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July 30, 2018

La vie d’Adèle

by Franz Patrick


Vie d’Adèle, La (2013)
★★★ / ★★★★

Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) knows she is more attracted to women than men, but—with a little push from her friends—she decides to date a male classmate (Jérémie Laheurte) who shows genuine interest in her. They get intimate eventually but being with a man fails to satiate her physical and emotional needs. Adèle does the right thing by choosing to break up with the guy before any more of their time is wasted. Later, the high school student meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), an artist with blue hair. Emma is exciting, challenging, and present. Adèle, very young and idealistic about love, falls hard for her new friend.

“La vie d’Adèle,” also known as “Blue is the Warmest Color,” falls short of being truly special due to an unjustified bulky running time. The first hour does a wonderful job in showing a series of scenes that communicates Adèle’s unhappiness through mind-numbing routines that offer little excitement or fulfillment. She is young and alive but not really living. She wants to be loved by another person but she may not be ready because she is anxious—uncertain at times—about acting on her homosexual impulses.

The film captures how it is like to be young and questioning. Exarchopoulos plays the lead character with a nice blend of naiveté and toughness but at the same time one who is undergoing an emotional turmoil so chaotic, we feel Adèle consistently being on edge—that she might explode any second. Adèle has a group of friends but the girls are not the kind to keep secrets. Her parents are very traditional. The works of literature she reads offer no solution. She is alone and we understand her being thrilled when she finally finds someone with whom she feels she can connect with on an honest and deep level.

Adèle is written smart and so is Emma. Seydoux makes fresh choices in playing the girlfriend. Emma is the tougher and more experienced of the two but there is vulnerability to her, too. The early stages of the blossoming romance are most interesting to dissect because it can be argued that Emma is as scared as Adèle to be together. The material suggests that perhaps Emma has been hurt in the past. We feel her weighing if it is worth putting her guard down and allowing a new person—a high school student, no less—into her life and create something healthy, something both of them can be happy with.

The director, Abdellatif Kechiche, is fond of close-ups. Such a technique is appropriate in a film like this because it relies on us to interpret a well of tiny emotions drawn on faces. The camera being up close and personal urges us to want to hug the characters when they are weak and have no one to confide in. Conversely, it makes us want to push them away when they have betrayed themselves or each other’s trust. By placing our perspective so close to the characters’ faces, like how their heads are always only inches away from one another, we are, in a way, in a relationship with the two women.

There was a lot of hubbub about the “explicitness” of the sex scenes. I find this frustrating because some discussions make it sound like what is shown on screen is pornographic. Sure, the images leave little to the imagination and the love scene is allowed to run longer than expected, but I found it appropriate. To me, the scene embodies Adèle’s true sexual awakening. It is the time when she—who has yearned for so long to be with someone who understands her emotionally and physically—reaches raw sexual freedom, attaining true happiness with a person with whom she does not have to pretend.

“Blue is the Warmest Color,” based on Julie Maroh’s graphic novel, takes several missteps some time in the middle—a handful of scenes that take place a few weeks or months within Adèle and Emma’s relationship. I found them repetitive. They bored me. Many ought to have been excised to keep the rhythm going. For instance, I did not see much point in the two women visiting each other’s families other than to incite obvious tonal differences between the two households. As a result, we expect to see parents in the latter half—when several years have passed since the lovers met—to see how they, too, have or have not changed. Alas, there isn’t even a mention of them.

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