La Vie d'Adèle (2013)

aka: Blue Is the Warmest Colour
Drama / Romance


La Vie d'Adèle photo
15-year-old Adèle is a girl like any other, and like any girl of her age going out with boys is a habit she soon gets into. But then, poised on the threshold of adulthood, she meets Emma, a young woman with blue hair who opens up a whole new world for her. Through Emma, Adèle discovers both desire and her true identity, but she risks losing herself along the way...
© 2013

Film Review

Having divided the critics with his stillborn historical drama Vénus noire (2010), Franco-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche redeems himself with a vengeance with what stands a good chance of being the most highly rated French film of 2013. Loosely adapted from Julie Maroh's award winning graphic novel Le Bleu est une couleur chaude, La Vie d'Adèle is an epic story of love found and lost, crafted with sublime sensitivity and harrowing realism by a filmmaker and two astonishing young actresses who push their art to the limits of emotional veracity. Kechiche has already received Césars for his earlier films L'Esquive (2003) and La Graine et le mulet (2007). His latest cinematic triumph won him the Palme d'Or at Cannes in 2013, the award being shared (for the first time) between a director and his lead actors.

La Vie d'Adèle - Chapitres 1&2 (to give the film its full French title) recounts two chapters spanning a decade in the life of a young woman, Adèle, from a working class milieu in northern France. Like François Truffaut's heroine in his similarly titled L'Histoire d'Adèle H. (1975), the young heroine succumbs to a devastatingly passionate love affair and is almost destroyed when the reality of love fails to live up to the illusion that she has created for herself. Truffaut is clearly the strongest influence on the film and Kechiche admitted that he was inspired by the adventures of Antoine Doinel, Truffaut's alter ego.

In comparison with Truffaut's mischievously light-hearted romantic romp, Kechiche delivers a far more sober account of an intense amorous liaison between two women from very different social backgrounds. His film is provocative in its explicit portrayal of a female gay relationship but what it boils down to is a savage condemnation of the class consciousness that continues to divide our society and gets in the way of individual fulfilment. In a similar vein to Claude Goretta's La Dentellière (1977), and with a similar heartrending sensitivity, the film shows how one's social upbringing can impinge on one's personal relationships and erode the most intense feelings that we are capable of expressing for another human being. Class is the one barrier that love can never transcend, or so it seems...

Long before it went on general release in France in October 2013, La Vie d'Adèle rapidly acquired a certain notoriety on account of its protracted sex scenes, which make those in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris (1972) look laughably tame and prudish. Certainly the bedroom escapades of Adèle and her fiery blue-haired lesbian lover are pretty graphic and leave very little to the imagination. Kechiche shows just about everything it is possible to show, and from just about every angle, but he somehow manages to avoid cheap sexploitation, filming the carnal entanglements with a certain artistic detachment that renders them tender and uncannily sculptural.

Kechiche's obsessive striving for perfection created friction on the set and led his cast and crew to complain about flagrant violations of workers' rights (allegedly, the two and half month shoot was extended to five months with no extra pay). Léa Seydoux was particularly outspoken against her director's methods, accusing him of manipulation and psychological harassment. One of her sex scenes with Exarchopoulos took ten days to film, and in another scene Kechiche ordered her to continue hitting her co-star even after her nose had started to bleed. Whilst she recognised his talent, Seydoux made it clear that she would never again work with Kechiche, a director who made her feel like a prostitute.

Whilst the experience of working with a filmmaker as exacting and ruthless as Kechiche may not have been a comfortable one, the two lead actresses show an extraordinary level of commitment and, more than anything, it is the quality of their performances that renders the film so enthralling and viscerally moving. The 19 year old Adèle Exarchopoulos brings a depth and maturity to her portrayal of Adèle that is way beyond her years and you are left in no doubt that, on the strength of this performance, she will go on to become one of France's greatest film actresses.

Léa Seydoux, the more experienced actress, is just as impressive in the role of the less sympathetic but equally complex character Emma, and once again she leaves us begging for more. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux not only complement each other perfectly, the fragility and innocence of the former beautifully offset against the self-confidence and implacable toughness of the latter, they have an on-screen rapport that is so tangible you can almost feel it, like the heat of a strong light on your skin. At three hours in duration, La Vie d'Adèle may appear to be a challenge but you hardly notice the time pass - so caught up are you in the surging emotional rollercoaster that its two remarkably gifted lead actresses take us on. No doubt about it, Exarchopoulos and Seydoux deserved their share of the Palme d'Or as much as Kechiche, and it would have been a crime if they had been denied it. Now for the Césars...
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La Vie d'Adèle won 1 Festival de Cannes award in the category of: Palme d'Or (Abdellatif Kechiche (director), Adèle Exarchopoulos (actress), Léa Seydoux (actress)) [2013].

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