Women in Love
It would be disingenuous to deny that publicized explicit sex, lesbian to boot, is what has created the buzz about NC-17 Blue Is the Warmest Color: Chapters 1 & 2/La vie d’ Adèle, a loose adaptation from the type of comic book now glorified as graphic novels. At a New York Film Festival press conference with Adèle Exarchopoulos, a tetchy director, co-writer and –executive producer Abdellatif Kechiche sidestepped oblique questions about that, anyway, though bridling at a suggestion that the minute-less-than-three-hours might do with some cutting, huffing in response that he would add forty-five minutes.
Dividable into topic sections, some of them unnecessary while others are too extended, this Cannes Palme D’Or-recipient is in fact, however, in any number of respects too long. Though it is currently cinema de rigueur to flash writhing flesh rather than imply and get on with it, this film’s two “of a sexually explicit nature” beddings are unnecessary and go on way too long and stretch into boring even if silencing viewers into engrossment or embarrassment.
On the other side of the gender fence but of much the same trajectory, last year’s Keep the Lights On does get on with it as opposed to getting it on and, at an hour and three-quarters, is incomparably better.
Three years ago the NYFF included this same Tunisian-French filmmaker’s marvelous Black Venus, distressing beyond its woeful true tale for getting a lack of attention or distribution here, and within that tale for the appalling realization that the racism, sexism and exploitation of 1815 are very much alive and kicking two centuries later.
One might accept the insistence that this current selection is not “militant about homosexuality,” that, indeed, it does not intend to comment on it beyond “like any other love story,” but it is hard to swallow that it is ”their class differences that cause them to break up.” Neither high school junior Adèle’s (Exarchopoulos) working class parents (Aurélien Recoing, Cathering Salée) nor Emma’s (Léa Seydoux) stereotypical Bohemian liberal mom and stepdad (Anne Loiret, Benoit Pilot) have anything to do with the outcome. Nor, for that matter, does early childhood teacher-in-training Adèle’s classroom world, dwelt on at excessive length, nor Emma’s circle of largely gay artsy-craftsy types. Given the difficulties of relationships, love may not work indefinitely, all-consuming passionate love even less.
This is a first passion for the younger woman, replacing a halfhearted false start with senior Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte) and preceding a desperation physical one with a fellow teacher. Blue-, later blonde-haired Beaux Arts student painter Emma frequents Lille “lesbo” bars. She has a steady in Lise (Mona Walravens) but is intrigued by I am curious (yellow) novice Adèle’s being intrigued with her. It is too much to suppose though nice to imagine that, like Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, her gap-teeth indicate licentiousness.
In front of the long middle section on the girl’s initiation into, and realization of, her adult sexuality, the only relatively less long first part comprises a film on its own, an unintentional comment on bullying. Verbally at least, females size up male classmates as sex objects but, though quiet about Valentin’s (Sandor Funtek) homosexuality, come down obscenely on Sapphic sisters.
Cinematographer Sofian el Fani also worked as co-DP on Black Venus, where dwelling on the laconic heroine’s un-made-up face, especially on those windows-of-the-soul eyes, was warranted. Now, however, pretentiously half-justified by a quotation from Sartre, facial close-ups are incessant and unwittingly humorous. Omnipresent mouths suck in strands of spaghetti -- or oysters, reflecting class differences -- gums are firm, pink and as yet unreceded, and, a short upper lip never manages to cover two as yet unstained Bugs Bunny teeth, but awake and asleep Adèle’s mouth fascinates the camera.
(Released by Sundance Selects and rated “NC-17” for explicit sexual content.)