Movie BlueAbdellatif Kechiche, director of the fine 2007 film Secret of the Grain, about working class immigrants in the French fishing town of Sète, has gone off into other neighborhoods and lives with his 2013 offering, Blue is the Warmest Color.  We see the bored youngsters of a French high school, as multiracial as any big city US school.  We see young primary schoolers and their teachers, middle class single-child families sitting down to dinner, dance parties gay and straight. We are even present at an exuberant Gay Pride parade with the two leads. Through this, first love blooms in all its tender awkwardness, and it dies ugly, as first loves often do.  Life goes on, but achingly, the wounds perhaps never fully healing.

At its most pared down it is a story of a third year high school girl, Adèle, as she adventures into the world of love with all its doubts, fears, hopes and desires.   is marvelous as her face trembles through all  of the emotions, her eyes moving uncertainly towards and then away from the one before her, her lips lifting in tentative  half smiles then retreating, her brown eyes looking with desire and fear of desire unreturned.  But this early play of desire is the most marvelous part of the movie.  The rest — well  is interminable.

Interminable love making, fingers and faces in every nook and cranny.

Interminable crowded dance floor scenes.

Interminable teaching scenes with small students.

Interminable walk out of school, camera in her face.

[In fact, interminable extreme close-ups.]

Interminable slurping spaghetti scenes.

This is a three hour movie that could have been pared to one and a half simply by shortening many of scenes.  We get it. She is at a party. Everyone is dancing. She is looking around, hoping.  What additional information, or emotion is intended by making the scene 6 minutes instead of 2 or 3 is not gathered in by this viewer. There is something Andy Warholish in Kechiche’s insistence on long scenes.  Just keep looking.  Reality happens.  Kechiche is known for his ‘directorless’ directing.  He gave Adele directions like, ‘Buy a hamburger and cry. Go.’.  His pre-casting interview with her was simply to sit and watch.  I suppose an argument could be made then that long scenes add the maneuver of ‘reality’ to the movie.  Teachers don’t dance around with their charges for 20 seconds, as would be enough to make a plot or character point, but actually for minutes at a time. So let’s do that. New love is not exhausted with a ‘quickie’ so let’s watch the whole thing — all 69 positions.

Other oddities interrupt the movie.  The disappearances of major figures in Adèle’s life — a gay high school student who is her best friend and only supporter during a vicious anti-lesbian tirade by other friends, comforts her and then is not seen again;  her parents with whom she is living, and then she is not.  One scene in subdued lighting cuts to another in bright lighting seemingly indicating passage of time.  Three years go by from beginning to end but knowledge of this is snuck in through quick comments here and there, not by use of standard film dynamics.  At one point she is bidding children goodbye for the year, the next scene she is at the beach — for the summer? — but with children, and the next she is back in the school with slightly older children.  Perhaps if we knew something more about French school terms this wouldn’t be so baffling.  I for one, didn’t get what I was being told.

 The core story, of young love, doubly confusing because its not with a boy but a 22 year year old female artist, is strong, worth telling.  We’re interested.  How does she navigate this?  How does her partner behave?  Will it end well, or badly?  How will her parents act? We care.  We’re interested in the filmed daring of naked women, and comely they are, making love — but not six and a half minutes interested –with sound effects.  I feel awkward when George Clooney and Violenta Placido go at it, full galloping nudity, in The American,  for just a couple of minutes, much less 6 and a half of fully full exposure.  Really, much of reality happens out of sight.  It’s OK.

Others seem not to mind, the serial, unblinking looking however.  Mick Lasalle of the SF Chronicle thought it one of the best films of the year, “a masterpiece,” and Adele “one of the great roles in modern cinema.”  Plenty of other reviewers give it top marks — up to 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.  I’ll have to be an outlier here. No wonder Americans, and likely most of the world, are so blasé about being spied upon by their governments.  Voyuerism and exhibitionism are part of the modern zeitgeist.  I am observed, therefore I am.

The two scenes that pulled me back into real attention come early and late. Both involve an argument. After Adèle’s high school girlfriends see her walking away during lunch with a blue-haired dyke type, they confront her.  It gets, surprisingly, vicious — among kids who have been shown to have at least one out gay friend.  Adèle fights back. It’s a good scene. Her character and determination are established.   But then, we never see these kids again.  The second is a raging but one-sided argument with her lover, Emma, played as the more aloof, experienced lover by .  Adèle has been caught kissing a man who has dropped her off not far enough away from their shared door.  Emma bores in, calling Adele every vicious word in her vocabulary — and Adèle does not fight back.  She becomes an abject, groveling creature, apologizing again and again — never c0unter attacking with Emma’s likely infidelity with another woman which seems to us to have set Adèle off exploring in an effort to fill in her loneliness. 

is absolutely believable in this — how an actor can bring on such raw, nose dripping sorrow in front of a glass lens, is beyond me, and beyond most actors.  The problem is we want her to stand up for herself, even momentarily.  Yes, breaking off a love can be miserable, out of control stuff but she had reason to at least once flash back in anger before capitulation.  And, where did she go that night, after being kicked out?  We worry for her. We haven’t seen her parents for several movie years; we don’t think she is turning to the young man for comfort or shelter, even though she admits to having slept with him several times, though we can’t be sure since the camera has indicated no such thing.

Maybe movies don’t have to do this anymore.  It doesn’t matter what happens in the gaps.  It’s the emotionally colored high points that tell the story… Maybe.  For me, when I start looking at my wrist watch in the dark I know the movie- — for all its fine segments– and I have parted ways.

 

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