Blue Is the Warmest Colour (La Vie d’Adèlein the original French) is a film so objectionable on so many levels that it’s no wonder it won Palme d’Or at Cannes.
Nor is it particularly surprising that film critics in all our papers are issuing girlish gasps of delight, especially those who aren’t themselves girls.
We have no film critics any longer, just film buffs incapable of considering a piece of celluloid as a work of art living in a broad cultural and aesthetic context.
The American critic John Simon was the last one capable of doing so, but he’s too old now. It’s a pity for he’d pan Blue Is the Warmest Colour.
Today’s lot don’t: for them it’s a masterpiece, an artistic triumph transcending cinema. Hardly any Anglophone critic has given the film fewer than five stars, and a temptation must have been strong to extend the rating scale just this once.
After all, not only is the film unremittingly graphic, homosexual and French, but it also touches upon things like the primacy of existence over essence. Characteristically, the concept is ascribed to Jean-Paul Sartre, with no apology made to Aristotle and the subsequent 2,500 years of thought. But then everyone knows that there’s no philosophy other than French and Jean-Paul is its prophet. Really, the French should stop teaching philosophy in school or at least keep it out of their flicks.
The film chronicles a protracted lesbian affair between Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a teenage schoolgirl, and Emma (Léa Seydoux), an older art student.
Both actresses really are superb, but it takes more than good acting to make a good film. The director Abdellatif Kechiche makes this point with practically every frame.
The age difference between the lovers would make Emma a criminal in Britain: when the two girls first engage in sexual acrobatics, Adèle is only about 15.
In France, however, 15 is the age of consent, which puts Emma on the right side of prison and the sex offender list. There are of course moral issues involved, but these days even implying that there just may be something wrong with homosexuality is so passé (not to mention borderline illegal) that the thought wouldn’t even cross my mind.
More important, the thought didn’t cross Kechiche’s mind and he treats the relationship as any old love story in which the participants’ sex is irrelevant. In an early scene, before Adèle has even gone further than a couple of saliva-swapping kisses, her classmates do abuse her as a ‘lesbo’, but Kechiche’s camera dismisses them as feral brutes.
Much has been written about the graphic consummation scene lasting 10 minutes or thereabouts. Some critics cite seven minutes, some eight, and I didn’t have a stopwatch handy. To their credit, some did mention that the scene is too long and really quite risible. I can testify that last night many viewers did laugh out loud watching the girls turning the old 69 into more like 4761 (69 squared).
Kechiche shot the scene with three cameras, which enabled him to film the whole romp in one continuous take. Normally, the actresses would have done only a little reciprocal munching before a break to set up new camera angles.
This would have taken 15 minutes or so, giving the girls enough time to catch their breath and brush their teeth. This way they had to go at it for a full 10 minutes each take, and there were lots of takes. That scene alone took 10 days to shoot, and I’m amazed the actresses weren’t left with incurable lockjaw.
According to Léa Seydoux, they weren’t actually doing it for real: both actresses were fitted with fake vaginas moulded into their own. This was the only compromise Kechiche conceded to what he doubtless sees as uncompromising realism, what a strict moralist would see as pornography and what I see as shocking artistic ineptitude.
Any serious artist would have delivered the necessary message in 30 seconds – this would have been not only better film but also better eroticism. It’s not only the devil but also art that’s in the detail, but Kechiche’s idea of detail is to show a freely flowing gallon of snot in a lovingly lingering close-up.
In fact, I’m surprised snot didn’t get a billing in the credits, there’s so much of it gushing throughout the three-hour film. Any kind man would have given Adèle some pseudoephedrine early in the first reel, but one can understand Kechiche’s reluctance to do so. Without a steady flow of mucus his bag of artistic tricks would have been well-nigh empty.
Rarely does one see a director so thoroughly devoid of any sense of balance, structure and rhythm. One gets the impression the film, which took almost six months to shoot, went so far over budget that there was no money left for a decent editor.
Any half-competent cutter would have treated the film as three hours of raw footage, a sort of first draft. He’d then cut it down to a lean 90 minutes, accentuating the relevant, plot-developing, character-defying details and downplaying the rest.
As it is, we’re left with three hours of one tedious close-up of running noses after another. Every scene goes on until the viewer (well, this viewer) is utterly bored and mildly nauseated. Every scene is treated as equally important, which to a man of taste would mean that none of them is important at all.
This, and not just the graphic sex scenes, is what makes Blue Is the Warmest Colour truly pornographic. Add to this the pseudo-philosophical pretentiousness that has become the hallmark of so many French films, and one can understand the admiring gasps of our critics.
The poor sods really don’t know better – and why would they? Where could they find the requisite taste and judgment in a culture that makes I’m a celebrity… get me out of here its towering achievement? Don’t answer it.