibly True Adventure Of Two Girls In Love (reviewed here!), Blue Is The Warmest Color is alternately realistic and charming and boring beyond all belief.

At the crux of the problems with Blue Is The Warmest Color is the fact that there is no real hook to the film. Blue Is The Warmest Color captures the realism of young love in a relationship that quickly challenges a young woman’s preconceptions of who she is and how she fits into society . . . but there’s nothing special about the relationship, no spark. Instead, I spent the first half hour of the film impressed with how realistic the movie was, but wondering why I was watching it given that the protagonist, Adele is not at all distinctive or interesting and nothing in her story is as well. While I am usually tempted to rate the films that have some hints of greatness in them high and then not recommend them, early on in watching Blue Is The Warmest Color, I realized that the movie was one worth seeing once, but was not truly superlative and certainly not worth paying money for.

In a small town in France, Adele is a Junior in high school who is very much a stereotypical teenager; she hangs out with her friends, seems overwhelmed in classes, and sneaks into clubs for dancing and underage drinking. She has a brief relationship with a young man who is into hard rock music. After having sex with him, Adele misinterprets a friend’s comments as being a serious advance on her and she kisses her. Rejected, Adele runs into a blue-haired college Fine Arts student (whom she passed on the street once and had a sexual fantasy about) at a lesbian night club. The next day, Emma visits Adele at her high school and the two share a magical, if understated, day together.

Soon, Emma and Adele are hanging out, visiting art museums, talking about philosophy and ideas, and having passionate, exceptional sex in virtually every position imaginable. Adele has dinner with Emma’s mother and stepfather and discovers the proper way to eat oysters (which she has traditionally loathed). Having Emma over to her parents’ house, Adele reveals her family is more conservative and that she has not disclosed the intense, loving nature of her relationship with Emma to them. By the time Emma’s art studies culminate in the inevitable public unveiling, she and Adele are living together and Adele caters the event. But soon, Adele’s jealousy and Emma’s neglect of her lead Adele to stray and the relationship falls apart and after the fallout, Adele struggles to survive on her own personally and professionally.

Right off the bat, Blue Is The Warmest Color is doomed because the relationship between Adele and Emma is based on an undiscussed infidelity. Emma mentions that she has been seeing someone for two years . . . and then hops into bed with Adele. There is not an in-film acknowledgment of how Emma terminated that relationship and it seriously undermines the indignation that comes up later in the film when Emma catches Adele cheating on her. Blue Is The Warmest Color is just under three hours long and the relationship between Emma and Adele lacks the originality and intensity of the relationship between the characters in About Time (reviewed here!), which managed to pack the love story into half the time!

In a similar way, Blue Is The Warmest Color suffers because there are gaps in time. Adele and Emma go from seeing one another, almost by random, to living with one another. The underage Adele, who is seventeen when she and Emma meet, turns eighteen, moves out of her parents’ house, and seems to develop into a jealous and neglected young woman all before the end of Emma’s college studies. Later on in the film, this becomes more problematic as Adele is suddenly a teacher (a process which she said previously would take years to realize).

The erratic sensibility is carried by the film’s direction. Abdellatif Kechiche is arguably the most inconsistent director working in film today. On the plus side, Kechiche actually captures quiet moments and intense physical performances from the film’s two big starts. Kechiche focuses brilliantly on Lea Seydoux (Emma) and Adele Exarchopoulos (Adele) for their facial expressions and getting chemistry between Adele and each of her character’s love interests.

But then there’s the flip side. Kechiche can’t seem to hold a camera steady to save his own life (or his film). There is an irksome, unsteady look to much of the film. As well, Kechiche is terrible at matching takes in the same scene. As a perfect example, in one moment, Adele takes down her perennially messy hair. Cut away and then back to Adele and suddenly, her hair has clearly been brushed straight and clean. This is only one example from a film missing shots, scenes, and troublingly inconsistent lighting and matching of takes. One of the peaks of Kechiche’s lousy direction is near the climax of the film when Emma demands to know why Adele is crying . . . in shots (some of the few of the entire film) where Adele is not even misty-eyed, much less crying!

What ultimately dragged Blue Is The Warmest Color down into below average territory for me, though, was the performance by Adele Exarchopoulos. Exarchopoulos apparently went to the Mary-Louise Parker School Of Acting where the actress endeavors to never once close their mouth. Exarchopoulos is the French Kristen Stewart, caught in a sullen mood for the entirety of the film. Exarchopoulos had more on-screen chemistry with her first male co-star than with Seydoux.

When my wife and I watched Blue Is The Warmest Color, we discussed it afterward (and after a couple of palate-cleansing episodes of Psych). Trying to justify rating such a troublingly boring film so high, I came down to only two things. Blue Is The Warmest Color has moments where it powerfully portrays realism in relationships. The charm of get-to-know-you conversations is brilliantly realized in Blue Is The Warmest Color. There are a couple of cute lines and the breadth of the story is impressive and uncommon on film.

But Blue Is The Warmest Color is boring and slow and worth watching only once. The experience is not incredible or worth repeating, but seeing this slice of realist fiction on film is not homogenously unpleasant, though at times it makes it difficult to truly believe that.

For other films with complicated romantic relationships with women, please visit my reviews of:
I Can’t Think Straight
The Kids Are All Right
Chasing Amy

3.5/10 (Recommended To Watch Once)

For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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