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The Warm Feelings

04.16.2014

Thanks to the internet (as always) I finally saw Blue is the Warmest Color.

This film has incredible finesse. It takes us through days and then weeks and then years and then days seamlessly, with swift and perfect edits. The camera moves over bodies and leafy trees and crowds in the same, sensuous way, consuming, child-like, everything available, a quest for love and the satisfaction of desire. Any season, any place, any person, holds possibility, and an understanding of self and one’s varied lusts.

The acting, too, is very good. My only complaint is Adele’s at-times monotonous restraint–she plays it cool, normal for a high-schooler, but as she ages and matures we want to see her take on a bit more complexity, assiduousness. Even if she hasn’t found what she’s searching for, sexually, she’s learned from her experiences (at least one hopes). Everyone from the kids to the parents acts well in this movie.

In the end, though, it’s the story, the romance, that drives the film (which is three hours long, and never dull). It is a beautiful narrative, with it’s own heavy doses of fortuity, but also plenty of trial and error and missed opportunity.

The main discussion, for me (and especially in light of the next film we need to see, Nymphomaniac), is the role of pornographic footage. There is a lot of it in this film. The narrative (although not at first, certainly later) more than envelops it and makes it its own. Still, the trend in movies of all types–many not nearly as complex or profound as Blue…, in fact any film, studio or independent, that has a sex scene–has increasingly been towards full disclosure pornography. One way of looking at this is as the painting-photography problem: painters realizing they could never paint as crudely ‘real’ as a photograph, the medium having to justify itself as its own art, coming at reality and truth from a different direction. Artistic films will never be able to capture the crude rawness of real sex porn. Indeed, even the argument for narrative changing, chameleon-like, sex-on-film’s image, is no longer viable due to the porn industry’s embrace of just this type of Hollywood romantic narrative. How will these contemporary, explicit films justify themselves as art against the popular form of pornography? Can we revert to the power of the hidden, the unsaid, the intuited and implied, as in the films of the fifties and sixties and seventies (Lauren Bacall, Faye Dunaway)? No. But I think something has to be done short of showing, as this film does, naked sex in all its base beauty. And it should be said that Blue… is infinitely better than Hollywood’s continued reliance on dreamt-up, ridiculously shallow soap-opera sex scenes, so cheesy and infantile they look like sick dolls.

One more point about the film. It is telling that the one conspicuous philosophical quote comes in the voice of Sartre, as Emma explains to Adele her discovery of existentialism and the freedom to choose who we are and how we want to live. This scene ties in nicely with scenes at the school–where Adele is ostracized–and at home–where her sexuality remains hidden from her parents. On the other hand, the film could have used a quote from Sartre’s sometime better half, who, with a feminine touch this film surely would have embraced, turned Sartre’s individual freedom-at-the-expense-of-all-others into something a bit more human. “The mutual recognition of free beings who confirm one another’s freedom, it is the vague transition from aversion to participation,” is how Simone De Beauvoir put it. This is precisely what one hopes for as the movie progresses, and never fulfills. For all their professed love and intimacy and reciprocal sexuality, the two girls never reach the point of affirmation. In one of the few disappointingly cut threads, we never return to Adele’s struggle to tell her parents or her friends the truth. Does she ever come out? We don’t know. Indeed, the entire time they are together, except in bed they never seem to fully recognize one another. Partly this is the film’s intention (it’s the bump in the story) but partly I think it was lost amid the other deftly performed acts of love.

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