Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche

Produced by: Abdellatif Kechiche
Brahim Chioua
Vincent Maravel

Screenplay by: Abdellatif Kechiche
Ghalia Lacroix

Based on: Blue Angel by Julie Maroh

Starring: Adele Exarchopoulos
Lea Seydoux

Cinematography by: Sofian El Fani

Editing by: Albertine Lastera
Camille Toubkis

Studio(s): Quat'sous Films
France 2 Cinema
Scope Pictures
Radio Television Belge
Vertigo Films

Distributed by: Wild Bunch (France)
Sundance Selects (United States)
Artificial Eye (United Kingdom)

Release date(s): May 23, 2013 (France, Cannes Film Festival, premiere)
October 9, 2013 (France)
October 25, 2013 (United States, limited)
November 22, 2013 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 179 minutes

Country(s): France

Language: French

Production budget: €4 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $7, 078, 019

Well hello there, my good compadres, as I've mentioned in my last review, although I haven't been watching any more movies than I usually do, I've indulged rather well my cultural addiction this week. I'm still marching through Clive Barker's Imajica, which, after seven hundred pages, I still have about four hundred left to read of this masterful epic, and I went to Black Sabbath at the Odyssey Arena. Not withstanding the surreality of attending a gig in my regular workplace, the fact that I got to see one of my favourite bands, who I believe are responsible (along with David Bowie's Low) for crafting one of the two greatest albums ever released in their seminal 1970 album Paranoid, notwithstanding a back catalogue with a breadth of fine work. These things being said, as usual, I'm working on other things on and outside the blog, including starting to put the works on my seventh annual Best and Worst of the Year, and also before that comes out there'll be the usual Hall of Fame inductees, so, for the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted! 

Today's film up for review, Blue Is The Warmest Colour, brings with it a lot of buzz. Along with the likes of Gravity and 12 Years A Slave, it stands certainly as one of the most talked about films of the year. It won the prestigious Palme d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival, which was presented to both the lead actresses and director. With critical acclaim following in it's wake from the likes of Robbie Collin and Peter Bradshaw, and also having the great Spanish director Pedro Almodovar name it one of his favourite films of the year, Blue has also generated a certain degree of negative press. Having taken five months to shoot instead of the projected two-and-a-half, with seven hundred and fifty hours of dailies, the two leads Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos, amongst numerous members of the crew, have said that the shoot was horrendous and would never work with director Abdellatif Kechiche again. Since that interview in The Daily Beast (I'll put a link at the bottom of the review, for it makes a good read), Kechiche has made his opinions felt that the film should not be released, for it has been "sullied" by the negative press going into it, the remarks made by the actresses a breach of trust and that he "felt humiliated, disgraced." So, as you can see, there's a bit of contextual baggage going into the picture, but as I said, it's contextual, and you shouldn't let facts outside of the picture make your mind up for you. So, plot synopsis: Adele (Exarchopoulos) is a secondary-school student who has been dissatisfied with a relationship, and passes by a woman with blue hair, falling in love at first sight. On a night out with a friend, she bumps into the woman, named Emma (Lea Seydoux), and from there unfolds a relationship which encompasses the film. Shall we dance?

So, starting with the good, the acting from Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux are extraordinary. To address the elephant in the room from the bat, the film's long, graphic sex scenes, I have to say that they were tastefully done and that the two actresses made them work. They are erotic, charged, passionate and the fact of the matter is is that they tell a brilliant physical story in the way that most movies use sex as a disposal commodity are for the base arousal factor. However, though these are the headline-grabbers, if you will there is so much more to their performances than the purely physical manner. Throughout, the two maintain this palpable tension, and inject their roles with a genuine three-dimensional quality: these are people who quite clearly exist and the two treat Adele and Emma as such. Every smile, every tear, every twitch and turn of the eye is masterfully depicted. In this regard, the two also have a wonderful script to work with. We begin the film with Adele as a teenager, who is in a stage of transition, discovering who she is in life. Although it is a three-hour movie where, in Hollywood terms, nothing much happens, there is an astonishing level of complexity to the screenplay, both in terms of the subtly of the structure and the central character development. There were whole scenes in the film which lasted ten, fifteen, even twenty minutes, which would have been drawn out in most other movies, and I was hanging onto every bit of dialogue. Though it is at times wonderfully poetic, it is more so engaging because it is real and this is how people talk in the real world. The long running time is no challenge when you've got a movie that is consistently, from scene to scene, this well written and performed by people who put their all into their work. Technically too, while not a big-budget endeavour by any stretch, the film has many strengths. The cinematography by Sofian El Fani is tremendously expressive, capturing every little detail imaginable. Featuring some beautiful close-ups that would give Tonino Delli Colli's work with Sergio Leone a run for it's money, there are also some painterly landscape shots caught that could end up on a postcard. It's not just beauty for beauty's sake, for it importantly contributes to the telling of the story. The editing is something of real subtlety. The two editors (Albertine Lastera and Camille Toubkis) have cut this film in such a way that there is no overt stylistic traits, but if one assesses it closely enough we can see how these decisions affect our experience of the film. The use of Kuleshovian montage technique enables to experience the film not only from multiple characters' perspectives, but also our own, creating this sort-of questioning as to whose side, if any, are we witnessing. At times there seem to be inclinations of the male gaze whenever a male character is attracted to Adele, but also there moments of finer appreciation and also that of pure objectivity. More subtlety also lies in how, while there are no intertitles or other such things to indicate 'five years later' or what have you, there are still clear passages of time, made all the more jarring by their lack of gimmickry. As such, while it is clearly a real world movie with verite qualities, it maintains a fragmentary, dreamlike atmosphere. The film's use of sound also contributes to this. From what I could ascertain, there didn't seem to be any original musical compositions in the film, so when we hear the songs on the soundtrack, there are a variety of aural techniques used. Sometimes they are brought to the fore, as we may experience under the influence of alcohol, or just playing in the background, but all this adds to our cognitive experience of the film. Also, sound 'effects,' if you will, are used brilliantly. We hear every smack of lips, every sniffle, their joy, orgasm and ecstasy, and it is thoroughly engaging to be treated a movie were no one part is deprived and that the whole thing is a wonderful composite. For this, Abdellatif Kechiche should be, and is fully deserving, of any praise that is garnered in his direction. For all the reports of his being a tyrant on set (he's not the first. Just read a few stories about James Cameron.), the proof is in the pudding here. He has ensured that what we get from his picture is a thoroughly enriching, heartbreaking, heartwarming and extraordinary experience. This film has many pieces that comprise to make up this beautiful puzzle. Also, not to overly politicise the movie, I love the fact that, yes, it's a gay relationship between two women, but how Kechiche portrays their love as simply that: love. There is no fetishisation or overt eroticism on the basis of their same-sex relationship, nor is there that pernicious 'gay-scare' attitude that pervades a lot of contemporary cinema to this day. I'm biased, granted, being a straight ally and fervent supporter of LGBT rights, but to see such well-roundedness and open-minded qualities in a mainstream film is an encouraging breath of fresh air. I always consider it to be something of an honour to be able to watch a movie like Blue Is The Warmest Colour, and I came out of the cinema it feeling all the better for having seen such a wondrous, beautiful, majestic picture. 

Now, as you can tell, I loved this movie, and in my opinion, it's one of four films I've seen in this calendar year (the other three being The Act Of Killing, Rush and Gravity) that I can say are outright masterpiece. Au contraire to the opinions of someone like Francis Ford Coppola, who doesn't think there has been a masterpiece made since the 1970s, I see about four or five films every year that I would define as such. However, though I adored Blue Is The Warmest Colour, I'd be hollow and closed-minded if I were to deny that there will be people who do not like this movie. The long running time in the art-house realm, which made it's name with ninety minutes pictures by the likes of Ingmar Bergman, and which today are exemplified by (often) monstrously bloated $200 million action movies, will be a test for some. Even more so, the sex scenes, which I thought were beautifully executed, will probably alienate some members of the audience (though I would suggest that if you possess the frigidity of the giggling balloon-head sitting behind me, a level of uber-masculinity like the bloke to my left remarking "that was quick," or are a heteronormative fool, this perhaps isn't the movie for you). 

Excusing my nastiness regarding audience reactions (yes, I know it can boil down to personal taste, but allow me to surmise!) to the doubtless alienation some will feel due to the sex scenes and the lengthy running time, I though that Blue Is The Warmest Colour was an excellent movie. The performances from Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux are extraordinary acts of virtuosity and the transcendence of truly great acting, the screenplay is among the best of the year, full of the complex development of personal relationships and some brilliant dialogue. Technically, the cinematography is highly expressive and the editing induces very subtly in this real world a dreamlike atmosphere. Aurally too, the film makes appropriate use of it's soundtrack and the sound design/editing contributes to depicting the utter intricacy of the central relationship. It is enriching to get a film so fully realised, and that can be put down also to the direction of Abdellatif Kechiche, who ensures that all these elements make together the composite of a wonderful tapestry. At this year's Cannes Film Festival, the president of the jury, Steven Spielberg said "The film is a great love story... We were absolutely spellbound by the two brilliant young actresses, and the way the director observed his young players." While I wish could make such succinct statements, these are my sentiments precisely, Mr. Spielberg!

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 9.5/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Nyar (that was one of the hardest ratings I've had to hand out: to decide between Blue Is The Warmest Colour and The Act Of Killing is a bloody hard thing to do, so I'm calling a temporary tie!)

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