A thought popped into my head two hours into Blue is the Warmest Color. I was reminded in two very specific ways to Brokeback Mountain. Don’t bail on this notion yet! Firstly, I was reminded of how Ang Lee’s then-overrated/now-immortalized love story excelled so much more as a portrait of yearning, alienation, lust, and obsessive love, and a very short-lived dialogue about what to make of this alleged progressive watershed film and its eternally miserable characters? And I was also reminded of how both Brokeback Mountain and Blue is the Warmest Color were very difficult to put in boxes. One of the gayest aspects of the gay cowboy movie was how it conformed (aspired?) to melodrama, that the structural thing that perhaps made it less gay might actually be the gayest thing about it. It’s queer emotional palette.
Aside from discussions of the workplace Abdellatif Kechiche directed (that guy really needs a gag order), that seems to be the point of discussion that I am most interested in, which is to say this three-hour lesbian epic co-existing with these male gaze sex scenes. Perhaps male gaze is simplistic, but they have a transformative power to be sure. But into what? They are shot differently than anything else in the film, divorced from POV and character psychology. No longer are we watching Adele and Emma, but two hungry creatures of sexual performance. Honestly, I look at what works so well about the preceding hour of first person singular desire, and I’m not sure if Abdellatif Kechiche knows how to make a film that eventually traipses into a mutual meeting of the minds where one person absorbs another and they exist together. That kind of thing. What am I saying: the sex scenes are erotic because of what we are seeing and not what they mean, and that is male, hetero-normative, and if not porn then at least “porny”.
Let’s look at Brokeback Mountain again (at this point, I hope it doesn’t seem like I’m comparing these two because they are both gay mainstream watershed films): when Ennis and Jack first have sex, it is sex that stems from circumstance and psychology. They are sleeping, it is cold, it is subconscious instinct, they awaken, they are still grabbed this force, they commence without apology or at times understanding. Obviously, I’m not the right audience to judge if that scene is erotic, but there is a charge to it that deepens the character. The sex scenes in Blue is the Warmest Color are certainly very erotic, but I’m not sure they do much for the characters because the movie Kechiche is making feels uncertain when it moves beyond Adele’s first-person singular experience. Adele and Emma’s life together consists of meeting with the parents, a reasonably clichéd scene of Adele learning to eat shellfish, more sex, posing for a painting, and we’ve jumped ahead presumably years. Now their relationship is on the decline. The film finds stronger standing again when Adele is alone. Let me risk putting myself in a hetero-normative box again by citing another “mainstream watershed gay film” (not parentheses), Mulholland Drive, and how that masterpiece just ditched the middle portion altogether. All that boring “We’re together!” stuff. Watch Blue is the Warmest Color and tell me Kechiche isn’t bored by it too.
This is the year that my ability to evaluate films has failed me. This above sounds negative, right? Or at least that I am discussing all the ways in which this movie doesn’t work. Indeed had Abdellatif Kechiche simply made in lieu of a years-spanning three hour Blue is the Warmest Color, simply a feature-length version of Part 1 of Julie Maroh’s comic book, a self-contained feature about finding that person, it might be the triumphant whole that its parts often feel. Parts 1 & 2 together feel like Blue is the Warmest Color: The Rise and Fall of Two Predestined to Fail Lesbian Archetypes. And archetypes they are; this is no meeting of the minds, but rather meeting of the “things characters say who are written to be intellectuals”. Watching Frances Ha again, I found a little of the same thing, but it’s knowing and played for comedy. The emotions are real though, and one of the reasons why the film is often so successful is because Léa Seydoux is playing her archetype for camp while Adele Exarchopoulos at times does not appear to be acting. The collision between their faces not engulfing each other is often more engrossing than when they are because of the confident, fun behind Seydoux’s approach and how Exarchopoulos appears to be experiencing everything for the first time. She might not be a first-time performer but she sure feels like one. I say that in the best way. It’s the best acting I’ve seen this year and your heart breaks for her even though the film doesn’t always deserve it.
So, I’ve paid my $16 to see it (aaah!), I’ve formed my thoughts, what box do I leave this flawed film? Not simply a flawed film, but a film that all-but screams out for a different trajectory altogether. It must be seen. Kechiche’s movie is no sacred cow. It doesn’t entirely work, but what does is masterful. I object to sex scenes between these two characters without psychology, but not necessarily the content of them. If real lesbians don't have sex like this, then these two characters do. I object to character etchings that feel a bit simplistic, but not the emotions behind it. It stretches into narrative territories it is not prepared to venture, like lives, and I wish more films were guilty of the same sins.
"If you are marching with white nationalists, you are by definition not a very nice person. If Malala Yousafzai had taken part in that rally, you'd have to say 'Okay, I guess Malala sucks now.'" ~ John Oliver