So, last week my movie options were - Robert Redford lost at sea or a 3 hour French lesbian drama. Obviously that was a no-brainer as I went and saw Blue is the Warmest Color.
Honestly, I'm always saying that I'll watch anything as long as it's not boring. If it's good, that's even better. At 3 hours, Blue could've tipped the scales into boredom, but it never even came close. The basic coming-of-age story is given quite the radical treatment. But let's see if I can dole out why it's as good as it is over the next few paragraphs.
Adele (played by Adele Exarchopoulos) is a high school student who is just living her life, doing her schoolwork, and hooking up with the cute boy from school. But things just don't feel right. And when she sees a girl with blue hair, all I could think of was Willow's response from seeing her vampire doppelganger in a Buffy episode - "I think I'm kinda gay." And then Adele starts searching for that blue haired girl by going to a lesbian bar. Emma (Lea Seydoux) is the blue haired girl, and she's everything Adele could possibly hope for. She's smart, artistic, worldly, and into her.
And here's where things intensify for the viewer. When Adele and Emma consummate their relationship, it's in a scene that feels like it goes on for about 10 minutes. Within the context of a 3 hour film, that's not too much, but when you're watching it, it's staggering. It makes you run the gamut of emotions when you see it, simply because of it's length. Obviously there's titillation. But then there's uncomfortableness, because you feel like you're intruding on a very intimate act. Then there's boredom - the scene is going on forever! Then there's the detached technical aspect - what is each person doing right now, where's the cameraman, who's doing the lighting? And then it circles all back around to just honesty. This is what these characters want, and we're just privy to to it. It's Verhoevenesque in that it extends the scene past it's normal stopping point in order to make you experience every emotion and feeling that wouldn't otherwise occur in anything shorter. It's also the scene that I think caused a few walkouts. (Wimps.)
But from this scene, Adele's and Emma's relationship is created and builds. Time passes, Adele becomes a teacher, and Emma an artist. Both are doing what they want to do. And that's when the trouble starts.
I hadn't really thought about it until now, but this is one of the things the film wants us to think about. Are we happy if we get the job we want? Adele is a teacher of young children. This is what she's been wanting to do for years. Emma is an artist (a painter), and she's starting to get recognized. One of them starts to feel down about their job. And I don't even want to say disillusioned, because they knew what they're getting into. But Adele doesn't know what she wants from her life anymore, and while she still loves Emma, she starts to lose sight of the treasures she has. And because she's not as mature as Emma, she doesn't know how to express her feelings beyond the surface ones. And because of that, she torpedoes the only relationship that has any meaning for her. It's devastating for both her and us. We want to reach out into the screen, grab Adele, and shake her, shouting, "Stop ruining the best thing that that's ever happened to you, let alone the only thing you really want."
This is a devastating film. Emotions are always out in the open. While Adele may have issues with expressing her thoughts, she has no problem expressing her emotions. If we weren't able to spend so much time with the characters, it's probable that we wouldn't care as much as we do. But we've been intimate with them. We know their friends. We know their jobs. We know their lives. Our feelings have now become part of the film. And that's why I think it's been as lauded as it's been.
I've seen two female lead performances this year that have been knockouts - Sandra Bullock in Gravity (I've always liked her as an actress, but even I didn't know she had that in her), and Adele Exarchopoulos in this. She goes from a student searching for her identity to a flawed human being who doesn't know why she made the mistakes she did, let alone how to recover from them. It's a tragedy of the highest order, and she so inhabits the character that we sympathize with her even though we've seen every misstep that she's taken.
Yes, the movie is long. Yes, the sex is graphic (hello, NC-17). Yes, it's not going to win the feel good movie of the year. But as a film, it grabs you, demands your attention, and leaves you with the lingering aftereffects of its story. Sometimes I just want a movie to just be good. This one is.