Friday, January 10, 2014
The Cinema File #299: "Blue Is The Warmest Color" Review
Since I first started reviewing movies online on a regular basis, the biggest surprise I've had as an amateur critic is still how much I loved Michael Haneke's 2012 Palm d'Or winner Amour. On paper, it was exactly the kind of movie I always despise, slow moving, filled with pregnant pauses in place of dialogue, and infused with the pretense of deep meaning; in short, the worst stereotype of foreign cinema. And yet, it worked, and more to the point, what worked about it were the very things I usually hate about "those kinds of movies," Last year's Palm d'Or winner, and the foreign film to see of 2013, was Blue Is The Warmest Color, a film that seems like Amour's natural counterpoint, focused on the short lived but passionate love of two young woman instead of the end of a long relationship between two old bitties. And its slow moving, and filled with pregnant pauses, and infused with the pretense of deep meaning. And its fucking unbearable.
Blue is the story of two young women who find each other, fall in love, break up, and move on with their lives over the course of several years and three hours that felt about as long as that. Yeah, I know, devotees will say its about oh so much more than that and to oversimplify this epic story of love and loss is a travesty, but I just don't see it. Well, more specifically, its not that I don't see what people see in this movie when they say they like it; I just can't see how they were able to sit through all the plodding shit in between to get to the movie they liked. Maybe its pedantic to criticize a movie so harshly simply for being so long, especially a French movie, but my God did this not need to be three hours long. This didn't need to be two hours long. Give me a 90 minute version of this same movie and I'm with you 100%, but this is just gratuitous, and that's even before you get to the parts everybody else thinks are gratuitous.
Its not just that its too long, but that its too long when it so obviously and clearly doesn't have to be. What ever happened to the virtue of economy in film? Did we need the scene where Adele attends a protest and yells blank faced about something I'm not even sure she cares about for like ten minutes, or any one of the twenty other similarly close cropped scenes of someone doing something innocuous and unrelated to the story for an uninterrupted length of time? I don't know, maybe I'm just not much for mood setting in place of storytelling, but for me, the job of a good editor and by extension a good director is being able to tell what does and doesn't belong in a movie, so that only what is absolutely necessary to the story remains in the film, and while there is always room for indulgences on the margins, little tangents that don't matter left in here and there, when more than half the movie is made up of them and the result is an hour and a half of extraneous footage, it begins to feel less like a film and more like a war crime.
The two main characters don't even meet until forty minutes in! This whole story is supposed to be about the joining of these two souls for this brief (brief!) moment in time, and its almost an hour before we even see them together and get any sense of who they are as a couple. When we finally do see this, its at times very touching and surprisingly relatable, at least in the sense that I'm a straight American male watching a movie about French lesbians, but by this point I've already soured on the movie just for being so insultingly boring and tedious, or should I say so deliberately boring and tedious, getting there. Yes, there is a movie in here to love, and I eagerly await the Blade Runner style fan edit to come from some like minded but more tech savvy individual so that I can actually join my fellow critics in their almost unanimous praise of this film. Until then, give me 90 minutes of almost anything else, up to and including the stupid talking dinosaur movie with John Leguizamo.
Oh, and about the other thing. Speaking as a proudly degenerate pervert, I can honestly say that Blue Is The Warmest Color features some of the most unnecessary and I might even suggest counterproductive cinematic sex scenes in quite some time. Opinions surrounding this aspect of the film are wide ranging, from those who think the graphic depictions of lesbian sex are crass, distracting, and even misogynistic, to those who think they are profound, captivating, and essential to the film as a whole. Believe it or not, count me among the former group. Misogynistic might be pushing it, even though I'm quite confident the man who staged these scenes knows nothing about real lesbian sex outside of pornography, but distracting is an understatement. They come up at least twice, maybe three times, and each one feels like something out of a completely different movie, poorly framed in provocatively wide shots and just plain goofy in their attempt to evoke real passion.
I'm not going to lie, the controversy surrounding this movie's NC-17 rating was the primary reason for my initial interest, its favorable critical consensus only peaking my curiosity that much more. Its the kind of film I imagine I might have tried to sneak into as a kid, or stay up late trying to catch a glimpse of these fabled sex scenes on what was then my only access to televised nudity, The Independent Film Channel. And just as the little kid inside me would have been, the equally immature and no more discerning adult I am now was simply too bored to tears to appreciate Blue Is The Warmest Color even on a prurient level. I know that's exactly the last standard I should be using to judge any film, but it is what it is, and after the first hour of soul sucking non-storytelling, it was really the only hope I had left to hold onto before it too was taken away from me. Is this what ennui feels like?