*** out of ****
This year’s Palm d’Or winner at the Cannes film festival is Blue is the Warmest Color, loosely based on a French graphic novel about a lesbian love affair between two young women. It follows a high school girl who realizes she prefers for the company of women, when it comes to intimacy. Maybe this is because she went on a movie-date with a guy and saw Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void (Not a good date movie). In passing, she sees a masculine looking college-age girl with dyed blue hair, for whom she seeks out, finds at a lesbian dive bar and begins a relationship.
To watch the movie makes its graphic novel origin kind of surprising. Almost everything on the screen looks like it was invented along the way, rather than mapped out. This is a compliment to the raw emotion and naturalistic strength of the film and its players. It is a movie with some very heavy scenes of sexuality that are supposedly simulated, yet a carnally explicit display of what lovers do when they are going to town in their most private environment.
It seems pornographic but when you think about it, most pornography is very aware of its exhibitionism, which these characters don’t seem to be. We see every clumsy detail of their fun time, making us voyeurs of what looks like a genuine sensual experience. Is this a good thing? I don’t know.
The sex, memorable as it may be, is one of many elements in this coming of age story that are portrayed in such a truthful way. The movie is naked in more ways than one. There’s a lot of unflattering imagery of people eating in close-up, awkward private moments and everything in life that typically gets filtered-out by the unspoken glamor agenda in the filmmaking process. According to IMDB, the film’s director, Abdellatif Kechiche, shot 800 hours worth of footage for the film and utilized a lot of unguarded moments from the actors between takes in order to capture their natural behavior.
The two leads, played by Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, have been praised for their undeniable believability. While I have total respect for everything they must have undergone, I am sometimes curious how much skill was involved. Some directors invent circumstances, which provoke great performances from almost anyone. The congratulations we give their actors are really about the endurance test it must have been to commit to such intense circumstances.
I have respect for this film, but for some reason, I want to nit-pick at it. It has the tendency to dwell on elements of the character’s lives that don’t feel connected to the plot. It’s boldly, yet aimlessly, about a lot of issues, but focuses on them in a personal way, rather than being a social critique.
At its 179-minute running time, I was also surprised that it didn’t do very much to convey the years that are passing by in the story. There is no music score and very few stylized shots or cuts. In separating itself from the artifice of cinema, the movie made me more aware that a cameraman is there intruding on the business of others. This is a movie reserved for the more hardcore filmgoers, open to experimentation.