Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB
Original Title: La vie d’Adèle
France/Belgium/Spain, 2013. Quat’sous Films, Wild Bunch, France 2 Cinema, Scope Pictures, Vertigo Films, Radio Television Belge Francophone, Canal+, Cine+, France 2, Eurimages, Région Nord-Pas-de-Calais, Centre National du Cinema et de L’Image Animee, Pictanovo Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France Televisions, Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral Belge, Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel de la Fédération Wallonie-Bruxelles. Screenplay by Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalya Lacroix, based on the graphic novel Le Bleu est une couleur chaude by Julie Maroh. Cinematography by Sofian El Fani. Produced by Brahim Chioua, Abdellatif Kechiche, Vincent Maraval. Production Design by Julia Lemaire. Costume Design by Paloma Garcia Martens. Film Editing by Sophie Brunet, Ghalya Lacroix, Albertine Lastera, Jean-Marie Lengelle, Camille Toubkis.
Finishing up her last year of high school before pursuing her plans to get her masters and become a teacher, Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos) has just begun a relationship with fellow student Thomas (***Jérémie Laheurte) when she spots Emma (Léa Seydoux) on the street and is immediately smitten with her. Striking in her confidence and her creatively dyed blue hair, Emma prompts an awakening in Adele about her broadening sexuality, which develops further when they run into each other at a bar and strike up a friendship; discussions of art and philosophy in the park eventually lead to the acknowledgement of a mutual physical attraction, which leads to them falling into bed together.
The passion of lovemaking is pored over in great detail by director Abdellatif Kechiche, who devotes around twenty or so minutes of his typically lengthy running time to graphic depictions of Adele in heated carnal bliss with both her partners, her erotic connection with Emma soon followed by the chapter stops in a relationship that we all know are coming: after the physical obsession the relationship is legitimized by their moving in together, then the erotic becomes banal, eventually there is betrayal and a shattering of their connection. Despite this trajectory of growing up and learning about life being presented in a manner not at all unfamiliar to anyone who has ever lived (or watched) a romantic melodrama, Kechiche manages to create a series of events that feel spontaneous and grounded and, much more surprisingly, directs it at a natural pace while making three hours feel like they barely pass by.
Much was made after the film’s sensational Cannes debut (where it won the Palme D’Or) about Kechiche’s treatment of his stars, who revealed that his making the actresses repeat the film’s most painful scenes for hours on end was no less than full-on abuse which they hoped to never experience again; what shows on screen doesn’t sag under the strain of this effort, the film’s harshest scenes (those that have to do with the couple’s breaking up) feel as natural as the rest of the movie does and, with all due respect to the actors and their unnecessary suffering, they reward the viewer who hasn’t felt entirely sure about their connection with this relationship up until that point. The sex scenes, while refreshingly graphic, don’t feel all that honest, for a film about a young woman’s coming of age and confusion about her impending adulthood she brings a great deal of choreographed confidence to the bedroom. Kechiche likely meant to show off the glory of a new love affair but these moments don’t quite fit in with the character’s passive and observant nature, and aren’t equal to the level of raw spontaneity that is on display the rest of the time. By the time the relationship disintegrates, however, it’s impossible not to feel deeply for Adele, in part because of Exarchopolous giving a superb performance in the role, but also because of how intimate our knowledge is of these characters without anything being overt in its revalation of their inner lives. Kechiche, despite having been what appears to be quite the tyrant off camera, is very generous to his characters: Emma and Adele are at completely different stages of their own self-awareness and sense of identity and the director has no judgments to offer either of them for it. Emma knows exactly who she is and her tough exterior is never villainized, Adele is unsure of her amorphous sexual identity and can’t keep her passion for Emma in context, and we’re never encouraged to see her as foolish or pathetic.
The Criterion Collection: #695
Golden Globe Award Nomination: Best Foreign Language Film
European Film Award Nominations: Best European Film; Best European Director (Abdellatif Kechiche)
Cannes Film Festival Award: Palme D’Or
Toronto International Film Festival: 2013