Finding and discovering first love is a many splendid thing… until it isn’t
At that impressionable age during the final years in high school, some young teens will began to realize all too well that nothing is going to be certain or given from here on out. Where you go from here is all up to you; education, income, career, and yes even love is up to you, on your own. Those who left home for college or better opportunities leave behind friends and family they have known and relied on all their lives. It is a confusing and scary time, life is going to hit you and come at you hard, no way around that or turning away from it. Traversing this chaotic time takes great strength and determination… two things that most have not found at that age.
Thus we strive for guidance, a nurturing voice and presence in the confusion to shape and mold us: to help us become someone. We try to find it in many outlets, but the vast majority of us find it through that great paradoxical enigma that is love.
Bringing us to the Palme d’Or winning romantic drama Blue is the Warmest Color where we first find young Adèle, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos, navigating through those final days in high school. She is bright, worldly and politically active, but above all trying to experience and feel love for the first time. After a couple attempts, however; she winds up just like most first times for young people, unsuccessful and unfulfilled. Heartbroken and adrift Adèle’s thoughts begins to focus on a mysterious blue haired girl she meet in brief passing on the street. She begins to feel that unexplainable and strange emotion we all wish to feel someday.
Adèle Exarchopoulos is simply a revelation in the lead role as the anxious, curious and passionate teenager. Director Abdellatif Kechiche made a risky decision by having her in close-up tight shots for the vast majority of the film’s scenes, and luckily his actor has the emotive face to back it up. It is appropriate that the French title is La vie d’Adèle or The Life of Adèle, as the film is about her becoming Adèle the woman (which has very interesting “metta” quality to it). The close-ups help to create a near claustrophobic closeness feel to the film, it is a risky move because all the audience has to invest in are the acting skills of the actor. However, master auteur filmmaker Ingmar Bergman always said that the human face is the best possible subject for the camera, and Adèle certainly makes a strong case for it. As she carries the narrative weight with subtlety and sublime control.
It would all be for not if there wasn’t another actor to make this love story sing, and luckily she is not alone in terms of performance with Lèa Seydoux playing the object of affection for Adèle, Emma. A deeply passionate and charismatic woman with an overt artistic temperament. When she first crosses paths with Adele she finds a confused, impulsive, impressionable but nonetheless curious young girl. After finding that they have similar interests and outlooks on life, Emma wants to turn her into a muse for her art work and quite a bit more as it turns out.
What follows is an intensely graphic, appropriately NC-17 rated, but necessary, portrayal of discovering and experiencing love in the beginning euphoric stages. The primal urges that take over, the need to bestow affection and feel like you’re a part of something together is all palpable and real. Not surprisingly controversy has been surrounding the film in part due to the graphic and prolonged sex scenes between the lovers. Portraying the act on film has always been debated since the sexual revolution, should it be more implied and suggested than outright shown in detail? Though I myself don’t mind either way, the real questions should be is it tastefully done and does it fit the story being told?
In this case here it is organic to the narrative, showing just how primal a sexual awakening truly is. It is one of the most animalistic instinctual mechanisms left over from our ancient ancestors, it is also rarely ever portrayed in a movie believably.
The other part of the controversy also extends to the two actresses going on record as saying the director very nearly “tortured” them for the duration of the shoot, for which the two dispute this claim in this DP 30 interview at 5:55min as they meant that the emotional depths they went to were very hard to achieve. The spectacular end results, though, speak for themselves on-screen.
Additionally, the controversy also extends to some critics believing that these scenes are portrayed with a “Male Gaze”, in that the sex was for titillation rather than artistic merit. Arguments to which I can say that the director was male, so yes, of course there is a male perspective, now does it intrude on the relationship or story being shown? No, in my opinion, everything done was germane to moving the story forward not for simple titillation (the scenes are not cut to soft rock or smooth jazz for instance). Not salacious quite the opposite, empowering. For once the act is done in a film in which both parties are actually involved and passionate.
Getting back to the film itself, as Adèle and Emma get closer they try to fit in each other’s world. Some instances more successfully than others. The blemishes in their paradise together begin to form subtly and realistically. Like in any peer bonding, there are peaks and valleys; rises and falls. Since I am a male as well, I guess I viewed the film with a so-called “Male Gaze” and went away more enlightened into the raw and primal power of lust and love, no matter the gender or sexual orientation. Doesn’t that overrule any sort of “gaze”?
9.5/10 (An emotional epic, realistically depicting the highest of highs and lowest of lows of that bittersweet thing we know as love)