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...
Having divided the critics with his stillborn historical drama Vénus noire
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
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
(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
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
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
acquired a certain notoriety on account of its protracted sex scenes,
which make those in Bernardo Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris
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...
The above article was written for filmsdefrance.com and should not be reproduced in any medium without the author's permission.