Seydoux, Abdellatif, Exarchopoulous

MovieMaker’s pick of this week’s new releases is Abdellatif Kechiche‘s much-talked about three-hour epic, Blue is the Warmest Color (or, in French, La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2). The film follows Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) through her relationship with the older, cooler, bluer Emma (Léa Seydoux), while making her way through high school and becoming a teacher.

Blue is the Warmest Color has amassed itself a nice little maelstrom of controversy since winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier this year—from complaints that its unusually gratuitous sex scenes are misogynistically exploitative and “not really lesbian,” to reports about the fractured working relationship between Kechiche and his stars (the actresses have been recounting their experience with varying degrees of airbrushed tact and clipped resentment). Whatever happened between Kechiche and his actresses, though, it’s hard to deny the artistic congruence apparent in the product of their collaboration, the supreme naturalism of both Seydoux and Exarchopoulos’s performances elevating the film to as moving an experience as it is.


Seydoux, Abdellatif, Exarchopoulous (or, progressive rounds of a spelling bee)

As the teenager unfurling the limbs of her identity (both deeply self-reflective and touchingly unconscious, sometimes at once—as is the universal teenage condition), Adèle Exarchopoulos is the film’s biggest strength. The close-up is Kechiche’s preferred shot (almost to the point of exclusivity), but his subject is more than worthy of that level of scrutiny. Exarchopoulos has a powerfully cinematic face: sensuous and tactile, emotionally transparent, all doe eyes, doughy cheeks, buck teeth and pouty lips that rarely close. (In fact she acts primarily with her mouth, whether energetically chewing food, gasping in erotic pleasure, trembling with tears, or sleeping with slack-jawed abandon.) More so than the delicate, angelically unreal bone structure of her co-star Seydoux, you see an earthy animalism in Exarchopoulos, sometimes scared, sometimes desirous.

The script, based on Julie Maroh’s graphic novel Blue Angel, is elliptical (Kechiche reportedly told his actors to imbibe it once and then discard it), returning cyclically to mundane bookmarks: Adèle eating, sleeping, in class (both as student and teacher). Scenes are patient and intuitive: the passage that solidifies the trouble lurking in Adèle and Emma’s relationship is, paradoxically, a party scene where all the guests stress vocally how great the two are together. The couple kiss, publicly and showily, one moment; the next they have split off into having separate times, Emma engrossed in chatting with an ex, Adèle dancing with a (male) guest, distracted by her lover’s interest in the other woman.

And as for that controversy. The grumbling about the sex scenes might be the most knee-jerk distillation of the film’s limitations as a whole—as the breathless intensity of the lovemaking sometimes fails to feel like more than the sum of its (unabashedly statuesque) parts, Adèle’s narrative doesn’t quite reach beyond its own rhythms. But those rhythms are so sensitive and keenly felt, and the film’s central theme (the contextualization of love, both its heady joys and its aching loneliness, into a life) is developed so naturally, that the life is still a pleasure to witness. MM

Blue is the Warmest Color opens in limited release Friday October 25, 2013, courtesy of Sundance Selects.

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