Behind the Palme d’Or

Written by Armond White on . Posted in Arts Our Town, Arts Our Town Downtown, Arts West Side Spirit.

Blue is the Warmest Color exposes Spielberg in the whorehouse of art cinema

Lea and Adele in Blue is the Warmest Color

Lea and Adele in Blue is the Warmest Color

Given Spielberg’s humanist sophistication, the Jury’s choice of Blue is the Warmest Color is puzzling; it reverses the progress of The Color Purple with a meandering focus on sexual license. Director Abdellatif Kechiche’s story of a Parisian high school girl Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) who succumbs to the butch charms of a blue-haired art student Emma (Lea Seydoux), then loses all sense of herself is neither pro-humanist nor pro-gay. Kechiche, adapting a graphic novel by Julie Maroh, emphasizes the physical aspects of romance–sexual attraction, sexual coupling–that makes the stability of gay romance questionable. In The Color Purple, Spielberg’s adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel featured a mature understanding of the need for love between women as well as between opposite genders.

The Color Purple’s Hollywood discretion (and pop universality) may not have pleased 1985 status-keepers who preferred Out of Africa but Spielberg and screenwriter Menno Mayjes wonderfully recognized the humane essence of Celie (Whoopi Goldberg) discovering herself through an attraction to blues singer Shug Avery (Margaret Avery). Their relationship, based in Black blues folk culture, was less about sex than the larger issue of emotional fulfillment–personal wholeness and spiritual salvation. Kechiche, a politically-correct operator whose monotonous Secrets of the Grain exploited Muslim immigrancy, uses gayness to support dubious ideas about romance and identity. His long, obvious concentration on female sexuality doesn’t celebrate womanhood but exploits it in that grayish-blue area of gynophilia (heterosexual men’s excitement at watching women copulate—and teenage Adele’s shaved pudenda).

Really, what is there to learn from watching Adele and Emma bumping-and-grinding? Or repetitive close-ups of Exarchopoulos’s wet, open mouth (obvious vaginal symbolism)? She gives up her intellectual interest in literature to implausibly become a hausfrau to please her social-climbing woman. (Seydoux’s tomboy manner as a woman who puts her career before her personal life recalls Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s trollish look.)

In Robert Towne’s 1982 Personal Best, female sex scenes were emotionally intimate yet without all the huffing, puffing and bumping uglies. Director John Huston once suggested certain private acts should never be shown which Kechiche confirms with the silly pointlessness of Adele and Emma’s extended exertions. As with the belly dancing in Secrets of the Grain, Kechiche doesn’t know when enough is enough.

All this is as unprofound as Woody Allen’s self-justifying “The heart wants what it wants”–a way to avoid examining the depths of human interaction. Kechiche gets no credit for a gay sex breakthrough; anyone who has followed the cultural progress of gay filmmakers are already ahead of this film through the dazzling experiences of Andre Techine’s Wild Reeds, Gael Moreau’s Full Speed, Duscatel-Martineau’s My Life on Ice and Lionel Baier’s Garcon Stupide–for starters. Otherwise we’re back to the ignorance of thinking Brokeback Mountain was an innovation.

Kechiche emulates the realism of Maurice Pialat and Mike Leigh then ruins it with dubious insights (“Tragedy is inevitable, that’s the essence of human life”) that are fashionable humbug. Spielberg should be embarrassed.

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