VIFF 2013 Review: Blue Is The Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adèle)
One of the biggest attractions at this year’s Vancouver Film Festival is the French film Blue Is The Warmest Color. The win at the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film festival will make it an attraction, no doubt. There are some that already know what it’s about and others that don’t. The question is will the crowds be satisfied?
The story starts with Adèle, a young high school student from Paris nearing adulthood and trying to decide what she wants to do with her life especially in times when Europe is going through economic troubles. She’s very involved with her job at day care, but lost in thought during school and unhappy in her relationship with Thomas. She soon leans of her lesbian attractions and starts trying to get as better understanding of it. She even breaks up with Thomas in the process.
Her gay friends from high school introduce her to Paris’ gay scene. She’s exposed to gay culture at one gay bar then visits a lesbian bar for the first time where she meet a tomboy woman with blue hair named Emma. Emma not only introduces Adèle to the lesbian scene but also to her work as an artist. Adèle’s high school friends are surprised with her relationship with Emma but over time the relationship goes from being simply Adèle being the subject of Emma’s art to a full intimate relationship. They share everything. Both are also good with each other’s parents. Both are also supportive as Emma helps with Adèle’s 18th birthday and Adèle cooks for Emma’s art party.
Things mark a turning point at Emma’s art party as Adèle senses something between Emma and Lise, her artistic colleague. Adèle also senses the advances of her boss from the daycare she works at. Eventually she does engage with her boss only for Emma to find out. Emma breaks up with Adèle in a rage leaving Adele frustrated and heartbroken. Months pass and Adèle is now a first grade schoolteacher. Emma is soon to have her first art exhibit opening. They meet again in a café to try and resolve what they can only for Adèle to learn a hard new truth. Adèle goes to the exhibit opening only to leave heartbroken but older and wiser.
The surprising thing about this is how this film tries to portray a relationship between two young girls. Its biggest quality was its truthfulness. It showed a girl-meets-girl scenario that’s often the common way two meet. It shows the relationship and how the two share so much with each other that almost mirrors other relationships. It also shows the friction in relationships with being attracted to another person, infidelity, break-up and aftermath that you will notice in other relationships. I believe that’s the biggest thing about this film. This is not a film that aims for heavy intense dramatic story but rather a film of a lesbian relationship between two young girls that mirrors most relationships people have or have had, possibly even one of your own.
It’s not only about the relationship in the film but also as much about the two main characters too. Adèle is turning 18 and in the midst of deciding what she wants to do with the rest of her life, eventually setting on teaching elementary school. Emma is an older art student and she’s disinterested in conforming to the expectations of the world nor to the art business. Adèle has just recently learned of her same-sex attraction. She slowly tries to learn about it and welcomes it when Emma comes into her life, but questions if she still has attractions and feeling to men. Emma on the other hand knew of her lesbian attraction at 14 and became very comfortable with it. The personality traits of both adds to the story of the relationship as it shows that opposites can attract. It also shows how the two personalities cause friction as Adèle has the common immaturities with an 18 year-old and Emma is a free person but with a fierce attitude.
One of the things of the movie is that it also brings up certain forms of thought. It should not be surprising because Adèle is a student just learning and it’s the student years where one tries to expand their mind. Emma makes mention of Sartre and him creating a intellectual revolution in saying we are ‘condemned to be free.’ Another time we’re in one of Adèle’s science classes seeing a lesson in gravity and one student talks of unavoidable vices and how the Catholic Church tells us that vices should be avoided. There’s also the division of the arts world and the business world that’s also present in the film. Adèle embraces the arts greatly in her own way but wants a career that’s stable especially since the future of the young of France looks uncertain and chooses teaching. Emma on the other hand wants to do what she wants to do and paint what she wants to paint and resists offers to ‘market’ her talent. That pressure of the dilemma of doing what one is born to do vs. doing what pays the rent is a common pressure in the minds of a lot of young people during those years. I remember it was even a pressure for me when I was a college student.
Without a doubt, the biggest thing that got me thinking were the graphic lesbian sex scenes. I know that sex scenes are choreographed but I was still surprised in seeing it’s explicitness. Even though I learned just now that fake genitalia were used, there’s no question that there will be many who will label it ‘pornography.’ In fact the producers refused to edit the film for release in the US and that got it an NC-17 rating.
In all frankness, I did find this a very revealing and intimate look at a lesbian couple but nevertheless I found this film to be too long. I believe if a film is going to be 3 hours long, it should justify its purpose. I really question whether 179 minutes is really necessary for that film because it didn’t appear to justify its length of time. I’m sure the film could’ve done as good a job of telling the story of the relationship if it was even two hours. There are even times when I question if that heavy-duty sexual activity, especially the impulsive activity in the café near the end, really added to the story or was included for shock value. That’s the problem with over-the-top sex scenes in movies: it may be intended for the story but could be taken the wrong way with the public. In fact there were times my ‘inner teenager’ felt like saying: “Owww! Get down!”
The best quality was the acting. Adèle Exarchopoulos did a very good job not just of portraying a young lesbian but also of a young teenage girl on the verge of womanhood. Her mix of a character who’s on the verge of adulthood trying to be more responsible but also dealing with her own immaturities, both behavioral and sexual, made Adèle very believable as a young woman. Lea Seydoux did a great job of playing Emma, the older freer one who’s in control. For those who didn’t notice, Lea is the one who won Owen Wilson’s heart in Midnight In Paris. It’s surprising how she’s completely unrecognizable here. She did a very good job of character transformation. Director/writer Abdelatif Kechiche was really daring in his subject matter and his adaptation of the story. I checked his Wikipedia profile and there’s no mention of himself being gay. Nevertheless He did an excellent job of taking the relationship and making it look so relatable.
The question will remain will Blue Is The Warmest Color go well with the movie-going public? Marketing gay-themes movies to the general public is not an easy task especially with the predominantly heterosexual crowd. Yes there have been films of gay characters and gay relationships that have scored well like Philadelphia, The Hours, Brokeback Mountain and Milk, but it’s still a chancy thing that’s still hit-and-miss with no proven consistent results. Even this being a French-language film may cause some difficulties. I even question if a film like this will score well with the LGBT populations in North America. We should also take in mind that living as a gay man or lesbian in Europe is a lot different that living as a gay man or lesbian in North America. Two different continents with two different social attitudes. Something I question.
Blue Is The Warmest Color is a unique film in its portrayal of a lesbian couple. It has a lot of good qualities that make it worth watching for some but not for others. It all boils down to the individual audient and their tastes and tolerances to decide if this is the right film for them or not.