Thursday, July 10, 2014

Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie d'Adèle, Chapitres 1 & 2) (2013)

Love and Seafood in Gay Paree

directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
starring Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos

Girl meets girl. Girl discovers the messy-faced joys of cunt-lapping. Girl discovers herself in the process. Girl then discovers that sometimes it's the "free-spirited," DayGlo-haired dykes who run game and break hearts while cocksure pretty boys hold their babies tight and ask 'em if it was any good.

I'm guessing that anyone who adds Blue Is the Warmest Color to their home library, and actually watches the thing once the current wave of hype dies down, belongs to one of two groups: 1) lesbians seeking the lifestyle validation (not to mention, flattery) of seeing their ideal "the time I became a real woman" deflowering scenario given the imprimatur of a critically-lauded Cannes sensation 2) pretentious Criterion junkies who need good spank material but prefer it dressed up in arty musings on Sartre and framed in the jittery, hand-held close-ups and inability to properly utilize 'Scope framing of the post-millennial indie set. (Said Criterion junkies will probably shelve it alongside In the Realm of the Senses and their Catherine Breillat DVD's.)

I'm also guessing that if Blue were the moving, emotionally involving tale of a straight male who knowingly pursued — then seduced — underage gash, it wouldn't enjoy near the amount of critical accolades and film-buff chinstrokes that it's received as the ode to pussy-eating-as-personal-liberation that it actually is. What is our "liberated" modern era, after all, but a curious facsimile of a horror film in which the unabashedly straight (white) male is typecast as the hockey-masked bogeyman slashing away at the idealism of those who "just want to love" with his machete of rigid intolerance? What is it if not some bizarre comedy of role reversal wherein every stripe of kink and sexual proclivity is given the blessing of media-enforced legitimacy and trite civil rights analogies — every proclivity, that is, except the one which lends itself to family stability, tradition and the continuation of the human race?

Let's take that last scenario a bit further, though. Imagine, for a moment, that Abdellatif Kechiche's much talked-about piece of gay-rights applause bait were instead the "blazingly emotional and explosively sexy" tale of a fifteen year-old girl falling under the spell of a rakish, philosophy-discussing, spontaneous-sketch-rendering older male. And let's say that, like the Lolita-chasing butchie played by Léa Seydoux, this older male sweet-nothinged his way into our teenybopper's soiled little panties despite already having a girlfriend. I'm guessing that, under this decidedly non-feminist-approved scenario, the tone of Kechiche's direction would be quite different — it wouldn't be nearly as "non-judgmental" and "even-handed" and "observant" here as it is while documenting his young heroine's slide into middle-class faux-rebellion via the "alternative lifestyle" that red-blooded males have been painting the ceiling over their beds to since junior high. I'm guessing that, under this straight-guy-seduces-young-nymphet scenario, there's no way that Blue wouldn't morph into some tsk-tsk-tsk'ing jeremiad about the ways that headstrong girls dying for a taste of adulthood get sucked into emotionally exploitive situations by immature cads trying to relive their carefree younger days.

Nor is there any way, under this scenario, that we'd get the hilariously protracted (and partially unsimulated) smorgasbords of muff-slurping, hip-jerking, tit-clawing and rump-slapping that Kechiche and his actresses treat us to here — your basic, steamy Euro-porn meatloaf served up on the fine china of a lofty association with young women breaking loose from "oppressive" social norms. Furthermore, there'd be none of the horseshit implications that Blue gives us in its real-world incarnation: that Adèle's initiation into a secret society of workbooted he-women with perpetual oyster-breath and Home Depot memberships has made her an authentic being in ways that a man's pelvic battering-ram couldn't; that predatory Lester Burnham-ish impulses and a man-on-fire eagerness to shed paramours say nothing unsavory — or at least, worthy of our consideration — about Léa Seydoux's Sapphic seductress.

Of course, I'm just guessing. Blue is what it is, in all of its au courant gay-is-the-new-self-discovery splendor — and what it is, say the hosannahs from IndieWorld, is a masterpiece.

Adèle Exarchopoulos is certainly an interesting actress — still young enough that she hasn't developed a filter of self-conscious protectiveness between herself and the camera. She's as naked as a rabbit-toothed ball of awkwardness fielding advances from her pre-"awakening" male crush, or while struggling to chew pasta like an inhabitant of the higher rungs of the evolutionary ladder, as she is while leg-locked with Seydoux for our Jergen's-lubricated enjoyment. Problem is, the Adèle character — as a person, as a protagonist worth a small chunk of our lives — is a work in progress. She's still on the road to becoming whoever she's going to be and — like anyone at her age with the blanks on their life experience resumé yet to be filled in — she's simply not that interesting.

There's nothing that Kechiche has to tell us about this perfectly average teenage girl that could reasonably fill out — or even begin to justify — a three-hour running time meant to serve large-scale epics and tapestries of time and place. There's no extraneous, over-emphasized detail highlighted by his directorial approach that wouldn't have been better served by more thorough integration into already-established moments of revelation, or by plain old creative implication. By its second hour, the film's become the equivalent of watching a man trying to run underwater — its progression is slowed enough that we might note particulars of movement that would otherwise go un-etched in the stone tablet of memory, but all it adds up to is that we're expected to glean insight from the tedious spectacle of something not moving forward very far. Detail for detail's sake does not a masterpiece of fringe humanity make.

Me, I like my spank material to be upfront and unapologetic about what it is — minus the overblown running time that'd have Bertolucci's 1900 yawning and checking its watch, and minus the grade-school usage of a girl's sudden appreciation for oysters as a clumsy metaphor for her growing embrace of bedroom clam-licking. One could re-edit Blue into a porno-Godardian montage of nothing but its sex scenes and convey virtually the same character information, while enabling me to blow my load and get back to more culturally enriching matters — like the "pinky violence" marathon I've had going ever since sleazoid Japsploitation filmmakers showed me just how aesthetically pleasing blood-spattered Asian tits in Toeiscope can be.

It's too bad about Blue, though — that gap next to Fat Girl and Realm on my DVD shelf has been yawning at me for months.

©2014 Scott Is NOT A Professional Film Critic

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