Friday, November 29, 2013

A young woman's sexual awakening

This Cannes winner takes a frank approach to sex and to an evolving relationship.
Blue is the Warmest Color takes almost three hours, and proceeds at a pace that allows scenes as they will. Among the tributes I can pay the movie is to say that I was never bored by it. I say this not because Blue contains one of the lengthiest, explicitly presented sex scenes in movie history or that this scene is between two women.

I say it because in presenting a love story that revolves around the relationship between a 19-year-old school girl (Adele Exarchopoulos) and an older art student (Lea Seydoux), director Abdellatif Kechiche gives his movie a feeling of real life tumbling before us -- not only in its sex scenes (which, I think, could have been shorter), but in the way the movie deals with Adele's evolving life: from her student years to her days as a primary school teacher.

About those sex scenes:
The movie's sex scenes probably stem from Kechiche's desire to present lesbian sex frankly. And like it or not, sex is at the heart of what has attracted these women to each other.

Still, there's a sense in which the movie's sex scenes are sensationalistic or at least an example of erotic overstatement. Decide for yourself.

Now onto other matters:
If you've seen a picture of Exarchopoulos's face and don't like it, Blue is not the movie for you. Kechiche includes so many close-ups of Adele's face that you'll be able to memorize its every nook and cranny: It's as if he reagrds Exarchopoulos's face as a newly discovered planet, ripe for exploration.

The point, I think, is for Adele's abundant emotions to be reflected on screen. Exarchopoulos allows Adele's thoughts and feelings to ripple across her face without censorial intervention, revealing her character's joys, discoveries and many confusions.

It takes a while to see what Kechiche is after. He's telling a story about the ways in which passionate love often fails to sustain. Ultimately, Adele and Emma are quite different. Emma, the artist, discovers that she craves a stability that's threatened by Adele's always rampant passions.

Early parts of the story focus on Adele's sexual awakening and her realization that she's gay. Emma helps Adele make the leap, but the signs for long-term harmony aren't good. Adele comes from a lower middle-class family; Emma's family is more sophisticated. Think spaghetti dinners vs. oysters on the half shell.

Adele confesses to feeling a constant hunger. She's young, formative and eager to devour the world. Emma's palate already has been educated.

Adele's fascination with Emma reaches obsessional proportions, but she seems to know -- though perhaps not fully -- that her's is a doomed love. At a party thrown by Emma, Adele begins to sense that she's not entirely comfortable around Emma's friends. In the end, it's Adele who may be the more daring of the two. Her sexuality is all-consuming, even threatening. Emma wants to play it safe.

Blue is the Warmest Color won the top prize at last spring's Cannes Film Festival. I don't know if it was the best film at Cannes, but I would say that its rumpled informality exposes two women characters (and I'm not talking nudity here) in ways seldom seen on screen. The movie also has something to say about the difficulty of sustaining relationships between people who may not know themselves as well as they think.

Fair to say: Love and lives in flux can make for an extremely volatile mix.

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