The palme d’or 2013 has been the subject of numerous rave reviews, disappointments and scandals since its crowning at the Cannes film festival. Some critics have touted this film as the ultimate in female liberation and realist cinema, while others have critiqued the cold, masculine nature of the rather long and now rather famous erotic scenes. Last weekend, I went to go see La vie d’adèle with my neighbors to have a look for myself.
In the first few scenes we see some really up close shots of Adèle’s (Adèle Exarchopoulos) day-to-day life : cramming pasta into her face, drooling as she sleeps, going to her French classes (she’s French so that’s like our English classes). Anyway, we get to know he pretty well. It’s endearing to see this slightly lost high school kid bumbling around life, constantly putting her greasy hair into a messy bun and pulling up her pants.
Enter Emma (Léa Seydoux). With the arrival of Emma, Adèle’s life is turned completely upside down. As she risks losing both her friends and her family, Adèle discovers a new kind of love that’s frightening and exhilarating.
Blue is the warmest color or La vie d’Adèle: Chapitres 1 et 2 in French was adapted from the comic book, Le bleu est une couleur chaude (blue is a warm color) by Julie Maroh. The film lacks the softness of the comic, as director Abdellatif Kechiche leaves us with all the harsh reality of life down to the stream of snot rolling into Adèle’s mouth as she cries. The scenes are shot almost entirely in very wide shots of the actors’ and actress’ faces, so we have no respite, no opportunity to enjoy the scenery, just raw emotion and three hours of it.
From a practical point of view, the constant zoom on the actors’ faces along with the slightly jumpy camera gave me motion sickness. During the first hour of the film, I had to look away from the screen frequently and almost left the theater. There’s no need to use techniques that make your audience ill (unless you’re the Blair Witch Project and can’t afford better).
The rawness and length of the sex scenes was also pretty difficult to get through. I understood what the director was trying to say after the first 30 seconds and the rest just wasn’t justifiable, other than because he didn’t want to waste the footage.
There’s a lot that’s beautiful in La vie d’Adèle, but in giving birth to his artistic vision, Kechiche forgets to address the basic goal of any good film: telling a compelling story. He’s too focused on having a cinema that’s as real and raw as possible, which becomes distracting, so much so that he doesn’t even get to the end of Adèle and Emma’s love story (we only have chapters 1 and 2 in this film).
Unless you’re a big fan of French realism, I don’t recommend seeing this film. The long, graphic sex scene will be too much for most viewers and certain parts of the film are too long while other parts of the story seem to be missing.
If you’re looking for good French cinema in 2013, I recommend Grand Central, another French realist film also with Léa Seydoux or Elle s’en va with Catherine Deneuve, which is a charming look at the exploits of a retirement-age former beauty queen’s quest to find herself and rebuild family ties.
Well, I hope this gives you some insight into what or what not to watch this fall as leaves turn color and the weather chases us indoors.
Happy watching and bonne soirée.