Entertainment / Media

Eating Out with the French

PHOTO CREDIT: MIKAEL JANSSON

PHOTO CREDIT: MIKAEL JANSSON

It’s a simple story of first love. Girl meets boy. Girl is disenchanted. Girl meets girl. Girl goes down on girl—many, many times. Girl loses girl.

Simple in some respects, perhaps, but the experience of Blue is chockfull of the delicious complexity of awakening, first love, first loss, coming of age, coming out and yes, coming. In his sprawling drama, which won the prestigious Palme d’Or at Cannes this past year, Franco-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche (Black Venus, Games of Love and Chance) serves up a carnal, sensual, three-hour feast. There is more eating, drinking, tasting, slurping, swallowing, and devouring in this film than I’ve witnessed at all my family Passover seders combined. It doesn’t end on a magical up-note, to be sure, but by the time you reach the denouement, you will feel as though you’ve been treated to a multicourse meal of haute cuisine.

The film spans a decade in the life of high schooler Adele (big screen newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos), who attempts a relationship with a male classmate, but something isn’t quite right. As she points out to her best gay male friend, “He’s not the problem. It’s me. I’m missing something.”

It turns out what she’s missing is the love of a good woman. More specifically university fine arts student Emma (Lea Sydoux), whose hair, at least initially, is streaked a provocative blue. The two couldn’t be more different—in age, education, socioeconomic status. But they find common ground before too long and Adele begins to find herself.

It’s a wild ride. I found myself holding my breath through most of it, which is quite something to say about a 179-minute film. The end product’s natural beauty may just be the pint of blood exacted by a notoriously perfectionist director. Kechiche, as I learned later, required dozens of takes for each scene, working his stars to the point of exhaustion. He is a fan of off-the-script ad-libbing and doesn’t believe in professional hair and makeup; we see the characters in their most unprocessed, flawed and breathtaking humanity.

The marathon sex scene between the two women, which received much hype, was as good as you’ll get from a straight male director; I’ll leave it to viewers to decide how good that is. But much ado was made of the “unsimulated” “semi-porn.” Frankly, I didn’t see anything that much different from the “unsimulated” blow jobs and heterosexual sex scenes I’ve seen in dozens of mainstream films. In fact, Blue features one hetero scene in which the man’s fully erect organ is on full display. While no mention was made of that in reviews, there was much talk about the actresses’ prosthetic lady bits. It was yet another example of women’s sexuality as taboo, scary and just too much.

I also found it irritating to hear the two straight actresses, and the director, talk about it not being a film about being gay. This is a film about first love, they protest, not about Adele’s sexuality. But why can’t it be both? Yes, the film’s love story transcends politics and the characters never march in a pride parade. But it certainly is about coming out, and it does a yeoman’s job of it. So why hide that?

Personally, it was Adele’s evolution that I found most interesting about Blue. Many queer films over the past two decades have aimed to capture the angst and fever of coming out, but few do it so poignantly, so painfully, so explicitly as Blue. Anyone who has been through it will find themselves reflected somewhere in the three hours of screen time. I saw myself many times, particularly in the awkward-as-hell family dinner, when Adele brings Emma home to meet her parents, who, naturally, have no idea the two are together. I remember being in that bubble. Thanksgiving my senior year of college, I brought home my first girlfriend. She wore her hair back in a tight ponytail, black boots, silver rings on every finger, keychain hanging, and the pièce de résistance: a silver cross designed to look like a labrys. She couldn’t possibly have stood in sharper contrast to my femme-y, hair-covered, skirt-wearing sister-in-law. But I was in the bubble, that place where you think you’re invisible, but actually you’re obvious as hell. As I found out years later, my father was the only completely clueless guest. He chatted up my heavily pierced girlfriend, playing Jewish geography with her. If only he knew she’d gone to Catholic high school.

Whatever your personal journey, there is something to take from Blue. It is long, meandering, decadent—not unlike real life. The actors and directors may not want to package it as a queer film, but I would argue it’s a beautifully rendered piece, a work of art in many respects, about coming into one’s own identity. And, as a bonus, there’s a whole lot of soixante-neuf.

 

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