Pro: Simply lovely
When is a love story a lesbian love story or just a ‘love story’? How much baggage does the average straight member of the audience have to carry with them to call it cliché?
To strip La vie d’Adèle of its lesbian identity would be a disservice to its own dynamics, but this film is at heart a meticulously conceived love story, with its backdrop of one young woman’s self-discovery as heartbreakingly portrayed by newcomer Exarchopoulos.
With a sparse score and a visual eye for the classic womanly form, the small moments here are everything. Adèle and Emma’s passionate love affair is seemingly the centrepiece, but while Emma’s ambition takes her to more interesting heights, it’s the simpler Adèle who’s ultimately the more complex character. While she dutifully becomes the pragmatic adult, she throws her entire heart and personal life into Emma, a love so deep that she’s lost herself in it.
Though the film is not without its failings (the extended sex scenes eventually elicit laughs), its length and depth of detail are ultimately rewarding. In one scene, Adèle tells her student to slow down as he reads Marivaux’ La vie de Marianne (a running theme in Kechiche’s films) because she “wants to hear every detail”. And so do we. WC
Con: Porn-y snoozefest
This by-the-numbers coming-of-age/coming-out story makes the same mistake as many have before it: assuming that an utterly banal relationship is automatically rendered interesting merely because the couple is gay rather than straight. By throwing in a number of overlong, astoundingly (and, after a while, farcically) explicit sex scenes to garner points for ‘honesty’ and ‘candour’ and serendipitously premiering within days of France’s highly contentious legalisation of same-sex marriage, however, it seems to have landed just the recipe for winning the Palme d’Or.
Where the film does stand out is in its two leads, who are simply sublime. Scenes like their first encounter or the lead-up to their first kiss, which consist solely of furtively exchanged glances, are so genuine and electrifying, you completely lose yourself in their emotions.
Unfortunately this authenticity is constantly dispelled as the script insists on elucidating its transparent themes through meta-commentary and symbolism that is at best redundant and at worst idiotic, such as using oysters as a metaphor for vaginas. But the film’s most grievous flaw is its length — there is no justification for the three-hour running time when everything would have been said twice as effectively in half as much time. GMC
La vie d’Adèle (Blau ist eine warme Farbe) | Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche (France, Belgium, Spain 2013) with Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos. Starts December 19
Originally published in issue #122, December 2013.