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. 😉

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.

Movie: Shame

I knew it would be cold. Dreary, even. The trailer showed as much: Brandon sitting on the subway, eyeing a woman across the aisle, his face expressionless. The dark New York streets, the plain and dull walls of his apartment, of his workplace. It’s a New York that seems nearly lifeless.

Brandon’s life is rote, routine. He wakes, jerks off in the shower, goes to work, looks at porn, goes home, looks at more porn. If he goes out, he picks up a girl. Maybe a prostitute. He gets off. (Even for me as a viewer, it was dull.) Living alone, his desires are hidden from others, and it’s not until his sister Sissy arrives that his world is shaken up. She’s in his apartment, even having sex in his bed on one occasion, and he can’t indulge in his usual practices. He’s pushed from his privacy, and he and his sister clash, their ideas about life at odds. They’re both messed up, from something that happened in childhood that is only vaguely alluded to by Sissy.

He does try to do it the ‘usual way’, going on a date with a woman he works with. They go to a hotel room, but he can’t get it up. It’s not enough for him; it doesn’t push the envelope. The downward spiral has already begun.

Shame is a film equivalent of literary fiction. I’m not sure how much Brandon learns, or if he’d ever manage to take any sense of joy from the world. It’s the kind of film that I’m glad I saw, but I’m not sure that I’d be able to manage it a second time. Maybe I will, after several years distance.

Both Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan were incredible in their roles. Fassbender’s performance was especially compelling. If I had a choice at the Academy Awards, I’d give him the Best Actor statuette. However, films like Shame don’t usually make it to a big name awards ceremony… the content just isn’t friendly enough.

Music: Trent Reznor/Atticus Ross – Girl With the Dragon Tattoo soundtrack

I already couldn’t wait to see this movie, and with the soundtrack by TR and AR, I’m even more impatient for release day…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkP3urtYCkc]

The soundtrack is available for pre-order from the Null Corporation in various formats, and there’s a 6-track sampler available here.

(Also, did I mention that Daniel Craig, Christopher Plummer AND Julian Sands are in this film?….)

Movie: La Môme (La Vie en Rose)

I’ve posted briefly about this film before, when I spoke of films set in Paris. However, I think a film like La Môme deserves an entry all its own. I saw this film in the theatre 3 or 4 times, taking as many people as I could convince.

The film begins in New York in the later years of Édith Piaf’s career. She’s singing Heaven Have Mercy, and in the midst of her performance, collapses on stage. If you aren’t already familiar with Édith’s life, this traumatic collapse is startling. It sets the scene for a life that was hardly rosy. It then regresses, to her childhood in Belleville, living in a brothel, and traveling with her father in the circus.

My favourite part of the film is Édith’s meeting and falling in love with the boxer Marcel Cerdan. Cerdan was played by the musician and actor Jean-Pierre Martins.

This is perhaps the rosiest time of her life: she’s at the height of her fame, living richly, recognized on both sides of the Atlantic, and she’s in love. The affair itself made headlines, as Cerdan was famous in his own right, a champion in his sport. He was also married. Their letters to each other (published in the book ‘Moi Pour Toi: Lettres d’amour’) were sweet and charming, and as portrayed in the film, their relationship was one of immense passion.

In a letter, Cerdan wrote to her: Je t’aime, t’aime, t’aime, oui, je t’aime. He often addressed her as ‘Édith, chérie‘, or ‘Édith adorée‘, and she would write to him ‘Mon Seigneur que j’aime.’

Their romance played out in cabs, restaurants, the boxing hall, and hotels, whenever they had a chance to be together. The scene where Édith finds out about Marcel’s death (he was killed in a plane crash in 1949) was so well done it brought tears to my eyes.

The film follows Édith’s life from childhood through highs and lows, and finally to her death in Grasse in 1963, at age 47. It was my favourite film of 2007-8, and I was glad that Marion Cotillard won an Oscar for her performance as Piaf. I had hoped it would have been nominated and won far more awards at the Oscars (it won for Makeup as well), but Cotillard won a Golden Globe and it was well-recognized at the Césars. It’s a film I would recommend to anyone, even those who don’t like subtitled or foreign films. Piaf’s voice was like no other and the film is an excellent introduction to her oeuvre.

Movie: Faust (1926)

This afternoon I went to watch the silent film classic “Faust” in the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer (the Anglican cathedral here in Calgary) accompanied by a live piano score. I’ve been a film buff for many years, but I haven’t had much exposure to silent films. As my current work-in-progress takes place in the 1920s, I thought it would be worthwhile to see what my characters might have seen.

The film opens with the Archangel and the demon Mephisto making a wager over the soul of Faust. Mephisto sends the plague to Faust’s village, and gives Faust a chance to save people, if only he’ll make a pact to give up his soul. The original pact is for one day only, but when Mephisto convinces Faust to embrace youth, the trial day turns into an eternity of youth, pleasures and debauchery. Faust bores of this life, and falls in love with an innocent young woman named Gretchen. He corrupts her, and she bears his child, to be thrown out and reviled as a whore. When her child dies, she’s convicted as a murderess, sentenced to be burned at the stake. When Faust realizes what has happened, he commands Mephisto to take him to her. He does not arrive in time to save her, and Mephisto turns him back into his aged self. He throws himself on the pyre with his beloved Gretchen, and she recognizes him, even in his old age. Love has redeemed him, and the Archangel rules that the Devil has not won the soul of Faust. The film closes as it began, on the image of the triumphant Archangel.

At first I had to remind myself that the effects were striking for the time period, but after the film had progressed, I stopped reminding myself and lost myself in the imagery. The play of light and shadow was captivating, and the look and makeup of Mephisto is something that must have heavily influenced later depictions, as he looked like our modern conception of the Devil, or even of a vampire. His hovering over the town was also used in the cartoon ‘Fantasia’.

I found it interesting that Mephisto is also aged at the start of the film, but when he gives Faust his youth, he also turns into a youthful version of himself. And he has a sense of humour, taking a woman’s love potion (likely brandy or another spirit) and mixing it up with a few other ingredients to turn it into a real love potion. She drinks it, and falls in love with Mephisto, to his amusement and dismay. Though Faust’s journey is a dark one, Mephisto’s antics had many in the audience snickering. There was much applause at the end, and the composer and pianist spoke briefly afterwards.

According to Robert Bruce, the pianist who scored the film today, every theatre would have had its own set of musicians to create a live score for each film that played. However, unlike his score, most would be made up quickly, given that new films would screen regularly. I can imagine this could be a challenge to the musicians and it’s fascinating to think that if you went to see the same film in several theatres, you could hear a different score in each. I wonder if anyone actually did that, just to have a different experience of the same film?

The presentation was hosted by the Pro Arts Society, and now that I know they exist, I’ll be checking out their future events.

Movie: The Woman in the Fifth

The Woman in the Fifth stars Ethan Hawke (Before Sunset) and Kristin Scott Thomas (Ne le dis à personne, The English Patient). Tom is a writer and university lecturer in Paris to see his estranged wife and daughter. He is robbed and is stuck at a rundown hotel in a Paris suburb, scraping by with an under-the-table job of questionable legality. He meets Margit at a literary evening and soon they are having a torrid affair. When not with Margit (who will only see him after 4pm), he spends his time writing a lengthy letter to his six-year-old daughter and getting to know the waitress/barmaid at the hotel.

The film starts off normally. That is, totally comprehensible and almost ordinary, but once Tom meets Margit, things become strange. It’s that turning point (as in the film The Last Minute when Billy Byrne takes drugs and everything in the film becomes slightly surreal) where you’re not sure what is real and what is not. It’s a dark film, tension-filled, yet also mostly quiet. There are some dramatic and gory points but a lot is not explained.

I often prefer films where things aren’t so cut and dry at the end; closure is not always the best ending. Most films with definitive endings are ones that I cease to think about the moment the credits roll. Far better to have a film be strange and provoke thought and speculation, or leave some puzzlement. In this case, the film was an excellent advertisement for the novel (by Douglas Kennedy), as I’m inclined to pick it up to see what the screenwriter cut out.

Movie: Midnight in Paris

Watching ‘Midnight in Paris’, written and directed by Woody Allen, is a bit like walking into a nostalgia shop, except the entirety of Paris is the shop. The film commences with a series of location shots of Paris, setting the tone and the scene for the rest of the film. For those familiar with the city, favourite haunts and landmarks trigger that nostalgic feeling. For those unfamiliar with the city, the montage might get a tad dull, though one would hope that an unfamiliarity of Paris would not preclude seeing this film.

Gil (Owen Wilson) is a Hollywood screenwriter visiting Paris with his fiancée (Rachel McAdams) and her parents. He’s obsessed with 1920s Paris, and one night after getting lost walking back to his hotel, at the very stroke of midnight, he’s picked up by revelers in an old Peugeot. He finds himself somehow transported to 1920s Paris, partying with F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda, meeting Hemingway, Picasso, Gertrude Stein… it’s a veritable name dropping of ‘20s literary society. On his second visit, he is enchanted by a young woman dating Picasso. He falls in love with her, and returns to the 1920s via the car at the stroke of midnight to visit her, and to get Stein’s views on his unpublished novel. As their visit to Paris lengthens, his relationship with his fiancée is souring, and he has to decide what he should do with his life.

The film has an excellent ensemble cast: Kathy Bates as Stein, Marion Cotillard as Gil’s love interest Adriana, Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali, and Gad Elmaleh as the detective, among others. Corey Stoll especially was a delight as the very upfront and opinionated Ernest Hemingway. The film is an English student’s dream: my theatre companion squealed at the sight of T.S. Eliot, and then of Paul Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec. I wonder if Woody Allen’s nostalgic Paris is the 1920s?

I know what era of Paris I would like to visit, should a car come for me at midnight… the 1940s-1950s, visiting the cafés and rubbing shoulders with the existentialists. But of course, you knew that, right?

Movies: The end of an era.

When I first picked up a copy of ‘Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone’, I was 18. Certainly a little older than its targeted demographic. I’d heard about the fuss, and snagged a copy in paperback. On a trip to Norway, I bought a copy of ‘Chamber of Secrets’ in the bookshop at Heathrow airport. I read it too fast and it didn’t even last the 2.5hr flight to Oslo. I was hooked.

I can’t remember if I saw the first film in the theatre or not. I probably did. I remember seeing the second film in the theatre, probably because it featured a bewigged Jason Isaacs rather heavily. I saw that film several times before it left the theatres.

In each new book and each new film, I eagerly awaited the continuation of Harry’s tale. I didn’t do the midnight book-buying except for once (which was with Half-Blood Prince, I think), and I never did the midnight showings, but I found myself quite the fan nevertheless.

With the finale Friday night, it does feel like the end of an era. Having just turned 31, I’ve spent 13 years reading JK Rowling’s tales and seeing every film. There aren’t too many things I’ve been a fan of for that length of time. What will be next? I’m curious to see what JK’s next project is, and I’ll likely buy the ebooks when they’re officially released, but I’m really going to miss all the excitement. And Lucius. In fact, I think I’ll go put in ‘Chamber of Secrets’ right now…