Thursday, March 20, 2014

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013): Lesbian Origins

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
dir: Abdellatif Kechiche

There are four things you should know going in to Blue is the Warmest Color. Life is long. Sexuality is fluid. The movie is set in the late '90s into early '00s. And, director Abdellatif Kechiche is an asshole.

Based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh, Blue is the Warmest Color is a dissection of the early life of Adele, a pansexual woman who finds her first love with the blue-haired artist Emma. Blue just isn't about the romance of Adele and Emma. Instead, it's Adele's coming out story, her first romance, and the dissolving of that relationship. It's the greatest hits of the first moments of a told by a lesbian, then interpreted by a straight man and woman, and portrayed by 2 more straight women.

As a film, Blue is the Warmest Color is too long by an hour (it takes 45 minutes before Adele and Emma even meet), but it is gorgeously filmed and portrayed (except for the seemingly hardcore sex scenes, which we'll get to in a minute). But, there's a problem beyond the pretentiously long editing, and it is the heteronormative styling of queers in love.

There are two forces struggling at work here. The first is that the graphic novel source material was written and understood by Julie Maroh, a lesbian. The second is the heteroness of Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix. With these two forces, Blue is the Warmest Color is trying to be a cross-over film for lesbians from the ghetto stylings of queer culture into the arty stylings of hetero culture by being adapted by straight people. While there are good intentions at work, for the largest part, there still remains the questions of queer narrative appropriation.

2013 is turning up to be one of the weirdest years for queer cinema and cultural appropriation. Not only is there Blue is the Warmest Color, but there is also Dallas Buyers Club, which made a very hetero narrative out of a much more complicated story. Dallas Buyers Club, the true story, was about a bisexual slutty dude who got AIDS through a blood transplant and set up shop to help out the gay community. The movie was about a homophobic straight dude who became more accepting of the gay community through the help of the flighty magical trans pixie (a completely invented character who does not exist in real life). Dallas Buyers Club won 2 oscars.

Also in 2013, James Franco was exposing the queer lifestyle for his own personal advancement. He released Kink and Interior. Leather Bar., both of which dealt, in part, with understanding queer sexuality as well as the hetero position to queer sexuality.

Blue is the Warmest Color falls somewhere between these two poles. It does absolutely nothing to advance the understanding of queer life, nor does it completely disrespect the lesbian lifestyle portrayed within its THREE HOUR RUNNING TIME. Much of this running time is spent on extended conversations about such exhilarating topics as French Literature, art, spaghetti, and the job market. There is exactly one scene of lesbian fear in high school, then it we flitter away from the bullying as if it was lip service in order to get to the first sex scene. After all, by that time, we're over an hour into the film.

Then, we get to the sex scenes which have been both celebrated (largely by straight men), and derided as exploitative (largely by feminists). Not having really watched two lesbians fuck, I cannot comment...but I have to say that there is a hell of a lot of hilarious positions that look like they amount to bumping pussies. The positions look like they would be better with strap-ons, but no strap-ons were pretended to be used in this production. It reminded me of Skinemax portrayals of lesbian sex more than anything.

The movie, outside of the bullying lip service and the hardcore fake sex, is almost a transplant of a traditional hetero narrative. With Emma being the butchy male role while Adele is the femmey female role. Adele has no ego or life outside of Emma, being completely obsessed with her first romance (isn't that true of many first loves if they don't happen during high school?). Emma is the forceful one who drives most of the relationship. Emma's cheating is never called out by Adele, even though Adele's cheating is called out by Emma. Making an even more obvious hetero plot point, showing a non-understanding of the lesbian lifestyle.

Fortunately, though, even Adele is treated as a human. Emma is too. Which is more than you can say for most of the American romances. Does that mean Blue is the Warmest Color is good? Kind of. It's safe, hetero-friendly, hetero-acceptable filmmaking that doesn't insult the homosexual community. It may lead to acceptance. And, some of lesbians may really like this attempt at an ultimate story of the first 15 years of active lesbianism. But, ultimately, it's too long, too meandering, and too straight of an adaptation to be a solid recommendation. It missed the queerness.

P.S. Since this is France in the 1990s, cell phones don't exist and smoking is a symbol for freedom.

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