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Blue is the Warmest Color

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In the French movie, Léa Seydoux sleeps with a woman in several graphic and sumptuous sex scenes. In the American one (”Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”) she gets kicked out of a window of the world’s highest building. Surely that’s got to be the best shorthand explanation for the difference between French and American movies.

”Blue Is The Warmest Color” also embodies that brings the old showbiz joke; ‘I try to live vicariously through my art, now it’s your turn to try and live through it’. Seydoux call the five-month shoot with writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche ‘horrible’. Her co-star Adèle Exarchopoulos described him as ‘a genius, but tortured’, saying ‘there was a kind of manipulation.

Both actresses went on to say they’d never work with Kechiche again, which just proves how special this beautiful, passionate and heartbreaking film is. Despite the behind the scenes agony of a five-month shoot (originally supposed to take two months), it’s an acting master class by the two leads.

It’s also the movie ”Brokeback Mountain” wanted to be, a love story rather than a gay love story. But where that film had the misfortune to be made and released in such a conservative culture that immediately politicised the ‘gay’ in the love story, more liberal film markets in Europe are far less bothered by nudity and depictions of sexuality or homosexuality.

Because a 10 minute lesbian sex scene will likely get you an NC-17 rating in America (while a few beheadings and fatal shootings attract a PG-13 without much dispute), and the furore over ”Blue Is The Warmest Color”’s explicitness again shines a light on the wrong-headedness at the centre of most Western world artistic morality.

If you’re there because the Internet has done away with peepshows in your neighbourhood, Kechiche does you a favour. Seydoux and Exarchopoulos are both gorgeous, and if you love French films because the actresses aren’t shy about their bodies, you’ll be in Gallic erotica heaven. Seydoux and Exarchopooulos actresses are twisted into sweaty clinches of passion every which way, faces and moans of ecstasy more genuine than the most explicit porn film.

They find themselves in such throes of lovemaking after a simple coming of age movie that (ironically considering the non political stance) could be co-opted into the poster child of the gay marriage movement. Towards the end of high school, fresh faced Adele has no real questions about her sexuality – until a spur of the moment kiss with a fellow female student for a lark gets her mind whirling. And even when giving her virginity to a boy in class she shares a date and an attraction with, she can’t get the image of Emma out of her mind after passing the blue-haired artist in the street days before.

The three-hour film has a very basic story of Adele crossing paths with Emma again, the pair of them slowly falling in love as they laze around in parks, the evolution of their love and the crushing denouement, all over the course of a couple of years in their lives.

Kechiche takes his time with every scene, following the most mundane details of Adele’s life to assure you she’s a normal kid, has a family who loves her, has a normal relationship with Emma, ends up with a rewarding but everyday job as a teacher, etc.

At least an hour of screen time could be lost without affecting the coherence of the story, but Kechiche is as in love with Adele and Emma as you’ll be, and he wants to watch everything going on in their lives. The approach was achieved by the director letting the actresses read the script only once, then throwing it out and telling them to improvise each scene to convey its intent rather than what he wrote.

You might not even notice the wide-open spaces in the plot if you’re entranced by Adele’s journey, but if you’re more used to multiplex tent-pole pacing you might shift in your seat and check your watch a bit.

As Adele, Exarchopoulos has a childlike quality around her wide eyes and mouth that gives her eternal youthfulness, while Seydoux as the older woman has a sharp, almost reptilian gaze. There’s very little high emotion and even when it comes, it’s almost banal, the sort of thing that goes on in millions of living rooms and bedrooms the world over.

But Exarchopoulos’ heartbreak (her whole face seems to cry) is so emotionally raw she’s either a talent way beyond her years or Kechiche did indeed abuse his performers with particular brutality.

”Blue Is The Warmest Color” is the kind of thing you watch European movies for. Not that affecting American drama is an endangered species, but the American sensibility is to change the world, to be remembered for what you achieved that everyone can see and what you left your mark on. American movies are about the world blowing up, the outer.

In Europe they’re better at movies where the world inside blows up, where the destruction and turmoil in the heart is more tumultuous than a hundred toppling CGI buildings or gunfights.

Everything going on is going on inside Adele and Emma, and Exarchopoulos in particular is so good you can see the destruction of the world inside her behind her vulnerable eyes.

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About Drew Turney

An Australian-based film critic and celebrity interviewer now based in Los Angeles, California.
Author: Drew Turney
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