REVIEW: Blue Is the Warmest Color

15 06 2013

Blue is the Warmest ColorCannes Film Festival – Official Competition

Producers of the upcoming film adaptation of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” I have found your director.  Thank me later.

In the past three weeks since I’ve seen Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” I have gone back and forth on whether I deem it to be pornography.  What I can say without a doubt, however, is that it features the most graphic depictions of sexuality between any two people that I have ever seen on film.  It takes that honor away from Steve McQueen’s 2011 masterpiece “Shame,” which used pornographic aesthetics to ironically point out just how little pleasure was present in the carnality occurring before our eyes.

Kechiche’s camera, whether voyeuristic or artistic, captures human sexuality between the timid young Adele (newcomer Adele Exarchopolous) and the nubile Emma (Lea Seydoux) at an extremely intimate level.  On the one hand, it seems almost animalistic as we feel their every body movement, see the saliva drip, and hear their every moan.  Yet at the same time, it’s also highly erotic.  Kechiche seems more focused on capturing the act from every angle and less on the experience that Adele and Emma are having.

The story just stops as we are left to gaze at Adele and Emma entangling in a frenzied sexual embrace.  Acting halts as well since the camera just cares about Exarchopolous and Seydoux’s extremities, not their faces.  In addition, Kechiche’s segues into sensuality are so abrupt and unexpected that once the first scene occurs, it’s impossible not to be constantly wondering if the next edit will lead into intertwining limbs or passionate moans.

Blue is the Warmest

You may think it’s silly to devote so much attention and analysis to one small section of a three-hour filmic odyssey.  But I think that’s all the more telling about the overall effect that these graphic sex scenes have on the experience of “Blue Is the Warmest Color.”  They took me out of the film entirely, diverting attention away from a delicately crafted romance and coming-of-age story.  In essence, they become the story and the topic of conversation upon leaving the theater.  Forget about the actual plot.

And that’s a real shame because the film’s story is actually quite nice.  “Blue Is the Warmest Color” tracks the life of Adele (that’s the film’s title in its native French) as she struggles to feel comfortable in her own skin.  First, she struggles with her sexual orientation, desperately trying to conform to social norms as an extremely self-conscious teenager.  In one particularly painful scene, we observe her agony as she feels nothing but pain and emptiness when she has intercourse with her boyfriend.  Though we do briefly see his erect penis, the scene conveys a clear message through sexuality without resorting to mere pornography; it would have been a fine pattern for Kechiche to follow for the whole film.

Then, things get interesting when Adele begins talking with the openly lesbian Emma, who encourages her to explore and think for herself.  Though she discovers herself, she also finds that her confusion and frustration still persists.  The film drags a tad when she shakily confronts adulthood, still unsure of her ability to commit to anything.

“Blue Is the Warmest Color” feels like a novel – which isn’t necessarily bad – but it could have concentrated its focus somewhat more.  Kechiche could have then communicated the same message with greater impact in 45 minutes less time!  But sadly, the only edits this film is likely to see now is to its extended sex scenes, which turn a good movie into a good movie … with highly distracting pornographic interludes.  B-2stars

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