Blue Is the Warmest Colour – Cannes strikes gold

Blue-Is-The-Warmest-Color-2-350x196I NO LONGER care about the Academy Awards on 2nd March 2014. The summer Cannes Film Festival is the gold standard of films in the 21st Century. It is a stamp of approval of incomparable magnitude. The Cannes Film Festival is held in higher esteem by myself, and for the sake of cinema, long may that continue.

This years Palme D’or winner is the best film I have seen all year. You can take Gravity, Blue Jasmine, The Hobbit, Rush, Don Jon. Nothing cinematic will compare to this soon to be modern classic. The French have mastered Cinema, and we as Europeans should rejoice in the fact that they are still releasing such films for our consumption and combating the all too easily accepted assumption that Hollywood is the only place where decent films are made. This is high praise indeed, but Blue is the Warmest Colour is an instant classic. The French cinematic tradition of Renoir is proudly upheld by Abdellatif Kechiche in this superb film.

A 15-year-old finds her naïve perceptions of human sexuality challenged upon meeting a blue-haired student who encourages her to assert her individuality in director Abdel Kechiche’s deeply perceptive drama. Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is in the midst of a sexual awakening when a handsome male classmate strives to catch her attention. Meanwhile, Adèle’s daydreams keep drifting back to Emma (Léa Seydoux), a worldly art student she ran into on the street and again in a lesbian bar. Later, when Adèle and Emma forge an actual connection, the uncertain younger teen discovers a side of herself that she’s never known, becoming increasingly comfortable in her own skin despite the reactions of her close-minded classmates.

The disastrous end to the relationship beckons in an ‘afterglow’ as Adèle wonders why it all went wrong, fumbling from day to dreary day. Exarchopoulos is magnificent, carrying off a role that is on the edge of what many would deem to be acceptable, with ease and grace, for an actress of such formative years. This picture has to be seen, and it lives up to all the hype. The hype is justified by the film’s fearlessness. We have a lesbian couple and we are not going to treat our audience like fools, we are going to present the sex and passion of a relationship in its most pure form. The sex scenes are far from pornographic, rather you are pulled in by their honesty and tenderness. Adèle and Emma are perfect for one another. Regardless of the lesbianism, as human beings we are implored to accept them as a couple, as happiness is the driving force behind their seemingly perfect connection.

Exarchopoulos plays Adèle always on the edge of destruction and emotional imbalance. Her happiness is fleeting, her depths are deep and her depression understandable in its beautiful portrayal. Seydoux is perfect as the counterbalance. Playing the slightly senior but imperfect Emma, she challenges convention, declaring her sexuality through her hairstyle and not caring. Care free and challenging, this film is everything that cinema should be in the face of convention. For those citing favouritism to give the biggest prize in European- and as far as I am concerned world cinema-to a French film should watch Like Father Like Son and see if they really have misjudged the films on offer.

Cinematographically this harks back to the European Classics of Il Conformista. Every camera angle, every line, every act is deliberate and it makes for a sublime picture. Of Kechiche’s direction, Exarchopoulos says “I had to really lose myself. We had no makeup or hair on set. He’d give me directions like, ‘Buy a hamburger and cry. Go.’ Even while I was sleeping he’d be shooting me. He wanted to capture every moment’s truth. So the journey was different for everyone. I grew up with my character and I discovered how fragile I can be. So, yeah, I learned a lot about my emotions, my work ethic, and how far I’m willing to go. It was taxing and overwhelming, but I loved it.” Kechiche’s work ethic to deliver an authentic representation of what it would be to live in this story rather than simply act it, is something that is clear to see, and he should be credited endlessly for such an approach to homosexuality.

This film will force many audience members and film fans to mature sexually. Gone are the days of typically Hollywood blurred sex scenes and curtains suggestively blowing in the wind. Exarchopoulos on the sex scenes “American audiences aren’t used to it. It’s a choice by the director. We all have sex, it’s like a drug, everyone loves it. We had to show how making love to someone is visceral. We had to convey how much of yourself you give over. So we chose to show everyone the emotion behind discovering one’s sexuality. It was really a question of trust.”

I cannot help but feel sorry for Adèle. In her loneliness she transgresses with a man, but later in the film it is discovered that Emma has joined forces with Lise, the women she was endlessly flirting with during the extravagant but simple moving-in party in the second act. It was refreshing for the relationship to end so amicably, but the film ends before Adèle finds any form of closure or somebody to lose herself in.

As an ambitious and clear minded schoolteacher Adèle has a direction and a career path in mind. It was so fulfilling to watch a film where both of the main young women knew exactly what they wanted as a career. Furthermore, this film is intensely intelligent, as the characters have open dialogue about sexuality, psychology and the merits of Sartre. Discussions centre around what you have read in a book in comparison to the usual banal conversations about Facebook and who is banging who in celebrity land. The sexiness of the film was not the sex, it was the minds of the women in the leading roles.

You can always trust the French to break the mould. I am convinced that La vie d’Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2 would not have had such an effect upon me if it was in English. It is quintessentially French for its bravery and raw emotion over everything else. Everything is timed beautifully. The love, the hate, the inward looking questioning of oneself is as close to perfect as I have ever seen. Linguistically the script is smart and well-judged, allowing the actors and actresses a free-rein for interpretations.

I adored this film. Sublime. It should be rightly honoured in the main categories at the upcoming Academy Awards, rather than being shunted to the “Film not in The English Language” category, and given a demeaning pat on the head for doing what an English language film would never have the gumption to do. I will finish by simply saying this. It has made everything else I have watched this year look amateurish. Cate Blanchett for Best Actress is not a sure thing after all.