Show Me Love

I saw Blue is the Warmest Color recently. I recommend seeing it soon if you haven't already. It's unlikely to linger in theaters in most U.S. cities for long given it's a three hour long subtitled French film carrying an NC-17 label (since moving from L.A. to SF I've learned the hard way that not chasing down art house films soon after they're released often means waiting for them to come out on video much much later). 

I'm not the only one who found it worthwhile. It won the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year, and Criterion has already announced plans to issue a video edition in February (with a more fully featured version planned for a later date). Leads Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux) are both stunning. Exarchopoulos, in particular, wears her emotions so close to the surface that she is always riveting, even as she plays a character constantly trying to calm her inner turmoil: her attraction to women, her insecurity over her relationship with Emma, her deep need to belong.

She can't help herself, though. In long moments of everyday life, and there are many of those in a three hour movie, when she's just chewing her food loudly, or walking around Lille, France, when we read these emotions on her face, they feel as if they've slipped through her face unbeknownst to her. So much of this movie she is unconsciously naked, and for long moments she's literally so; I felt a voyeur's guilt just sitting in my seat, and I would have felt it even notwithstanding the controversial feud between director Abdellatif Kechiche and his leads.

The movie is a bit too long, but Exarchopoulos' face transforms long scenes of Adele doing mundane things into vivid human observational studies. It's not surprising to hear that Kechiche cast her "after he saw her devour a piece of lemon cake." She is attractive, but so are many actresses we choose to promote to the big screen; what she has is the inner life which arcs off of the screen.

It's a good thing she has such an interesting face, because an unusually high percentage of this movie's shots are close-ups. This cinematography choice acts like an amplifier on the movie's emotional intensity. It's as if we're sitting a foot from the actor's faces for most of this movie, and there are very few cuts to wide shots to relieve the intimacy. Even those who don't usually notice the shot size selection in a movie will feel the impact of this style.

Would the movie have been stronger if Kechiche had stuck with the theme of the graphic novel from which this was adapted? In the book, the chief obstacle to Adele and Emma's romance is the homophobic society they live in, but in the movie, the primary threat is a class or cultural divide. Adele is an elementary school teacher, while Emma is a budding young painter. At first, it seems as if homophobia is going to be the theme of the movie. Adele's girlfriends at school are openly hostile to Adele when Emma appears on the scene, and Adele seems reluctant to explain her relationship to Emma to her parents. And then, just like that, the topic is dropped. My mind was still chasing that thread, and one of the reasons the movie feels long is that I felt I'd wasted mental energy chasing that red herring.

If you enjoy Blue is the Warmest Color and want to stay in the category of young lesbian romances (there are enough entries, meaning greater than two, to make this a genre, if a niche one), I recommend Show Me Love by Lukas Moodysson. It's gentler, but it's also about the strange highs and lows of first love. That both movies are about somewhat forbidden lesbian romances only amplifies that sensation of first love, when it feels like the world will never know or understand just how much another person matters to you.