Review: Blue is the Warmest Colour (La vie d’Adèle)

I have been lax in reviewing this film; I saw it in September, but only now have I had time to put my thoughts into a post. The nudge came from a spate of articles about how New York’s IFC centre said they would allow under-17’s in to see the film, even though (in the USA, at least) the film is rated NC-17 due to the ‘sapphic sex scenes’. The IFC issued a statement which said, in part, “This is not a movie for young children, but it is our judgment that it is appropriate for mature, inquiring teenagers, who are looking ahead to the emotional challenges and opportunities that adulthood holds…”

Naturally, there have been protests of that decision, but I’m glad that they have taken this position. Lesbian sex scenes (actually, sex scenes in general, whether GLBT or otherwise) should not be a reason for an NC-17 rating, in my opinion. Sex isn’t, in itself, offensive. And I would like to see more films rated higher, especially those with wanton violence. To me, Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Kill Bill’ series ought to have been NC-17. However, for whatever Puritan reasoning lies behind the MPAA, nudity and sex sparks tittering and indignation. I applaud the IFC centre for their position.

Now, to my actual review. I’m not sure where to begin. I’d been looking forward to this film since before it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes (see article link here), and when I saw that the Calgary International Film Festival would be screening Blue is the Warmest Colour, I snapped up a ticket as soon as they went on sale, and eagerly (impatiently) awaited the day.

This film was worth it. And more.

C’est le mieux. C’est très belle, et triste aussi.

Stretching over three hours, though I wouldn’t have complained if it were longer still, the film follows student Adèle from secondary school through to her mid-twenties. It’s based on the graphic novel ‘Le bleu est une couleur chaude’ by Julie Maroh (a beautifully illustrated book; it’s in English translation now, so do pick it up.)

In the beginning of the film, Adèle is not sure of herself, of her wants and desires. She dates a young man at her school, but it fizzles and she feels little for him. Then, crossing the street near the main square in Lille, she passes a young woman and her girlfriend. The girl’s blue hair catches her eye, and their gazes meet, both turning back to catch a second glimpse before they’re lost in the crowd. This scene was beautifully shot and my own heart fluttered, feeling the tension and attraction between Adèle (played by Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux).

From there it progresses, and the pair meet again in a lesbian bar, and again when Emma seeks Adèle out after school. She’s several years older, in art school, and more experienced in the world than Adèle. It’s Adèle’s first real love, and the film is realistic in its portrayal of young love, passion, and eventual betrayal and falling out. Their relationship is sensual, and loving, and exactly the sort of thing for ‘mature, inquiring teenagers’ to see.

I hadn’t yet read ‘Le bleu est une couleur chaude’ when I saw the film, but I did pick it up afterwards. The film’s script veers from the graphic novel, but not so much so that readers of the novel would be so greatly displeased. Now, if you’re looking for a fast-paced film with intense drama in every minute, you should look beyond La vie d’Adèle and choose something else. It’s a slow-building film, more real-life than cinema. But it is genuine and passionate, and I was immersed. Walking home from the cinema afterwards, I felt in a daze, my imagination still there onscreen with Emma and Adèle, in Lille.

If Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adèle) comes to a cinema anywhere near you, you MUST GO.

Review: After Fall, Winter

afterfallwinterAs I began watching this film, After Fall, Winter, I had little to no sympathy for the main character, Michael. He’s practically bankrupt, owing hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he’s depressed, his latest book isn’t selling, and he even seems to consider suicide, holding a handful of Ambien. Fortunately, his Parisian friend calls him and suggests he come to Paris, get away from it all.

If he’d stayed in New York, I wouldn’t have even bothered to watch the film. That’s how much I disliked his character. And it didn’t get any better.

Once in Paris (also, I have no idea how he managed to pay for an airline ticket given that he’s so in debt, but I’ll suspend disbelief), he runs into a young woman, Sophie, at a petit magasin. She is buying oranges, and he comes into the shop, and without even saying bonsoir, he tries to hit on her. She ridicules him to the shopkeeper, and he is clueless. But he keeps running into her, at a rack of vélos, at yoga class, and she keeps turning him down when he tries to ask her out. Finally, she allows him to walk with her, (‘just a walk. We don’t call it a date, in France.’) and they begin a relationship.

They have discussions about many things, but eventually it turns to sex, and BDSM. She asks him about his fantasies, and Michael is dismissive of many of them, and unwilling to be truthful about his desires (even though he’d told her several times before that he never lied.) And a good part of the film is the two of them discussing various subjects, either in bed or walking around Paris, and in that way it reminds me of films like ‘Before Sunset’. Unfortunately, I think that Michael is very self-absorbed for too much of the film. Sophie is self-absorbed as well (most everyone is to some extent, after all), but she at least manages to live a life where she interacts with others and tries to do good. Michael interacts very little with anyone beyond more than a casual degree, (and he even does not seem to see his Parisian friend very often, though his friend invited him to stay.)

Regrettably, this film is disappointing. I will not spoil the ending for those wanting to watch, but for me it merely solidified my opinion of Michael, and his selfishness led to the ruin of the lives of others. I don’t need a happy ending (I watch too much film noir to ever expect it), but at the very least I would hope that the characters actually grow as people. Perhaps past the ending, Michael does regret what has happened and learns from it, but given his previous record, I am rather cynical. Still, the writer (and director, and star) did manage to get me to watch the film in its entirety, so that’s something. ;)

How about a 1940s vampire noir? Yes, it’s a movie, or will be.

That’s really where we all come in. I don’t think I’ve ever posted about a Kickstarter campaign before, though I did participate in one for The Last Lonely Place, another noir film which had the backing of the Humphrey Bogart estate (and thus, caught my attention), but this one…Oh my. I write noir, I read noir, and I love to watch noir. And I can’t wait to watch this one.

bloodkissIn short: Michael Reaves, Amber Benson, Neil Gaiman, Tom Mandrake. Michael Reaves has written some great films, Amber Benson of course I knew from Buffy, Neil Gaiman is an author extraordinaire…and making his acting début (!), and Tom Mandrake does fabulous comic books.

But, all those people aside, it was the concept that really got me. A noir film, set in 1940s Hollywood, with vampires. And a detective who doesn’t believe in them. All things I am fanatical about, in one film.

Here’s a bit from their press info:

Emmy Award winning writer Michael Reaves is creating a new film, BLOOD KISS, and new genre, Vamp Noir. He’s discovered a fresh acting talent to co-star, superstar writer Neil Gaiman. Also starring fan favorite Amber Benson from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Blood Kiss revolves around detective Joe Belicek, who must solve the murder of a
vampire before a deranged killer murders them all. Inspired by Film Noir, this
supernatural thriller is set in 1940s Hollywood with famous haunts like the Brown Derby.

I liked the sound of it so much I couldn’t help but pledge. If this sounds like something you’d like to see made, a pledge is the way to make it happen. $10, or more (up to $10,000 if you’re so inclined!), and we can see this vampire noir. I can hardly wait. It’s like the Sound of Music, except that these are my favourite things (not that there’s anything wrong with whiskers on kittens, of course.)

Check out the film’s website, too: bloodkissmovie.com

Article: Lesbian drama tipped for Cannes win (BBC)

From the BBC:

An intimate love story between two young women has received rave reviews in Cannes as the film festival draws to a close.

Directed by Tunisian-born French director Abdellatif Kechiche, Blue is the Warmest Colour, has shocked some critics with its graphic sex scenes.

Variety magazine said it contained “the most explosively graphic lesbian sex scenes in recent memory”.

The film is the bookmakers’ favourite to win the Palme d’Or on Sunday.

But reviewers have speculated the film may require editing to secure cinema distribution.

The three-hour character study centres on the 15-year-old Adele, played by French actress Adele Exarchopoulos, and her lover Emma, played by Lea Seydoux.

The Hollywood Reporter said the “sprawling drama” would “raise eyebrows” as it crossed the barrier “between performance and the real deal”.

Kechiche, best known for his critically acclaimed 2007 film Couscous, said he would consider cutting some scenes to allow the widest possible audience to see the work.

“We wouldn’t want the film not to be screened because of one scene,” he said. “But of course that wouldn’t apply if it were the whole thing.”

The headline to this article caught my eye, for obvious reasons. As I write and read lesbian fiction (and romantic fiction), I’m heartened to see that a lesbian film is receiving such rave reviews. However, it always surprises me when people talk (or complain–hard to tell which it is, here) about ‘graphic sex scenes’. And yet, so many films contain such graphic, awful violence that I can still remember it years later. (Gaspar Noé’s film ‘Irreversible’, for example), and very little is said. (Though certainly in ‘Irreversible’s case, there was plenty posted about its violence, though most seemed to centre on the rape scene.)

Personally, I’d much rather watch a graphic sex scene than a violent one. Sex is something that most people experience in some form or other (mostly positive, I would hope), but violence, particularly on the scale shown in film, would not be.

This film will be on my ‘to watch’ list, and I hope it wins the Palme d’Or, and gets a wider distribution.

Films: ‘Tomboy’ and ‘The Challengers’

I’ve just finished watching the 2011 French film ‘Tomboy‘, with Zoé Héran. While watching, I was reminded of the Canadian-made TV movie ‘The Challengers‘ (which stars a young Gema Zamprogna and the always brilliant Eric Christmas — check out the trailer), as the themes of the two films dovetail.

The latter film was made in a different era, and, I suspect, with far different intentions.

Both films star a girl who dresses as and passes for a boy. In ‘Tomboy’, Laure is settling into her new home outside Paris, and when she meets the gang of kids nearby, she decides to call herself Mikael. In ‘The Challengers’, Mackie is settling in a new town after the death of her father, and her interest in the local gang of boys, and a previous history of dressing as a boy for talent shows (she does a mean Cory Hart ‘Sunglasses at Night’) inspires her to dress as a boy, Mackie’s cousin ‘Mac Dales’.

(note the awesome 1980s clothes & hairstyles lol)

Where the two films split is the intention of the filmmaker. ‘The Challengers’ is really more about a story of a girl who is mourning her father; all the gender roles and other characters are incredibly hetero-normative, and (look, I’m going to spoil things here because this film is old) the resolution is very happy family TV-movie-esque: Mackie stops dressing as a boy and gets over her grief and is accepted in her new community. Her dressing as a boy is a phase of her grief, of wanting to become someone else. There’s no real hint of it being a strong part of her gender identity. Heck, the filmmakers probably didn’t even consider the concept of gender identity.

I’ve watched ‘The Challengers’ about a million times, so much so that I could probably recite whole sections of the film from memory (it was a standby for family programming on CBC, plus we had it on VHS when I was a kid). I wish that films like ‘Tomboy’ had been around, with their more gender-fluid interpretations.

‘Tomboy’, on the other hand… its intentions are different from the beginning. When we first meet Laure (and until she’s addressed in the feminine, some minutes into the film), it’s very easy to think she is a boy. She has short hair, wears boys shorts and vests and trainers, and she’s just young enough that she hasn’t begun to develop. If I hadn’t read the blurb about the film on Zip, I wouldn’t have even known up front that she was a girl.

There’s a greater sense of gender identity in this film; Laure has to measure up to the boys, she fights one of them and wins, she takes off her shirt while playing football. But of course, it’s only a matter of time before the truth is found out.

Interestingly, the reactions of the parents are pretty similar. A lot of denial about what their daughters are doing, and an insistence upon ‘proper’ gender roles. Mackie is told ‘No more Mac.’ Laure is given a dress to wear instead of her usual shorts and vest. However, I think that Laure’s mother is far more understanding in that she tells Laure that she doesn’t care if Laure wants to dress as a boy, except that she’ll be starting the school year and it would come out then anyway.

Where these films excel is in showing what boys and girls go through, and how their lives are affected by how others see them. There are certain things expected of a boy: he’s to be tough, no crying over small bumps and bruises (like Jonathan getting a fish hook in his palm in ‘The Challengers’), he must play football, he must be able to fight, that sort of thing. And girls… it’s dresses and an interest in makeup, and boys, a sensitivity that boys aren’t supposed to possess (or at least, admit to). Both films (though ‘Tomboy’ perhaps more than ‘The Challengers’) let the viewer think on these differences, and why certain roles are expected.

Can you recommend any films that deal with similar ideas and issues?

Talk like a gangster!

I’ve been watching an old gangster film, the 1939 Warner Bros. picture “King of the Underworld”, with Humphrey Bogart and Kay Francis. What always catches my notice in these films (aside from the occasionally TSTL gangsters) is the language they use.

“All right, doc, don’t get sore.”
“Hey, fella, don’t tell ‘em that a dame tripped me up.”
“Maybe he’s got a gat!”
“Nice gams!”
“Say… whaddya mean?”
“You’d better scram!”

From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:AlCaponemugshotCPD.jpg)

Of course, the movie gangsters (or rather, their writers, mostly) stole from the real gangsters. In his article on Huffington Post, Jeffrey Gusfield notes that the actor Edward G. Robinson sat at the back of the courtroom during part of Al Capone’s tax evasion trial and took notes.

Some of the phrases they used are still heard today, but most have gone by the wayside. Or, if they are used, it’s purposefully, to seem old. Phrases like “it’s the bee’s knees” or “the cat’s pajamas”  originated in the 1920s (though I’m pretty sure a gangster wouldn’t be caught dead saying such silly things!) When’s the last time you heard someone called a “Mrs. Grundy”? Probably never, except maybe in an Archie comic book. (Mrs. Grundy = a priggish, prudish, person.) Of course, don’t call a gangster that–he’s liable to take you for a ride if you do.

It’s pretty tempting to write my gangsters this way, and to use lots of the 1920s and 1930s slang, but a few choice phrases can go a long way. However, I know I’m going to have to work in a “You ain’t sore, are ya?” into the dialogue somewhere. It’s just too classic not to use!

Check out some more 1920s slang here, and below is a clip from the film ‘The Roaring Twenties’, starring James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart.

Movie: Rust & Bone (De rouille et d’os)

I wasn’t sure what to expect of this film, having only read the barest of blurbs before I saw it as a part of the Calgary International Film Festival. It caught my notice because it was French language, and it stars Marion Cotillard, who has become one of my favourite French actresses in the last few years. (See in her ‘La Môme’ as Piaf, and in ‘Public Enemies’ as Billie Frechette, among other films, if you are not yet acquainted with Ms. Cotillard.)

This film did not disappoint. Well, maybe a tad. Everything was great except for the character of Ali. Now, I’m going to get into spoilery detail, so click below to continue at your own risk. Aside from my criticism of Ali’s character, I highly recommend going to see this film. It is fantastic. (Check out the trailer on Youtube.)

The basic premise is that Ali (Alain) moves with his son to the south, and meets Stephanie, a killer whale trainer who has suffered a tragic accident and lost her lower legs. Stephanie’s journey and the progression of her journey is incredibly compelling, and Marion Cotillard plays it subtly; her emotions are portrayed in her body movement and in her face. It’s hard to explain, but she is so fully Stephanie, and I was completely entranced. But Ali… I just don’t know….

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‘What did we suppress in order to become what we are?’

I just finished watching the film Caché (Hidden), directed by Michael Haneke, and starring Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil. I’d seen it once before, during a film festival, and I came out of the theatre completely baffled by what I had seen. Thus, I decided to watch it once again and attempt to further understand the film.

In summary, Georges and his wife Anne receive a series of videotapes, each of which contains a long film exposure of the outside of their house. Later videotapes are wrapped in what appears to be child’s drawings. Over the course of the film, the footage on the tapes becomes more personal and Georges realizes who may be sending the tapes. Discovering the identity of the sender evokes old and guilty memories for Georges.

In an interview provided in the DVD’s special features, Michael Haneke states that the film was meant to discuss and evoke the French and Algerian conflict in the 60s, particularly the deaths of 200 Algerian protesters in the Seine, but to portray this conflict and guilt on a personal level, and to show what sort of things can be swept under the carpet. He compares the ability of a nation to forget or hide tragic things with that of a family or couple able to continue on with domestic life as usual, even though difficult or strange things are occurring. Hence his question: ‘What did we suppress in order to become what we are?’

That question resonated with me. As Haneke points out, Georges as a six year old has acted in a way that is considered normal, his protection of his own status and place in his home, as younger children are not as cognizant of the needs of others. Yet this action by young Georges has lifelong implications for the Algerian boy his parents were caring for. It makes me wonder, what has each person suppressed in their life, things they have done that they are ashamed of, that might crop up later?

As a writer, it intrigues me, and it would be an incredible basis for a story, or an intense back-story for a character. The wounds a person bears have an impact on how they act, and how they live, even years later. For myself as a writer, one of the hardest parts of writing is coming up with that back-story, that wound, and making it such that it colours the actions of the character, intertwining with every part of their being. Haneke’s question is going to become part of my plotting, I’m sure of it.

Are there films that you’ve seen which influence your writing?

Movie: Take This Waltz

I didn’t expect this film to resonate with me as much as it did, perhaps because I have never been married, but I could understand Margot’s (Michelle Williams) vacillations between her husband Lou (Seth Rogen), and her neighbour Daniel (Luke Kirby). Lou is a good guy– he seems steady, reliable, funny, with a warm family (we never see any of Margot’s extended family, which I found odd), but the excitement of their relationship seems to have fizzled to amusing but childish games, and Margot’s ‘I love you’s to Lou are more childish still (‘I wuv you’ in a lispy voice).

She seems stuck, uncertain of her career, wanting to write, but not writing what she wants to; married, with no kids but possibly wanting some, and as the director Sarah Polley remarked, she’s not comfortable in her own skin. She’s not confident. Reverting to childishness could be a symptom, but then occasionally she does show bursts of adult certainty. ….more under the cut (spoilers exist)….

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Movie: In a Lonely Place

I’m a writer, and noir is my chosen genre. Hence, most of my favourite films have some relation to the genre, and In a Lonely Place, starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame, is one that left a mark.

I hadn’t read the book before I saw the film, which is perhaps a good thing, as the book differs in some essential ways (of which I won’t get into here, as to not ruin it for the reader).

Bogart is Dixon Steele (and what a name it is), a screenwriter who is cynical and abrupt. He hasn’t had much success since the war, and his latest project is to adapt a book for the screen. Gloria Grahame is his neighbour, Laurel Grey, a sometime actress who takes an interest in Dix. When Dix takes a coat check girl home with him, as she’s read the book he’s to adapt and he doesn’t want to read it himself, Laurel notices him. After he sends the girl home, she is murdered, and Dix is a suspect. Laurel is brought into the police station and confirms that the girl left Dix’s place alone, and thus begins a rather intense yet dark relationship between the two.

One of my favourite quotes comes from this film, said by Dix to Laurel:

‘I was born when she kissed me, I died when she left me, I lived a few weeks while she loved me.’

The line so aptly mirrors the tempestuous relationship between Dix and Laurel, and the tone with which Bogart says the line enhances the bleakness of the film.

Dix is a strong, complex character, and the realism of Dixon Steele is one of the main reasons why I love the film so much. He’s not a typical alpha hero, as the main characters in so many films are. He’s a quick-tempered man, prone to violence, and to drink, but he’s loyal to his friends, even defending a washed-out actor from harassment.

As the murder investigation progresses, Laurel’s belief in his innocence is challenged, and his actions (side-swiping a car that cuts them off, beating up the driver) add to her worries, until she can’t continue their relationship. Her fear of Dix overwhelms her affection for him. It’s the gradual collapse of the relationship that is the strongest thread of the story in the film, in my opinion. At first, murder investigation aside, they are doing so well, but as events and doubts add up, it’s a slow-motion car crash.

Noir never ends with a happily ever after (nor usually with any sort of ‘happily for now’ ending), and In a Lonely Place is no exception. It isn’t the most pleasant and uplifting of films, but it’s incredibly compelling, and one I have re-watched multiple times in fascination. It’s one of Bogart’s best works.