Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark | Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Blue is the Warmest Color

Blue is the Warmest Color is timely, sensual, smart, and emotional. Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, the film explores women, hunger, and what it means to be a lesbian—or not—in today's open-minded world. Love will always be a rose—beautiful, expensive, potentially dangerous—and in that, Blue is nothing new. But for anyone who has ever wondered what lesbians do—in and out of bed—Blue is a must-see. Be warned: you'll weep, laugh, and blush madly. Not one to watch with your mother, methinks...but then again, I don't know your mother.

Released in 2013, Blue begins as a slow-moving movie, paced more for a 1980's audience than that of today—though the French, perhaps, are less device-addled and ADHD-plagued. And yet Blue quickly reveals that the French, in many ways, are less many things than we Americans are: less addicted, less guilty, less repressed. The characters love preparing and eating food, making love, drinking wine, lying in the sun, standing in a park, cuddling on a bench. Pleasure is taken at every turn, and as a result the actors boast clear skin, bright eyes, and toned midriffs.

Anyway, you might not make it through all three hours of Blue, and that would be okay. The first hour is satisfying in itself. The first ten minutes are. But the movie in its entirety is a lesson in patience and its subsequent reward, for those who sit through Blue are paid handsomely.

Blue tells the story of pouty-lipped, 15-year-old Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos), who lives in France with her parents. They serve her wine at dinner (while the American audience sighs...if only the US could be that mature) and in the mornings, Adele goes off to high school exhausted and tousled. For the first thirty minutes, the movie goes on like this: Adele is a hearty eater, smokes cigarettes on her way home from school, and has sex with a cute guy at school who takes an interest.

Of cute guy, Emily Greenhouse, in her New Yorker article "Did a Director Push Too Far," writes, "Early on, Adèle tells a suitor that she likes languages—the word is langue. It’s the same word, in French, for “tongue,” and the camera hardly ever leaves hers: her mouth, her rude chewing, her sucking, her wails." Langue, langue. It's a theme that pervades the film. Anyway, predictably, the sex between Adele and suitor is uninspired and, by the end, pretty sad—a vacant look in Adele's eyes and all that. Still, something tells us that this behavior is nothing new, and this is not the first time. Something else tells us there's much more to come.

The movie's first turn comes when Adele, late at night and alone in her room, conjures an image of the cute blue-haired gay girl she passed in the street. Subtle and fine, this scene is erotic and transcendent. Blue hair is there, and then she's gone, and Adele is left alone with her body. From there, the movie picks up, though there remain many long camera shots of Adele's pouty mouth.

Eventually, in a lesbian bar of a caliber that surely only exists in France, or in a French dream, Adele meets blue-haired Emma (Léa Seydoux). Their meet-cute is sexy and smart. Adele is almost painfully earnest, and so, so young. Still, the scene grips and holds.  What follows is one of Blue's crueler turns, arriving in the form of Adele's so-called friends. They have seen Adele with blue-hair, and they accuse her in the schoolyard of being lesbian. They taunt her mercilessly—almost unconvincingly—and a crowd forms. Adele, so obviously gay, turns red in denial.

From there, Blue chronicles the lives of Adele and Emma. Adele's sexual awakening—her true one, not the one she's faked all this time with men—takes place in the form of many long sex scenes with Emma, the first famously seven minutes in duration. Do not, I repeat, watch this with your mother. Let's just say that the women go from casual to serious fast, and then they have made a life together. They throw parties together. Adele is the object, constantly, of our gaze and Emma's.

Greenhouse's New Yorker piece goes on to expose the director as a slave-driver: "Seydoux and Exarchopoulos said that the shooting had been unbearable and they would never again work with Kechiche. The French union representing the film industry spoke of deplorable conditions for the crew. Seydoux [...] said she felt like a 'prostitute.' Exarchopoulos described a 'horrible' continuous take in which Seydoux hit her over and over, leaving her raw."

Of Blue, the New York Times writes, "It’s a three-hour movie about women, a rare object of critical inquiry perhaps especially for American men working in the male-dominated field of movie critics. The truth is we need more women on screen, naked and not, hungry and not, to get this conversation really started."

Scathing reviews, forced prostitution, and director brutality aside, the truth remains: Blue is an astonishing film about women, beauty, and sex. Three hours passed quickly, and when Blue was over I wanted more. 

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