categories: Cocktail Hour / Movies
Up and to the movies! At Railroad Square the other afternoon, I stumbled into Blue is the Warmest Color, a film by French auteur Abellatif Kechiche. I’d heard of the French cartoon novel La vie d’Adele by Julie Maroh, and I knew that the movie had won at Cannes (and would that they would have just called it The Life of Adele for American release). But it’s one of those happy moments in life when you see a great film without having heard a word about it in advance, none of the controversy, none of praise, none of the nonsense. You approach it pure, just you and the movie, and only your own reactions to go on.
And baby, I was blown away, scene by scene and act by act, mesmerized, and increasingly in awe. At first I thought this Adele Exarchopoulos was a lucky find, a natural, like, 15-year-old actor, but in fact she’s twenty, and very much the real thing, a fulsome artist, so much so that I believed she was 15 and I later that she was 25 in a movie that was filmed in only months. Her intelligence is dazzling, also her access to emotion. Her character is sensual in every way; she stuffs her face with food, kisses with hunger, too, broods over dark wine, cracks a smile like sunshine in the midst of blackest storm clouds, fires up cigarettes and sucks them down, goes naked and then some with complete insouciance, and I mean naked emotionally as well as in the flesh. She’s no starved and posing supermodel, either, but as natural as she is great. And by great I mean great.
The direction is great, too, takes its time, every scene allowed to play out, very little inter-cutting, the cinematography lush and warm and gorgeous, too. There are minutes-long shots that just examine a face, or follow Adele (also the character’s name) through the halls of her school, or show us the Parisian neighborhoods she inhabits. We meet her when she’s a high school kid at sea in her sexuality–boys are boring, especially the boys at her school, even more so in bed. Girls are more fascinating, and one kiss from a friend confirms something she can barely give a name to. Though the mean girls do give it a name, of course. Out and about in the town Adele meets Emma (and of course with that name we think of Jane Austen), a beauty herself in blue hair and boyish manner, an art student as the movie opens, a true hoyden, muscular and square and cocky. Emma is played by Lea Sedoux, whom you know from Midnight in Paris, but will hardly recognize here.
Their affair is dazzling, it’s deep, it’s confusing, it’s fraught, it’s hot. The sex on screen seems to be just that, sex between two actors and right in front of us, and it is. And it isn’t. I mean, if I was doing what they were doing, I would certainly call it sex (and probably a miracle). But what these young women are doing, under their director’s eye and instruction and in the face of the camera, is revealing character down to essence, and the film lets us watch, doesn’t stand in our way, doesn’t cut the second it gets hot, doesn’t get embarrassed for us, doesn’t care care what we think. Because like the characters, the movie is in love, and powerfully, and makes that love available to us, love unto obsession. It’s like seeing a couple petting on a park bench: you love to look, you have to look away, you have to look again. The woman in front of me in the theater put her head down so as not to watch the wild scenes of mutual masturbation, of mutual cunnilingus, etc., shot jealous glances at her boyfriend. But there’s no violence to be seen, and no one pays in doom for illicit love. That may confuse American audiences, sadly. Because these characters pay in the same coin we all do: broken hearts, obsession, insomnia. But when they arrive at ecstasy, they’ve earned it. Here’s a movie that gets there first, and doesn’t much care about you. In a good way.
Bill Roorbach is a writer who doesn’t live in France, and can’t wait to mock anyone who calls “Blue is the Warmest Color” pornography: violence is pornography.