Sunday, October 27, 2013
Blue is the Warmest Color
Or maybe I'm watching this movie because LESBIANS. And I'm obnoxious enough to be completely shameless when I admit my motive here. LESBIANS. FRENCH LESBIANS. One who is underage in the movie. The IFC Center in Manhattan has been all too willing to sells tons of tickets while winking quite grandly about the power of art, variety and deeper meaning in the movie experience, and also this is NC-17 so these chicks are going to fuck like crazy. This is as close as we're going to get to a modern "Last Tango in Paris", though tragically America has progressed to the point that nobody is going to protest this movie, and even more tragically, Marlon Brando isn't going to sodomize anybody with butter. We've all long passed the point where movies can seriously be labeled as "obscenity", especially when tonight I'm sure Cinemax is going to air many more lesbian sex scenes to a far broader audience. And I'm disappointed, I've completely missed the era when a movie could really be subversive. Do I need to project Japanese tentacle porn in order to piss off conservative housewives? Even they won't care anymore.
I guess my real point is, despite the vast titillation aspect that surrounds "Blue is a Warmest Color", I am completely out of this movie's loop. I was generally unimpressed with just about everything that happened here. Its a very long, very boring, very dry movie. It has a lot of things to say about growing up, finding your sexuality, the lifeblood of a relationship, which is all drained forward for three hours, with the highlights of course being the sex scenes. Its not pornography, the movie clearly is carrying itself with a seriousness and meaning that supersedes just trying to please the male eye, or even the female eye, but its just not very good. There's definitely a marketable sensationalism that can be found by promoting a French lesbian independent sex movie, but as for the audience's side: you're going to be stuck in a theater for three hours, and you're going to check your watch.
Most of "Blue is the Warmest Color" is shot in an extremely intimate close-up upon its actresses and actors, usually just a few inches away from the face. Director Abdellatif Kechiche seems to want to put as little cinematic interference between the audience and the raw humanity on screen. So there are very few moments where the camera does much work at all, rather it will hover hand-held slightly swaying, while the actresses continue their drama. Which has the unfortunate effect of making "Blue" one of the most poorly shot movies I've seen all year. There's no framing, there's almost no visual metaphors, and really, the camera only subtracts from the mood rather than add to it. Because we're in such a tight close-up it becomes deeply uncomfortable, and eventually clinical and off-putting.
Here's one thing I learned from "Blue is the Warmest Color": human beings are disgusting. We are hideous. I feel like Lemuel Gulliver in the Land of Brobdingnag, where he interacted with a race of giants. He got he unpleasant viewpoint of a nearly microscopic view of the human form - especially breasts - and got to see every imperfection and discolored hue and hideous detail, thus turning him off from boobs for the rest of his life. "Blue is the Warmest Color" is shot at a similar distance, so now I've been able to count every blackhead on these French faces and see every detail I've never wanted to be a part of. Up-close, even these very pretty actresses are disgusting. These close-ups were driving me crazy, this very same technique failed completely in last years' "Les Miserables", and it isn't any better here. Just pull the camera back a foot, give me an inch. The screen was so crowded the subtitles were stuffed right into the bottom inch, so you can look down, read the line, and then stare at some nasty pores on a nose doing the acting. After watching this movie, I'm thinking of leaving and joining the Houyhnhns, if only to get away from you ugly Yahoos.
I guess it wouldn't be so bad if not for the fact that the movie doesn't really have a plot. And this is by design, certainly. It is mainly about ten years* in the life of Adèle, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos, a French adolescent discovering her sexuality and living through her first major relationship. Rather unfortunately, the first hour or so of the movie only has Adèle, who is the protagonist but still only one half of this romance. In that early hour she dates a boring French boy with bad facial hair, she deals with her sexually-charged but still very obnoxious and reactionary friends who do not care for her lesbian tendencies at all, and has seemingly no relationship at all with her parents, who eat spaghetti and do not exactly nothing else. Exarchopoulos was granted a third of the Palme d'Or along with the director and her blue-haired co-star, Léa Seydoux**, and it pains to say that I really care little for her performance. She's too reserved - even to the camera - to really to really connect to the audience, I felt. And all too often her primary expression is flat boredom, this isn't really electrifying the screen, is it? She can cry on command though, and Abdellatif Kechiche definitely takes advantage of this talent, basically filling his entire last third of the movie with her crying every other scene. And because the camera is at a microscopic distance, you get to see a lot of snot leaking down into her mouth.
The other major female, Emma, played by Léa Seydoux, is far more compelling, at least in terms of raw screen presence. It takes the movie nearly an hour to finally link Adèle and Emma together, and Seydoux brings George Clooney levels of cool and charm into this first meeting. You could see, immediately, why Adèle fantasized about this blue-haired stranger and dumped that dull boyfriend of hers, because this chick is pretty awesome. She's flirting with Adèle, teasing her ever so slightly since her underage love interest refuses to admit her interest at first, and eventually things start to sizzle. Romance blossoms. And yet, the movie still doesn't take off.
The sex scenes, which, fortunately or unfortunately have now become the center of "Blue is the Warmest Color"'s discussion, are as graphic and intense as you would expect. Gay women, straight dudes, bi-curious whatevers, maybe even dogs that like humans, I'm sure you will enjoy what you see on a base level. I would recommend using the fast forward button though to finally get to your masturbatory needs. And Abdellatif Kechiche must be the luckiest dude to walk the planet, since not only did he get two hot chicks to scissor each other on camera, he's also the toast of the art cinema world. Though again, I must wonder if we really need three of these sex scenes, and must question the reality of what I'm seeing. In the very first sex scene, Adèle, theoretically has never had lesbian sex. But she doesn't really need much coaching on the mechanics of it, they're 69ing and going ass-to-mouth and doing everything just on pure romance***. Again, the camera work is doing us really no favors either, just standing two feet away while the women do all the work.
A lot happens in this movie, but very little adds to a plot. A major distinction is made between Emma and Adèle's family, since one is very open about its sexuality and eats oysters, while the other is winking around the obvious lesbian hook-up and eats spaghetti. This doesn't really add up to anything. There are at least two major outdoor rallies, one for student rights and the other for gay pride. And this isn't a theme either. Adèle decides quite randomly halfway through the movie that she wants to be a teacher, thus opening the door to roughly a half hour of repetitive scenes of her teaching cute French kindergarteners. I can't really say how that fits into the movie's themes either. She never admits that she's a lesbian, but this movie isn't really about gay issues, so that isn't a major focus either. The two characters drift apart in the course of ten minutes, mostly because they hang with different people at a pretentious party. Eventually Adèle cheats on Emma with one of male co-workers, killing the relationship and leading us to the final act, where Adèle mopes and is miserable until the credits role. I guess the question is: what is this movie's focus then? I have no idea. I don't know.
At one point the director at least tips his hand towards what might have been a theme, in which he sends one character at a party to give off a long rambling conversation about how men can never understand the female orgasm and female sexuality is this impossible sacred block upon us. In another quite hilarious scene, the camera focuses again and again upon the delicately sculpted and painted asses within an art museum, all made by men of women. But the major characters are all female, and the main romance is female-female, I don't how men are all that important at all to this plot. Adèle nearly hooks up with an Arab actor who promises to take her to New York - and NYC with the Twin Towers still standing is a recurring image in the movie for some reason, but I have no idea what it adds up to. Maybe he's a hypothetical fulfillment of her wishes and a way out of her misery. I don't know. I simply do not get the point of this movie. Perhaps its alluding to some literature or something that I've never read.
This is a bold thing for a critic to say, "I don't know". I'm not going to pretend I am this fount of cultural knowledge who can encapsulate everything I digest into this easy to understand consumer advice. I can't boil down my reviews into scores or letter grades either, I'm too honest for such simplifications. Perhaps this is ultimately my weakness, I can never appreciate or pretend to appreciate "Blue is the Warmest Color", so this blog and my critical essays will never go anywhere. I am doomed by my own ignorance... and possibly my own immaturity. Come on, you have to giggle at full frontal lesbian nudity, just a bit. We're all still in middle school a bit. And no matter how mature my mind is, I cannot find anything in this movie that is worthy of all the attention it has received.
I'm not going to go ahead and considering this film to be a fraud like a Terrance Mallick creation. I think it was made with good intentions and seems to genuinely care about its characters and its story. But whatever the deeper message is here, its beyond me, and though I've given it a lot of thought, I haven't really come up with much of anything. In more practical terms, the movie is just too slow and too floaty to be worth seeing. If you want to see a really great dramatic movie with the word "Blue" in the title made in 2013, go see "Blue Jasmine". You won't get the lesbian sex, but you'll definitely find something far easier to chew on. This is definitely as far from the kind of movies I enjoy as you'll ever get, and indeed as far as you can go from the kind of stories I like. I don't enjoy books like this, I don't really care for dramas in this style, its not for me. People who want to see something in it, go ahead. I'm not going to stop you.
And hey, I got a great day in Manhattan out of it. I regret nothing.
* I have no idea how long this movie is actually depicting. It does very poor job of actually telling us how much time has passed. I thought we had only gone about six weeks when all of sudden the characters were basically married and at least six years had passed. Then out of nowhere, one character mentions towards the end that another three years had gone by between acts. So you got me. Maybe they're all immortal vampires and this movie is really taking place across seven centuries.
** Who, it tickles to point out, was last seen on this blog fighting Tom Cruise in "Mission Impossible 4".
*** I had the same odd though during the equally dull and terrible "Brokeback Mountain", where Jake Gyllenhaal and the late-Heath Ledger just knew entirely on instinct where the dick went and how. Those two didn't even need to decide who was on top and who was on bottom. Like, you're badly in love, I know, but shouldn't there at least be some negotiation into it? Who gets to fuck whose ass first? It seems like the kind of conflict that could kill a budding gay cowboy relationship.