Niagara Gazette

November 12, 2013

CALLERI: Extraordinary French film offers honesty about romance

By Michael Calleri
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A few months ago, I praised Cate Blanchett’s performance in Woody Allen’s “Blue Jasmine” and wrote that I expected her to be nominated for a best actress Oscar. Up until a week ago, I hadn’t seen any acting from a woman in a movie that came close to Blanchett’s perfection.

But then, while watching another film with the word blue in the title, I knew immediately that Blanchett had some genuine competition.

The movie is called “Blue Is the Warmest Color.” It won the Palme d’Or (the Golden Palm), the highest prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The jury, which was presided over by Steven Spielberg, knew it had seen an extraordinary work. Not only did it give the festival’s highest award to the movie and its director, Abdellatif Kechiche, but it also declared that the two actresses in “Blue Is The Warmest Color” would share in the honor.

By the most amazing coincidence, my French friend Gautier Coiffard, who is, as with most people in France, completely in love with movies (he has written about them), was staying at my house on the Sunday in May when the awards were announced at Cannes. We had seen the Rolling Stones in Toronto the night before. On his laptop, we watched the prizes being given out live via French television. The moment when the Palme d’Or was announced was electrifying. Gautier translated that the jury had declared that it had decided to take “the exceptional step” to also honor both of the film’s actresses Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. It was a rare moment.

Having now seen “Blue Is The Warmest Color,” I know the special nature of that evening and the decision by the jury made perfect sense. It is one of the best movies of this or any other year. Academy Award nominations may go to both women, but if only one is selected, Exarchopoulos must be in the running for best actress.

“Blue Is The Warmest Color” is superbly co-written by director Kechiche and the film’s editor, Ghalia Lacroix, a former actress. It is based on a 2010 graphic novel, “Le Bleu est une couleur chaude” (“Blue Angel”) by Julie Maroh. In France, some graphic novels are considered high art and literary achievements.

The movie explores the full spectrum of romance: the first glance, flirtation, self-discovery, passion, comfort, straying, a fracturing, yearning, and the pain of a possible lost love.

Kechiche and Lacroix explore the day-to-day life of a high school student named Adele in Lille, France. The film’s French title is “La vie d’Adele.” She’s interested in school, has good friends, aloof but nurturing parents, and knows that she wants to be a teacher when she graduates from university. Playing Adele is Exarchopoulos.

One day Adele sees a blue-haired college girl and finds herself fascinated. The girl is Emma, an art student, played by Seydoux. Adele is unsure about what the attraction means. There’s a boy in the high school she likes, but something about Emma stirs different emotions. A female classmate at school engenders some interest, but it goes nowhere. One day Adele and a gay male friend from her school go to a gay bar. She sees Emma. Soon, Adele is seeking out Emma on her own. The two become friends and eventually lovers.

It’s here that the movie rises on its prodigious strengths. It is filled with the simple truths about relationships. Friends at school judge the “new” Adele, but not so much because of the issue of her being a lesbian, but because she wasn’t as honest with them as they wanted her to be. Her friends, especially the girls, are strongly curious. There is bitter bullying, which is less homophobic and more about demanding information.

As her old life fades into the background, Adele embraces her new realities. There are separate scenes where each other’s parents are visited. Emma’s are hip. Adele’s are uncertain.

“Blue Is The Warmest Color” follows the two women on their journey. Time jumps, and Emma is becoming known as an artist and Adele is teaching preschool. She fits in well with Emma’s friends, but she senses that her lover has higher career hopes for her than she has for herself. Small strains rise in the relationship. Major upheaval may be on the horizon.

Seydoux is outstanding, but it’s the absolutely believable Exarchopoulos, who owns the screen. She delivers Adele’s passion and vulnerability with such riveting and exuberant power that she certifies the movie’s brilliance as she leads the audience through its complexities. During a raw and aching confrontation with Emma at their apartment, Exarchopoulos is astonishing.

“Blue Is The Warmest Color” is about the beauty of love. It encompasses the joys and sorrows of romance like no other movie I’ve seen. It is a masterpiece.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@outlook.com.