Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Blue is the Warmest Color" is an unblinking look at young lesbian love

Film wins Canne Film Festival's Palm d'Or in unprecedented determination

promotional photos courtesy Sundance Select/IFC Films
New York news conference photos by Dwight Casimere

Reviewed by Dwight Casimere at the 51st New York Film Festival October 11, 2013
 Adele Exarchopoulos as high school student Adele in the coming-of-age romance/drama

 Director Abdellatif Kechiche and the film's stars Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos jointly accept the Palm d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival
 Director Kechiche with the film's star Adele Exarchopoulos (center) at the New York Film Festival press screening

Lea Seydoux as the older Emma and Adele Exarchopoulos as the teenaged Adele in the sexually charged lesbian love story "Blue is the Warmest Color"

NEW YORK--Perhaps the most eagerly anticipated screening at the 51st New York Film Festival was the Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or winner "Blue is
the Warmest Color" from Tunisian-born French director Abdellatif Kechiche and Sumdance Selects and IFC Films (USA). The film opened to solid revues and strong ticket sales in limited opening runs in New York and Los Angeles and received critical acclaim at recent screenings at the 49th Chicago International Film Festival. The film recieved the unusual distinction of being unanimously voted to win the festival's prestigious Palme d'Or award. In an unprecedented move, the jury, headed by Steven Spielberg, elected to give the award jointly to the director and the film's two female stars, Adele Exarchopoulos and and Lea Seydoux, making the actresses the only women besides Jane Campion to have won the festival's top award. On crafting its announcement, the jury said it was awarding the "three artists" involved in creating the movie, thus elevating the role of actors in the creative process and removing some of the "auteure" snobbery associated with previously limiting the award only to directors. 

Also titled  "La Vie d'Adele" (The Life of Adele) in the original French version, which won the Palm d'Or, the live-action romance/drama generated both considerable controversy and high praise for its explicit sex scenes which depicted unbridled lesbian lovemaking. The centerpiece, no-holds-barred (pardon the pun) lesbian sex scene in the three-hour movie lasts nearly ten minutes. Both actresses are shown in a virtually static,  single full-frame, full body 
shot that records their love-making. It is uninterupted, without any background music or audio, other than the sounds of their physical contact and there is no cutaway to relieve the visual tension. It is a powerful scene that is unrelenting in its brutal honesty. Admittedly titilating for a moment, it does begin to get a bit tedious about five minutes in. You're just about ready to take the obligatory afterglow nap before its all over. The same can be said for the rest of the film, which is beautifully shot, with almost every frame laboriously and meticulously mapped out, sometimes to the point of the obvious. To its saving grace, however,  there always seems to be some captivating nuance, some never to be duplicated emotional charge, no matter how many times it is telegraphed, and that happens frequently, that makes this one of the most compelling films of the year. It's easy to see why it won the Palm d'Or and in such spectacular fashion.

The great Steven Spielberg, who heads the Cannes jury, is quoted as saying the film is the best love story he has ever seen.

The two stars have been on a whirlwind global promotional tour and stopped recently to give a news conference at a press screening during the final days of the 51st New York Film Festival. Both readily admitted that the filming process was excruciating, with the explicit sex scene topping the list. To put it bluntly, according to the actors, it was not an easy shoot. "It was too difficult," said Exarchopoulos, who is not a lesbian, and who is, in fact, now dating her male co-star in the film, Jeremie Laheurte. He (director Kechiche)  asked me to do things that made me feel like a prostitute. I will never work with him again," she said,  tongue-in-cheek (again, pardon the extremely distasteful pun). The sex scene took ten days to shoot. "Abdell (the director) likes to take his time. He doesn't like fabrication. He doesn't want to see you act, he wants your soul," she said through an interpreter, provided by the film festival. Despite her protests, there's speculation that a sequel is already in the works.

 Exarchopoulos said she cut herself on a glass door during the fight scene between she and Seydoux, "He wanted us to really hit each other and continued shooting even after I was hurt." 

The film has already earned nearly a million dollars in sales in just a few weeks of limited release in New York and Los Angeles. It's drawing huge crowds as it rolls out in countries around the world and is being awaited with baited breath by audiences in this country for its eventual wider release in U.S. theaters.  "Blue is the Warmest Color" is a groundbreaking film that treats a sensitive subject with honesty and an unblinking eye. Go see it, just bring along a comfy seat cushion and lots of popcorn.

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