Film Reviews


By • Nov 1st, 2013 •

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Only two years after same-sex marriage was legalized in New York, Gay porno films of men (STRANGER BY THE LAKE) and women (BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR) graced – or possibly, disgraced – the prestigious 50th annual New York Film Festival this year.

Of course, BLUE had already won the once-prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes in May, where the NY Festival selects much of its season. For some curious reason, that once -great prize has, for decades, been tainted by politics and by filmmaker juries’ belief that if the experience is long enough (BLUE is an absurd three hours in length for its rather slight, uneventful story), unpleasant enough, or intentionally serious enough – only then is it prize worthy.

The film’s vague irony is that its’ central character, Adele, in the course of the film, passes from high school student to teacher of young children, on whom she dotes, but as a lesbian, will never bear.

This year’s jury was led by no less a cinematic connoisseur than Steven Spielberg, whom, I doubt, has ever seen a lesbian porno, with its chief, lusting scene lasting nearly seven minutes and earning the film a dreaded NC-17 rating.

These past decades the Cannes jury has given their highest honor to such awfulness as the Coen Brothers’ BARTON FINK (1991), Gus Van Sant’s dull, high school shot-em-up, ELEPHANT, and Lars Von Trier’s ghastly DANCER IN THE DARK, starring the Icelandish diva, Bjork.

I appreciate that BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR is the title of the graphic novel from which Abdellatif Kechiche, its Arabic Tunisian director, claims to have casually derived his present bittersweet tale of a young, lesbian couple (with sensational nude bodies) falling in and out of love, over a decade, in the French town of Lille.

The director believes he has beautified, or made painterly, the naked bodies of Adele Exarchopoulos, the principal, jilted character with the same first name, and top-billed Lea Seydoux as the older, experienced, aqua-haired Emma. (Is Emma’s blue hair rinse the warmest color?’) Emma lures the naïve but desirous Adele to bed, and then dumps her for the infidelity of Adele’s having had sex with a man, after Emma has been cold to her.

But by bathing the lusty, grappling bodies in hot studio light, so antithetical to the actual lighting of their bedroom trysts, Kechiche has made the sex graphic, indeed, and a true “blue movie,” as they used to term sexually explicit films, which might explicate the film’s otherwise inexplicable title. (Adele does wear a blue dress to visit Emma’s retro at the end of the film, ten years after they began. Does that qualify?)

However, Kechiche’s young couple is so convincingly avid for each other, that their reciprocal lust makes me yearn to look away and for them to enjoy the privacy of their sex acts. But now, they have been captured on film for all the world to see. My preferred editorial policy would be to cut away from the action when it starts, and not witness the gratuitously intimate.

Actually, the solo bedroom sex scene of 16-year-old Adele fantasizing what the blue-haired, unashamed Emma might be like in the sack, while she masturbates in bed, in blue light (explicating the title?), is the most fanciful and imaginative sequence in the film, with a superimposed Emma enabling Adele to realize why she finds sex with a young male schoolmate admirer so indifferent.

By contrast, the shots of male-on-male coupling in STRANGER BY THE LAKE, are joyless, furtive and fixated on “cum shots.” No one gets it on like these gals.

By sad admission I, at 77, no longer want to watch gay couples go at it – although that is the selling- point of both these gay, art films, featuring very attractive couples. I guess my Geist/Lubitsch touch is to know what couples – hot for each other – do in the bedroom without showing their grappling or the inauthentic shaved pubes and arm pits of the French young women in BLUE. In short, I find these films’ selling points, gratuitous.

As for the actors in BLUE, Adele/Adele Exarchopoulos is a pudgy-faced young woman, who cries very real tears, snot included, when distressed. Her hair style changes from upswept mess to tidy, side bangs in the course of the film’s ten years. (I only know of the film’s time span from the useful program notes provided by its’ New York publicist, Susan Norget.) There is nothing in the film itself to suggest the ten-years’ passage. There is, however, one ironic note: When Adele goes to see a retrospective of her former lover’s paintings, (ten years later, I must assume), most all of them prove to be variations on the slatternly nude Adele, which Emma painted during their earliest days. The point appears to be that although Emma will not take back the tremulous, pleading Adele, she is so obsessed with her ex, that Adele’s reclining nude figure is the only thing that she can paint.

Oh yes, the film has an unconventionally unhappy ending of Adele walking down a street very much alone. However BLUE’s sub-title is “Adele: Chapters 1 and 2.” So that, as if three hours of Ms. Exarchopoulos were insufficient, we are promised more to come of this sweet loser with the great figure.

I would be glad to lose at least an hour of this three-hour epic. But when you have won the debased Palme d’Or, you can’t delete even the epic eating scenes of this otherwise, totally bourgeois family film. (Adele’s folks believe Emma, the gay deceiver, is a philosophy tutor for their daughter, who is flunking the subject. If they can’t hear the cries and whispers in Adele’s bedroom, they are very deaf indeed.)

By the bye, casting directors take note, experienced Lea Sedoux, (MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, FAREWELL MY QUEEN, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE (2011) the seductress, is a dead ringer for Carey Mulligan (AN EDUCATION).

The film is shot, relentlessly, in extreme close-up by Sofian El Fani.

Parisian suppliers of white, English sub-titles for French films should note that white sub-titles are obliterated against light backdrops, such as the foreground, sandy beach side of nearly every scene in STRANGER BY THE LAKE. so that nearly none of the sub-titles are legible. Bright yellow sub-titles are used on all of the recently restored films of Jacques Demy. Think yellow, mes vieux.

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