Filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue Is the Warmest Color” (2013) is available for streaming on Netflix. The film is about 15-year-old Adèle and her adolescent discovery of her own sexuality. Much has been made of the explicit and extended lesbian sex scenes. I’d even watched a funny video put together by a site called Popwatch, that filmed real lesbians watching the scenes and discussing what they thought was realistic or not. As funny as some of their responses were, the sex is really only part of this beautiful picture. The truth is, it’s a film largely about growing up, and even more about the journey of self-discovery.
When I originally watched the film, my first artistic impression was that I’d felt it had been a long time since I’d seen a film with this many medium to close-up shots. Watching as many films as I do, at first I wondered if it was just something I stopped noticing in other films, or if this film was truly told primarily in close up. It’s certainly the latter. The effect enhances the film in a number of ways: The audience feels more intimate with the two main actors, Léa Seydoux, who plays Emma, Adèle’s (Adèle Exarchopoulos) love interest. Adèle’s most cinematic trait is her voluptuous mouth, wolfing-down spaghetti, breathing out cigarette smoke, and largely remaining half-open, her two buckteeth accentuating her lips as the ultimate beckoning. It’s not titillation for the audience, but rather, as we see in the scene where Adèle and Emma lay in the grass together, eyeing each other, we sense the burgeoning sensuality between the two by seeing the other through their eyes.
Also, the film’s color palette reminded me of the qualities that made Andrea Arnold’s “Fish Tank” (2009) so visually appealing. Blues are everywhere, from Emma’s hair to Adèle’s dress, to one character’s fingernail polish, to the soft lighting in a restaurant scene. Beyond the meticulous attention to detail, the cinematography and the acting, what gives this film its weight — is when the plot moves from youthful sexual experimentation into the world of relationships and coexistence. We find out that Adèle is a children’s teacher and more the wifely cook type, and Emma is a struggling artist who enjoys more academic pursuits. Adèle talks of Bob Marley, while Emma has friends that discuss philosophy, Sartre, and the merits of Egon Schiele versus Klimt. It’s a clash of social worlds. Perhaps the most moving scene (outside of those featuring Adèle’s crying — which she does as well as any actress) is after a dinner party celebrating Emma’s art show, she and Adèle settle into bed, and Emma tries to tell her lover that she wishes she would become a writer. And Adèle knows all to well that the meta-message is really that Emma wishes she were more cultured. And Adèle is hurt that Emma finds her incomplete. There’s also an earlier scene, equally as moving, where Adèle invites Emma over to her parents’ house for dinner, and it becomes apparent that she’s told them Emma is her philosophy tutor rather than her lover. The strength of this film is that amid the much-talked-about sex scenes, there are really subtly suggestive and tender moments about growing up and the relationships that come to define us.
• More on Netflix: Netflix is also streaming one of the best documentaries to appear in the last two years, “The Act of Killing” — a documentary that focuses on the Indonesian killings of 1965–1966, where an anti-communist purge led to the killings of more than 500,000 people. But this isn’t your standard historical documentary. Director Joshua Oppenheimer has access to one leader of Suharto’s death squads, Anwar Congo (who before the military coup was a gangster who sold black market movie tickets), who eagerly acts out how he killed ethnic Chinese. It’s numbing (no, sickening), but important to watch.
• Pynchon on the Way: Warner Bros. has announced a release date for Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest film, “Inherent Vice”, based on Thomas Pynchon’s novel of the same name. It will arrive in theaters on December 12th. It’s starring Joaquin Phoenix as 1960s pothead-detective Larry “Doc” Sportello. True to Pynchon form ( a writer known for his esoteric knowledge, puns and love of disappeared characters), the film follows an investigation into the disappearance of Sportello’s ex’s new wealthy lover. The film features Benicio del Toro, Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Jena Malone, Martin Short, and Josh Brolin.
• New releases: I’ve already got my pre-order in for director Steve Sekely’s “Hollow Triumph” (1948), a psychological noir thriller that is also referred to as “The Scar” in the U.K and sometimes “The Man Who Murdered Himself”. (You can find it cheap on Amazon for around $10 USD.) The films begins with a casino heist gone wrong. Criminal John Muller (Paul Henreid) needs to disappear, and assumes the identity of a psychiatrist with a scar. Henreid plays both roles. The films co-stars Joan Bennett. This film has been released before, but the intrigue this time around, is to see if Film Chest have truly restored much of the film from its previous state. The DVD cover insists it’s a restoration from 35mm elements. We’re not talking mind-blowing cinema here, but simply an old classic worth watching.