Why is it whenever a film gets released that deals with the sexual lives of adolescents having sex on screen that it immediately gets surrounded by controversy? While its true that the new French film Blue is the Warmest Color (aka The Life of Adele: Chapters 1 & 2) features very explicit and intense sex scenes between its two primary female cast members, one barely of age and the other a slightly older woman, seeing the film and or condemning it solely for that reason alone is doing the film and its extremely talented leading ladies an extreme disservice. Read the full review after the break.
Review Vital Stats:
Theater: Arclight Hollywood
Time: 9:40 pm, Nov. 2, 2013
Projector Type: Digital
Film Rating: NC-17
Film Runtime: 3 hr 7 min
Studio: IFC Films
Loves: Raw and real love stories
Likes: Both lead actors
Neutral: The length of the film and lack of notice when the film jumps ahead a few years
Are there really subtitles only?: Yep, the film is presented in its original French language
Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), a teenage girl who is at a point in her life where she is beginning to discover her own sexuality and desires, has tried dating boys but often feels as though she is just faking her way through life. After a chance encounter with the blue haired Emma (Lea Seydoux), a local college art student, Adele's passion for her ignites a romance that will completely consume them both, body and soul. During their lives together, Adele thinks she has found true happiness but as she begins to pursue her lifelong ambitions, she can feel herself growing more and more distant from the love of her life.
Teenage love stories in film are often times the unexpected victims of the Hollywood romance machine. If the central characters are in their teens, they are either in some sort of mystical world filled with supernatural wonders such as wizards and demons (Harry Potter/Twilight/Beautiful Creatures) or they are highly stylized interpretations of how we think or wish relationships were like during our own adolescent years (Easy A/She's All That/Clueless and nearly all John Hughes films from the 80's).
There's nothing wrong with those films or how they decide to depict young love, but there is one thing that none of them are capable of doing no matter how heartfelt, endearing or romantic they may seem...they just don't feel real. Which is fine since most die hard romantics don't want to be reminded of what it's really like during those early years when we stumble about and the learn the ins and outs of that crazy thing called love. But sometimes it is good to be reminded of those hard truths and that good or even great things can come of our constant struggle to find that connection with that one special individual.
Director Abdellatif Kechiche's new film, Blue is the Warmest Color (adapted from the graphic novel entitled Blue Angel) is one of the most devastating, honest, romantic, intensely erotic and ultimately one of the most captivating cinematic love stories ever told. You won't find anyone standing outside a girls bedroom window holding a boombox playing a top 10 song. You won't find a self absorbed teenage outcast falling in love with a shiny vampire. You won't find anything here aside from the story of one teenage girl and her coming of age tale, which is far more complex than anything featuring supernatural creatures or figuring out who to ask to the dance. It's just raw and real.
This is the story of Adele, a normal teenage girl by most accounts. She has a group of friends that aren't really her friends so much as they are the group of girls she hangs out with at school. They gossip about anything and everything, which becomes a problem for Adele when they notice a boy taking interest in Adele. Despite having mixed feelings towards the boy, Adele succumbs to the peer pressure by her friends and begins a short-lived relationship with him that has the added effect of helping Adele see herself a little more clearly.
Adele's story isn't so much about finding that perfect someone and living happily ever after as it is about her discovering her own sexuality, her desires and herself, which also so happens to include her very first love. As if dealing with a teenage girl's blossoming sexuality isn't enough, the weight of homosexuality is thrown into the mix when Adele falls in love with Emma, an older college student whom she meets when her curiosity has her casually stumbling into a lesbian bar.
This is where the film truly sets itself apart from every other teenage love story every told. The delicate way in which we see Adele explore her sexuality and how she discovers that she is more inclined towards the female persuasion as opposed to men isn't done in the usual exploitative way mainstream media usually depicts it. While it's true that yes, the film features some very explicit love scenes between Adele and Emma which are every bit as emotionally spellbinding as they are titillating. More over, those sex scenes are used to show us the bond between Adele and Emma, and seeing their lust for one another only strengthens the events that transpires later in the film.
That leads us to the actors, or more specifically our two leading ladies. You can mess up whatever you want in a romance/love story, just make sure you don't cast actors who don't have chemistry with one another. Both actors here are so believable and so easily melt into their roles that you would be hard pressed to not peg them as an item off screen as well. While Adele is the main focus of the film, her performance truly shines whenever she is on screen with Emma. The sexual tension between them is nearly uncontainable.
When Adele and Emma first meet in that bar, her insecure and very innocent mannerisms are only a mask for this girl who has finally discovered who she is and what she wants. Her restrained excitement for her new found liberation is only surpassed by the extreme flirtations coming off of Emma who seems to only barely be holding herself back from jumping Adele right then and there. Their knowing glances towards one another as they discuss each others interests and other bits of unimportant small talk heats up the screen unlike any other film couple in recent memory. These two girls are at the heart of what makes the film work and their love for one another feels more honest and more right than can possibly be expressed.
Now, even the most amazing love stories have their faults and this film isn't any different. Fortunately, the few problem areas the film does have are fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things and are actually relegated to more of an annoyance than anything else. First of all, and this actually leads into the other problems, there is the concern of the film's length. Running slightly more than three hours long, Adele's story is an almost exhausting experience to sit through in one go.
The conundrum of the film's length however is that it lets us get to know and become totally invested in the lives of Adele and Emma. The film covers a ten year period, from Adele's High School days up into young adulthood, and most of everything in that time span feels necessary. The main issue at hand here is the fact that there are two very distinct chapters of Adele's life we experience (which explains the original French title, The Life of Adele: Chapters 1 & 2). There comes a moment where there is a very deliberate jump ahead in time that will likely leave most audience members lost as to what just happened.
While it is uncommon for any film to have an intermission theatrically in this day and age, Blue is the Warmest Color is the first real modern film candidate for such a radical idea in a very long time. The break would allow the audience to collect themselves and prepare for that jump forward in time, where as it is now, there is no breather or moment to collect ourselves. One minute we are witnessing two girls falling helplessly in love with one another and the next we are witnessing the building blocks for a very tragic and emotionally brutal finale. None of this would be so exhausting if it weren't for the fact that the second half of the film (or chapter 2) didn't run 90 minutes in length, but it does feel as though it is dragging its feet during that final hour at some points.
The solution to this conundrum though is to watch it at home and create your very own intermission. Now, it must be said that none of this ruined the film or its impact, it just simply made the film's second half a bit of a chore mentally than it should have been. The events that transpire during the film's second half contain some brilliant performances by both girls who are to be commended for taking themselves to such dark emotional peaks. Witnessing Adele and Emma's life together slowly crumble around them was one of the hardest things I had endure from any film released this year and that pain you feel in your gut is why this is without a doubt one of the greatest love stories ever told.
It's difficult to watch, but it's also impossible not to care. You will likely find yourself choosing sides, blaming one character for one thing and the other for something else and upset at both for not being able to work out their differences. There are no clear cut reasons for something happening or why this person feels one way and the other sees it completely different. In any of those other cliche teenage romances there would be a happy resolution for both parties, but here it isn't that easy, they have to work for it.
This is a film about falling in love and what happens when people grow older and how the decisions they make, both good and bad, shape their lives into what and who they are. It reminds us that no matter how strong our bond is with someone, that at any moment they can be taken away from us, either by fate or just by our own poor decisions. But it is also a testament to the innocence of youth and how when we find that special someone, regardless of race or sex, they can be everything we ever wanted that we never knew we needed.
Chances are that you have only heard about this film due to its controversial content. Well, fortunately for all of us, that controversy comes packaged with a brilliantly told love story that transcends age, race and/or sexual orientation. With entrancing performances from its two lead actors, the film is easily one of the most intense and completely enthralling romances of the modern era. As long as you are prepared for its somewhat unruly length, Blue is the Warmest Color is a film will reward you with one of the most momentous and powerful love stories of our generation.