28 November 2013

Review: Blue Is the Warmest Colour

(Dir: Abdellatif Kechiche, 2013)

"Love is a disgusting thing." That line from a song feels very apt. (The feral Hyperventilationsystem by Daughters is the song, if you're interested.) Love excites and thrills. It sets the body and mind into nonsensical convulsions of blind devotion. It doesn't ask for much other than to be constantly fed. Love inevitably hurts. It frequently decimates the soul leaving a feeling of insatiable and unreciprocated longing. Love is a disgusting thing and not everyone wins. Blue Is the Warmest Colour is an effective reminder of all this.

It's the story of a life and an awakening there within. There's a certain youthful coyness and uncertainty to our protagonist Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos). She's seventeen and thinks she knows what she wants in life, until something very unexpected throws her into turmoil - Emma (Léa Seydoux). This is a voyage of self discovery for Adèle, something best summed up by the literal translation of the original French name for the film - La vie d'Adèle. This is her life before, during and after love, writ over three hours of screen time (even if the international title is more intriguingly evocative).

The love that exists between the two seems to be on very different plains, perhaps most evident at the dinners they attend at each others parents. One seems like a carefree acceptance of the bourgeoise and a freeness to challenge previously held tastes. The other has a sense of restrained normality befitting a family with a seventeen year old daughter, with discussions of boyfriends and the like. One suggests freedom, the other undiscovered secrets. Adèle acts almost subservient to Emma at times, something she seems content to do and is the only way in which she seems to know how to deal with her pseudo-intellectual and artistic friends. But there's always a sense of unease for her, like she knows she's inferior and will never fit. She never holds the power and so her position in this love is always a risk.

The only time there appears to be equality is sexually, something the film graphically explores. Although one would imagine to see Emma as the teacher that never appears so - this is how the pair seem to truly connect and feel alive together. This is how their love shows through rather than every day domestic life as there are no social or intellectual imbalances. But sex can never be a panacea expected to fill the missing gaps in a relationship; nor can it solve problems of loneliness and emptiness as Adèle discovers. And so love is a disgusting thing.

These scenes may seem needlessly graphic but they show the core of their passion for each other and provide true context. Everything hinges on the believability of their relationship and both leads totally sell it. Exarchopoulos in particular is excellent. The focus rests on her and she convinces equally well with a youthful naïvety and pained longing. Both should be commended for the braveness of their performances when showing the true intimacy of love - it takes a lot for an actor to bare themselves with another in such a nakedly raw way. The film is shot to feel real with the camera moving as if it were an actual observer. At times there's an awkward obsession with close-ups but this is tempered with the occasional piece of beautiful framing - a close-up of the pair kissing, with the sun blinding through the gap whenever they briefly pull away, comes to mind. 

Blue Is the Warmest Colour hits hard like love should. The story remains fascinating despite the length and it seems almost impossible to come out without the feeling that despite their wonder and thrill, relationships just frequently end up being shit. If you're not careful they screw you over and leave you writhing in a desolate emotional agony - at least that's how Adèle seems to feel, no matter whatever else she does in her life. It's not a film everyone will like but it's a great piece of storytelling with superb acting, worthy of winning the Palme d'Or in Cannes this year. Recommended.

22 November 2013

Short review: Gravity

(Dir: Alfonso Cuarón, 2013)

For a film with so many talking about it and so much written on it, there's surprisingly little to actually say about Gravity. It primarily works on a visceral level, pretty much on all levels - at times it feels like an emotional sucker-punch, particularly in the early scenes where Sandra Bullock's Dr. Stone realises her chance of clinging onto humanity is drifting away into the infinite nothingness. There's something of an elemental fear here, something which in reality none of us would ever experience, but the idea of it is pretty terrifying. This may sound like a spoiler but really it's the set up for the film and the trailer reveals as much, yet of course there is more to the story even if it feels like it's stretching itself far too thin as the film progresses, leading to a somewhat unsatisfying ending and moments of incredulity en route to this point.

But in a sense story isn't the point of the film - it's a hell of a visual and audio enhanced treat. What director Cuarón and Director of Photography Emmanuel Lubezki have done in terms of make us feel like we're in space floating above this planet, with a fluid constantly moving camera that rarely appears to cut away, is deeply engaging and involving. This enhances the isolation of being so far away from not only humanity but safety too. And of course the whole thing looks beautiful. The multi-directional sound only serves to enhance this, helping with the disorientation and suitably positioning the viewer in the astronauts shoes when required. It's true this should be seen on the biggest screen you can find; and if it's a big enough screen to be fully immersive then watch it in 3D.

Gravity is not a film without flaws but it's lean running time means it's shorn of excess which helps immeasurably, whilst Bullock is excellent and holds the film together. George Clooney should also get mention as the perfect actor to play an older, friendly but slightly cavalier astronaut on his final trip to space, adding a nice extra dimension. This is a thrilling, exceptionally well put together film that exemplifies what the cinema was built for.