Friday, November 29, 2013

Rohan on the Warmest Color

(TODAY'S GUEST: We're always delighted to welcome back Rohan Morbey, who blogs at Stop Thinking For Yourself UK. He shares his thoughts here on Blue is the Warmest Color, the controversial Golden Palm winner at this year's Cannes Film Festival. You should follow Rohan on Twitter.)   

As an exploration of love, sexuality, pleasure, and finding one’s self, Blue Is The Warmest Color is a supremely strong film. Unflinching in images, language, and performances, this is a film unafraid and, moreover, determined to leave nothing to the imagination. This is not a film of subtlety, and therein lies both its strengths and weaknesses.

The film follows the sexual awakening of Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a girl not yet 18 years old when we meet her. She is attracted to men and has a relationship with a nice guy, possibly pressured into having sex with him to appease her sex mad friends, but this doesn’t fulfill her. Something is missing until she has a chance encounter with Emma (Léa Seydoux), a lesbian a few years older than herself. They begin a relationship and the film concentrates on the highs and lows of the relationship.

The fact that this is two women makes little difference to the outcome of the film; they meet, they fall in love, they live together, they have insecurities, they split up, they still have feelings. The film’s real strength lies in the treatment of the characters as people, not defined by their sexuality; they are just two people who have found each other, could be anyone you know. Both lead actresses show a range beyond their years; Exarchopoulos in particular shows a vulnerability and insecurity which makes Adèle a compelling character for the majority of the film.

The film maintains its themes of identity and being comfortable in one’s own skin throughout the three hour running time, as Adele never appears truly at ease in any situation whether that be in school with her judging and ignorant friends, or at home with her parents who only know Emma as a study partner, or with Emma’s friends who are so unlike Adèle. Indeed, the only place where Adèle can be herself and not feel judged is when she is surrounded by children at work at a primary school. The children don’t judge her, she is just Adèle.

Director Abdellatif Kechiche shoots his film full on with close ups and longing shots on faces, mouths, body parts and does little to hide anything. When people eat, we see food chewing, when people sleep, we see mouths open and snoring, and when people make love we see every act and hear every sound. The sex scenes were the ‘talking point’ of the film when it won the Palme d'Or win at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, and these scenes, though not something we're used to seeing at the cinema, add nothing to the film. The sex isn’t exploitive or sexy but it tells us nothing, other than that the filmmaker isn’t shying away from the intimate details. If this were a man and woman, would we need to see them ‘go at it’ for five minutes? Certainly not, if it adds nothing to the storyline.

This is an issue with the film as a whole, because the three hour running time isn’t warranted for the story it is telling. Whilst Adèle is at school and begins the relationship, we are hooked and fully in to this unconventional romance, but once Adèle and Emma are together, we are just watching two people living their lives with little in the way of a storyline. The film could have told its story, with all plot points, with at least 40 minutes less screen time; a sense of boredom sets in, despite the fantastic performances. We’ve seen relationship dramas countless times before and ultimately this film adds nothing new to the genre.

Blue Is The Warmest Color is certainly the most unrestricted approach to storytelling I’ve seen in 2013, but the film is only partly compelling as it is partly without purpose. The film as a whole has some interesting characters and themes, but leaves little to think about when the film is over.

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