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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 22 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 47
L'amour est bleu - Kechiche's heartrending film is an affecting journey of love and loss
Arts & Entertainment
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L'amour est bleu - Kechiche's heartrending film is an affecting journey of love and loss

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR
Opens November 22


'How do you understand that the heart is missing something?' So asks a teacher early on in the sprawling coming-of-age romance Blue Is the Warmest Color (La Vie d'Adèle - Chapitre 1 et 2), and it is the pivotal question that runs through virtually every frame of director Abdellatif Kechiche's (The Secret of the Grain) prize-winning epic. It is the central query around which everything else will revolve, and while finding a definitive answer is impossible, trying to do so still proves to be an adventure well worth taking for heroine Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos).

She is 15, with dreams of romance, love, and more drifting through her mind at any given moment. When she meets blue-haired art student Emma (Léa Seydoux), those fantasies begin to become reality, the slightly older girl taking her on a journey of passion, sex, and longing she never could have imagined beforehand. Theirs is a connection neither expected nor prepared for, their embraces having an influence on their young lives that will be felt for many years to come.

Based (or inspired, for as far as I can tell this is as loose an adaptation of any piece of source material in all of 2013 this side of World War Z) on the Gallic graphic novel by Julie Maroh, director and co-screenwriter Kechiche, working again with Black Venus collaborator Ghalia Lacroix, isn't interested in genre tropes or melodrama staples. His film eschews easy categorization, playing with stereotypes and clichés in bold, vibrant ways making even the most routine of coming-of-age redundancies feel fresh and new. His film spirits around Adèle and Emma's relationship with a spry, imaginative ingenuity that's constantly intoxicating, passion and pain handled with unflinching specificity making all that's taking place come home to roost in bracingly authentic fashion.

In many ways, I felt like was watching an amalgam of early John Cassavetes melded with the unflinching European sensibilities of, say, Erick Zonca or brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Kechiche's bold attention to detail and documentary-like nuance almost without equal. Even at nearly three hours in length, his film isn't out of sorts or unfocused, and while at times certain tangents have the aura of being off-track or inconsequential the filmmaker continually connects the dots giving them a hardened eloquence difficult to describe and even harder to dismiss.

ASTOUNDING PERFORMANCES
None of which would matter if the actors in charge of bringing all of these numerous layers and emotional gradations to life weren't up to the challenge presented them, and to say both the every-luminous Seydoux and the astonishing Exarchopoulos rise to the occasion belittles they're collective achievements. For the former, she's managed to make an indelible imprint on a number of features ranging from a Hollywood action sequel (Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol) to a Woody Allen treasure (Midnight in Paris) to immaculate French period pieces (Farewell, My Queen; The Last Mistress), and that's just a handful of triumphs. But she goes way beyond anything we've seen before portraying Emma, her passionate creature of happenstance and chance never what she appears. This is a full-bodied depiction of carnal longing and festering physical need that is as explosive as it is bewitching, Seydoux neither hero Nor villain, just a fellow traveler on life's ever-winding road seeking love and togetherness like everyone else.

As magnificent as she is - and she is close to brilliant - Seydoux is nothing in comparison to 19-year-old relative newcomer Exarchopoulos. It's hard to put into writing just how glorious the actress is, how deep she travels down Adèle's labyrinthine path, and to call her work the performance of the year would still not quite speak to the heart of just how mind-blowing she is. This is her journey, her enlightenment - the pitfalls and perils, the triumphs and jubilations, the mundane and the sedentary - all of it and more coming into play as our young principal experiences her sexual awakening. Not a moment feels artificial, not a look is out of place or false, each beat of her performance a carefully calibrated waltz of growth and illumination that's as profound as it is monumental.

Much has been made of the sex scenes and it's easy to see why. They are as explicit as advertised, and while their length can border on excessive, at the same time there is nothing puerile or exploitive about what is going on or how it is being depicted. Yes, some while be titillated, finding voyeuristic excitement in watching Seydoux and Exarchopoulos physically express their desires. But in doing so they may not notice how deftly the actresses, as well as Kechiche, keep these sequences focused upon the characters and their emotional growth above all else, showing in stunning fashion how sex and love can blossom into one and the same thing, oftentimes at the most unexpected of moments.

I'm not classifying Blue Is the Warmest Color as some sort of 'coming out' movie. It isn't a 'Lesbian melodrama' in the strictest sense. Kechiche's film is interested in so much more with regard to the human condition that trying to pigeonhole it one way or another does both it and the audience watching it a disservice. Everything, start to finish, constantly and with propulsive magnetism, keeps leading back to that initial question, the heart and its mysterious, virtually unfathomable longings a tale of growth, desire, understanding, lust, and, yes, love that can be intimately understood - orientation, gender, and all the rest notwithstanding.

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