So yesterday we went to see “Blue is the Warmest Color” at the West End Cinema, getting there for the 11:40 a.m. showing on a cold, rainy blustery day, in their Theater #3 which, by my count, seats a maximum of about 50 people and has a screen about the same size as many basement rec room home TVs these days. We were the third and fourth to arrive, and I was surprised that there were almost 40 when the film began.
I hadn’t done much research. I knew that it had received very strong reviews, that it was French, and that it was erotic. That’s all I knew. We didn’t go because it was erotic, I must say up front; we went because of the good reviews.
Many surprises. First, because I assumed we would see the show and then go and get a nice lunch (that would be our full day/night entertainment), I asked the ticket seller what time the film would be out. He said that we’d get out a little before 3!! Eastern standard time? Yes, he told us, this film was three hours long (and of course there was the typical array of previews). That called for popcorn, I decided which, along with water, added about $7.50 to the cost of the tickets.
What didn’t I know? I didn’t know that the film’s eroticism went beyond R, and that the film was rated NC-17. I didn’t know that the Palme d’Or was awarded to the director and the two lead actresses at Cannes in 2013. For the award to go to an NC-17 film was, I thought, pretty surprising. (I have since looked on Wikipedia and see that “Blue” has won major awards at 35 different festivals world-wide. Did you know there were even 35 festivals? Wikipedia lists 88 festivals where “Blue” was nominated – in some others it won runner up awards, or where the announcement of the winning films have not been made.)
I was also surprised that the Adele, the central character, was only 15 when the film started (about 25 when the film ended) and a high school junior when she was first involved in a rather explicit sex scene with a boy a year ahead of her in school, and equally surprised to learn that the actor playing Adele, was another Adele, Adele Exarchopoulos, was only 18 when the film was made. This made the film a little Lolita-like, and (for me, at least) a little uncomfortable.
She soon broke up with her short-term high school flame, and met blue haired (I guess hence the title of the film came from the blue hair – in France, no bleu in the titre, simply “La vie d’Adele”) Emma (Lea Seydoux). She had seen Emma and a girl friend on the street (they live in, and the majority of the movie was filmed in, Lille, near the Belgian border), and later met her in a lesbian bar. Now what was a 15 year old girl doing in a Lesbian bar? She went there after leaving the gay bar she went to with a male high school classmate. It seemed that everyone knew she was underage, and she said she was still in high school, but no one – including the bartender – seemed to care.
At any rate, blue-haired Emma befriended her at the bar, and that was it………
Well, there were two major very explicit sex scenes between the two girls. By the way, in life, Lea is 10 years older than Adele – I thought in the film there was about a 5 year difference: when Adele was a high school junior, Leah was in her last year at the university. (5 years would be the difference here; is it the same in France?)
The first of these two scenes is about ten minutes long (some reviews say 10; some say 8). That is a lot to watch, particularly when I am male and they are both female, and I am probably old enough to be the grandfather of one of them. Let’s see: I am 71. If I had a child at 30, she would be 41, and if she had a child at 22, that child could be Adele.
OK, let’s put this aside for a minute. Let’s look at the reviews. Do you know “Rotten Tomatoes”? They list 138 reviews of this film, and only 14 of them thought the film “rotten”. That means it received a 90% success rating from the critics. It received good ratings from 87% of viewers. IMDb gave it an 81% positive rating from 16,855 voters. These are extraordinarily high ratings. And when you read the reviews, they seem to say: you have to overlook the extraordinarily erotic nature of the film and love it because it is just such a good film.
I have to say that the two leads, Exarchopolous and Seydoux, do a fantastic job. No two ways about it. It’s a difficult film – not only because they have to expose themselves physically, but because they have to expose themselves emotionally over a ten year period, through the twists and turns of adolescence and young adulthood. You cannot imagine better casting, or better acting.
But having said that, I have to say that I don’t think it was such a good film. Besides being much too long, I didn’t think that there was anything very interesting about either of the lead characters. They were attractive, but they didn’t say anything that meant anything. They would give you hints of something deeper – Seydoux was an artist (she became an artist able to get her own gallery shows as the movie went on), and Exarchopolous graduated from high school and became an apprentice first grade teacher, and by all appearances quite a good one. But none of these accomplishments seemed to affect their rather inane conversational styles.
So, I really didn’t care about either of them. Their ups and their downs. Ho-hum. And it’s a long time to sit and watch a film about people you don’t care about. You become anxious to see how it’s going to end. And then, to your surprise, the film never ends. It just stops.
When I first learned that the movie was 3 hours long, I asked the ticket man whether people sit through the entire film. He said that they do, but they squirm a lot. When I left, I said to him “Well, you were right. It was 3 hours.” His response: “Yep, 3 hours you’ll never get back.” I think that about says it best.
By coincidence, after we got home (we actually did get lunch at 3:45 at Circa on 20th Street NW – just so-so, we thought, although the film did lead us to have afternoon alcohol with our meal, something we never do), I chanced to turn on an odd channel on the TV, and saw a presentation made by DC Chief of Police Cathy Lanier (I am a fan). She told her story: no studying in school, pregnant at 15, drop out in the 9th grade, but at some point, she got serious. It was when she realized that this little boy was dependent on her – and she wound up getting a GED, going to community college, and eventually getting a college degree and two masters degrees. And of course getting a job at the MPD, and winding up its first female chief, which she has been now for six years.
It got me thinking. If Cathy Lanier could turn her act around so completely, maybe Adele (the role) can, too. And maybe Adele (the actress) won’t be too corrupted by her experience making this film at age 18. (There has been controversy, if you don’t know, but not about her age per se, but as to whether the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, was overly strict and demanding with respect to the performance of both Adele and Lea; I take no position on this.)