LA VIE D'ADÈLE, CHAPITRES 1 ET 2 (Blue Is the Warmest Color)

If you're coming at Blue Is the Warmest Color lured in and tantalized by the lesbian sex scenes that have generated so much ink, boy are you in for a disappointment. What French director Abdellatif Kechiche's latest film, winner of the 2013 Palme d'Or at the Cannes film festival, is about is quite the opposite. It's not about sex (not even about homosexuality), it's about life; and sex is a part of it, just like love is, only not the central one. And life is what Mr. Kechiche's cinema has always been about, with this deliberately unfaithful adaptation of Julie Maroh's graphic novel fitting in just perfectly: it's a story of people on the outside looking in and wanting to belong while having a hard time doing so, as were the school kids of L'Esquive (Games of Love and Chance), the laid-off worker trying to set himself up as a restaurateur in the masterful La Graine et le mulet (Couscous/The Secret of the Grain), or the African carny of Black Venus. As always in the director's work, there will be no punches pulled and no flinching allowed from truth and life.

     At its heart, Blue Is the Warmest Color is the coming-of-age tale of Adèle (unbelievably poised first-timer Adèle Exarchopoulos), a suburban high school senior who finds herself drawn to the older, blue-haired Emma (Léa Seydoux). A chance encounter and they fall madly in love with each other, and Mr. Kechiche's film traces the rise and fall of their love story over a few years and three hours of screen time as the voyage of self-discovery that leads Adèle into full adulthood: her first love, her first job, her first relationship, her first heartbreak. He does so through his usual upfront, leisurely process of eliciting long, almost spontaneous scenes in order for the characters to breathe and gain a roundness most fast-cut narratives don't allow for.

     Letting things go on for as long as needed for the character to exist and the story to develop organically, though, puts demands on the film's length and narrative structure and the viewer's interest that, for the first time in Mr. Kechiche's short oeuvre, the film itself may not support. There has always been an intensity, a dramatic crescendo in the director's work that is replaced in Blue Is the Warmest Color by an ebb-and-flow rhythm that may be more life-like (and more like life) but also condemns it to peaks and troughs where the lows may "feed" the highs but can seem surplus to storytelling requirements.

     At its best - and that is whenever both Ms. Exarchopoulos and Ms. Seydoux are on screen - Blue Is the Warmest Color is an outstanding, richly layered picture that manages to find its humanity in the little things of life, the little gestures that make a relationship, a home, a conversation. Elsewhere, there's a sense that Mr. Kechiche is holding out, uncertainly, for something to happen, for something to be revealed, like Hafsia Herzi wearing herself out dancing to forget about the delay of the couscous in The Secret of the Grain or Yahima Torrès allowing her body to be explored in Black Venus. Yet, whereas in those films the waiting eventually paid off (even if in a negative way), here the mundanity of the subject matter (a girl coming of age and going through her first real love story) mean the stakes of waiting are much smaller; there's only a broken heart depending on it, even if a broken heart may be the most painful thing in the world.

     Ultimately, Mr. Kechiche's increasingly minute micro-management of his films reaches a limit in this unwieldy but intermittently thrilling three hours: as his camera has pulled in closer and closer to his characters and their stories, from the collective to the individual, his films have become longer and longer and have gained the depth and weight of a self-important, serious novel. Blue Is the Warmest Color is not the masterpiece it could have been and that, at times, it seems to want to be, though; a grandiose archway whose supporting pillars may be a bit too fragile for its features.

Cast: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Screenwriters: Mr. Kechiche, Ghalya Lacroix, from the graphic novel by Julie Maroh Blue Is the Warmest Color
Cinematography: Sofian el Fani (colour, widescreen)
Editors: Camille Toubkis, Albertine Lastera, Ms. Lacroix, Jean-Marie Lengellé, Sophie Brunet
Producers: Brahim Chioua, Vincent Maraval, Mr. Kechiche  (Wild Bunch and Quat'Sous Films in co-production with France 2 Cinéma, Scope Pictures, RTBF and Vertigo Films)
France/Belgium/Spain, 2013, 180 minutes

Screened: distributor advance press screening, Medeia Monumental 2, Lisbon, November 15th 2013


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