BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR and SAL



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Oh, to be young again.  To be that age when you had no idea what anything meant.  Where you had no control over your emotions.  Where you didn’t know the difference between love and lust, or if there was one, or if you cared.  Where every day was full of the pain and awkwardness of trying to navigate where you fit into the world.   I hated every single, tortuous, tension-filled moment of it.  And I would give anything, anything, to return to those halcyon days of innocence.
That is what I was thinking as I was watching the intensely tense movie that everyone, just everyone, is talking about, the latest Cannes award winner, Blue is the Warmest Color (or The Life of Adele, Chapters 1 & 2—and if you’re not talking about it, what’s wrong with you).  And what an experiment in intensity it is.  Blue… is so intense (how intense it is?), it makes Gravity look like a “you must be this small to ride this ride” at Disneyland ride (which it may soon be, for all I know).  It’s so intense, it leaves you exhausted at the fin at the end (it is French, you know, and oh, how Francé it is).  It’s so intense, I’m not sure I ever want to see it again. 
Blue… is written by Ghalia Lacroix and Abdellatif Kechiche, who also directed (they are long time collaborators, most recently Black Venus and The Secret of the Grain).  The movie is adapted from a popular graphic novel by Julie Maroh.   Its story is, in many ways, simplicity itself: girl meets girl, girl loses girl, girl…well, I won’t spoil the ending.  But the emotions displayed, the emotional rollercoaster ride, the rawness of it all (including, yes, those fifteen minutes of incredibly, just this side of, graphic sex—the women were wearing fake genitalia, after all—sorry guys, that’s probably a bigger spoiler than if I had shared the ending), are anything but.
Adele, the lead, is a baby dyke still in high school who doesn’t quite know why something is missing from her life.  She is played by Adele (coincidence or not, you be the judge) Exarchopoulos with the pouty lips of a Bridgette Bardot and a wisp of unruly hair constantly falling in front of her face.  Lea Seydoux is Emma, the more “tomboyish” of the two, an older (well, slightly older, four years maybe) woman struggling to be an artist.  They first see one another on the street as they casually pass by (their turning to look at each other reflecting an event in a book Adele is reading for literature class—the cultural references are both a tad heavy handed while making one wonder why school over there is so much more challenging than here).   At first destined to become ships that pass in broad daylight, they meet up again at a bar and it’s not long before all the fireworks that Hitchcock used in To Catch a Thief and David Lean used in Summertime are going off overtime.  
Both actresses are scarily superb.  I don’t know how the two and the director did it (and based on the scandalous reporting that has come out afterwards, I’m not sure I want to), but working together, the three have reached depths you will probably not see in another movie this year.
Blue… is not for everyone, and I don’t just mean because of the realistic portrayal of gay sex between women.  One of the main characteristics of director Kechiche is a certain, well… leisureliness to it all.  Let’s just say that here, as in the movie The Secret of the Grain, he is not in a hurry, to say the least.  But that’s not automatically a bad thing (unless you think Pacific Rim is a great work of art).  Kechiche’s scenes are like movements in a Beethoven symphony, which also go on too long until they reach a point where you desperately wish they would never stop.   And like said movements, Blue…’s scenes go on until you start asking yourself, will this never end, then continue on for so long until you start hoping they never reach a coda.
And it’s a style that leads to such incredible set pieces as a dinner party thrown by Adele for Emma and Emma’s friends.  The scene takes forever to run its course.  But as it goes on, in ways deep and weather sharp, in both subtle and marvelous ways, the darkness creeps in as you realize that the days of this relationship are numbered.  It’s maddening, but moving.  It’s long, but tense and powerful.  Until the whole movie seems that way, a long, drawn out, slow moving microscopic examination of first love that you finally wish would never end.
One of the best pictures of the year.  Not recommended you see it with your mother.
I could not believe what I found out while doing research on the new movie Sal (research, hah—I looked it up on IMDB—so shoot me).  There are five credits for the screenplay (one for a book, four for story, and then one of those, Stacey Miller, for the screenplay itself).  Five credits.  Five.  The reason I’m throwing such a hissy fit over this is because—Sal has no real story and has an almost worthless screenplay.  And it took five people to not come up with it? 
Sal is a last day in the life of story, this time about the actor Sal Mineo, most famous now for his break out (and Oscar nominated) performance in Rebel Without A Cause.  The story (and I say that trying not to FOTFLOL without stopping) starts with a dinner the night before; then begins proper with his waking up the following morning; follows him during the day (including three or more car rides in which for some reason he always listens to the exact same song over and over again—it’s unclear whether this is because the song means something or the producers just didn’t have enough money to pay for the rights to another tune); spends a bit of time at the rehearsal for a production of the play P.S. Your Cat is Dead with 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Keir Dullea; until his arrival home that night and his death at the hands of a mugger.  
It’s uneventful and pointless (and takes forever to be so).  Even worse, it’s just plain boring.  And after it was over, I still had absolutely no idea why anyone wanted to make this movie or thought that Mineo’s last day would be interesting in and of itself.   The only real message I took from it was that his death at least saved the world from what appeared to be a perfectly dreadful production of a perfectly mediocre play co-starring a perfectly less than mediocre actor (and I’m not referring to Mineo). 
Sal is played by Val Lauren, and though his has the same doe-eyes of innocence as Mineo, he just never remotely seems to resemble that waif-like star.   Even in one of Mineo’s last performances (in the TV series Columbo), and all those years had passed, he seemed barely changed from the wispy, shy teen John “Plato” Crawford in Rebel….  Yet Lauren’s interpretation almost made me think he had never even seen Mineo before (and the film including a scene from Rebel… at the end of the movie doesn’t help the matter of comparison either). 
It’s directed by James Franco (yes, the actor James Franco, and based on this movie, he shouldn’t quit his day job).  And if you thought Kechiche was leisurely, he’s Michael Bay in comparison to Franco’s approach.  Of course, since there’s no story, there’s not a lot to work with.  At the same time, Franco’s also one of the people who gets credited with the story, so he really has no one to blame but himself.
In the 1950’s and 1960’s, Jim Bishop, a historian, wrote a series of books that followed the last day of a notable figure, including The Day Lincoln Was Shot, The Day Christ Died and The Day Kennedy Was Shot.  The books were extremely detailed, focusing on such mundane issues as what the figure would have had for breakfast.  The books may not have been great literature, but they were great reads.  I thought of those books as I was watching this movie, wondering whether Miller and Franco were trying to do the same thing.  Maybe, maybe not.  But if so, for some reason (possibly due to the importance of the person involved), knowing what Lincoln ate for his first meal of the day had a bigger emotional impact on me than watching Lauren chug milk from a bottle and orange juice from a carton.   And maybe that is where the movie began going wrong.
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