blackvenus

Abdellatif Kechiche, The director behind Blue is the Warmest Color, one of my favorite films of 2013 (Film Review: ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ and the pain of loving), has a very rich filmography that few have seen in the U.S. in its entirety. Two of his previous films (2000’s La Faute à Voltaire [a.k.a. Blame it on Voltaire or Poetical Refugee] and 2010’s Black Venus [pictured above]) never received commercial theatrical runs in the U.S. As far as the other two, Secret of the Grain (2007) is thankfully available via the Criterion Collection (Support the Independent Ethos, purchase direct through Amazon via this link) but his second film, Games of Love and Chance (2003), went of print when its distributor, New Yorker Films, went temporarily out of business (if you’re lucky, Amazon will have one for sale by re-sellers).

So that’s the situation of Kechiche’s filmography in the U.S. But I had the chance to see all of his films, two in 35mm, no less, thanks to a preview by the Coral Gables Art Cinema and the French Embassy. I processed the French-Tunisian writer/director/actor’s career, and was able to sum it up in a preview in the Miami New Times’ art and culture section last week. Not enough seemed to have recommended it via social media, but I am very proud of it. You can read it by jumping through the blog’s logo below, just click the image:

NT Arts

I hope the first weekend went well for the retrospective, which included Kechiche’s powerful debut, La Faute à Voltaire and the deeply moving Games of Love and Chance. This weekend comes his two later films, also to be shown on 35mm, The Secret of the Grain and Black Venus, which — forget about Blue — stands as his most controversial film. I’ll let what I say about the movie in the Miami New Times stand. Believe me when I say it’s a bold but vital film.

I would like to add, however, that Kechiche’s knack for capturing earthy moments between people in a vivid, natural manner, which I praised so much in my review of Blue, is no fluke. All his films feel as though they come from life. His endings are special in their lack of resolution but their inspiration to rattle the viewer to consider his storytelling decisions for deeper insights into life. After all, in our own lives, we all only get one real ending, no? His films all feel like experiences, and if you live near Miami, you should not miss the opportunity to see these two later films in his career on the big screen and in 35mm, no less. I’ll leave you with these movies’ trailers.

Hans Morgenstern

Catch the second part of Kechiche Before Blue this weekend at the Coral Gables Art Cinema. The Secret of the Grain shows at 1 p.m. this Saturday and Black Venus screens Sunday, at 1 p.m. Details and tickets can be found here (that’s a hot link).

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

posterIf you live in or near Miami, do not miss your chance to see Flowers (Loreak — the film’s official site is only in Spanish or Euskara) on the big screen. It premiered here at Miami Dade College’s Miami International Film Festival, and I missed it (A hit and miss affair at boldest Miami International Film Fest yet — a MIFF 32 recap). It comes from the Basque country of Spain and is in the region’s language of Euskera. It has no distributor, so it’s not possible to point any other parts of the U.S. that might host it, but I hope my review will convince some followers of the Independent Ethos to seek it out. Maybe you will want to recommend it to your city’s film festival or your local, adventurous art house exhibitor.

The film explores love beyond what many are accustomed to from more mainstream films. Usually, the easy way to do it is to treat love with romantic sentiment and dwell on the lusty side of things if not what some would call infatuation or puppy love. But for those that have experienced the dynamic, more profound range of loves (in other words, real life), it is a much more complex thing. I’ve written about several films that capture those difficulties. Sometimes there are documentaries that do it well (Film Review: ‘Cutie and the Boxer’ looks beyond art for the heart of a long-term relationship) but more often these kinds of films come from overseas (Film Review: ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ and the pain of loving).

It’s difficult concept to capture on film as well as to digest as an audience member, but writer/directors Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga, working on their second collaboration, find a way to capture it and make it easy to engage with, on top of that. Their film recalls a less wordy version of the Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski. It’s that good.

Because this a special Miami-only run, Miami New Times hired me to write the review. You can read what I have to say about the film after jumping through the alternative weekly’s logo below. I wrote a rather passionate piece right after watching this film one morning. I was blown away:

NT Arts

On a side note, since we are on the subject of programming at the Coral Gables Art Cinema, today is the last day to catch Güeros (Güeros: A coming of age in an ode to Mexico City — a film review) and Saturday begins the 35mm retrospective for Abdellatif Kechiche, whose film, Blue is the Warmest Color, I reference above. I have an overview of his oeuvre in the Miami New Times. Details here.

Hans Morgenstern

Loreak runs 99 minutes, is in Euskera with English subtitles and is not rated (it has some cursing and a couple of disturbing images involving death). It has its U.S. premiere theatrical run at the Coral Gables Art Cinema beginning this Friday. The cinema provided a screener link for the purpose of my review. Images are courtesy of the film’s official website.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
BLUEITWC_Poster_1080x1600There is a lot of noise surrounding this year’s Palme d’Or-crowned Blue is the Warmest Color. As it finally hits theaters in the U.S., it arrives on the heels of actress Léa Seydoux publicly feuding with director Abdellatif Kechiche. Seydoux has bemoaned the director’s treatment of her and lead actress Adèle Exarchopoulos during the lengthy production of the film. In turn, Kechiche has become incredibly defensiveMaybe it has something to do with the Steven Spielberg-led jury— in a move away from protocol— deciding to bestow the Palme on not only the film but also on Seydoux and Exarchopoulos
None of that matters. Titled La vie d’Adèle, Chapitre 1 & 2 in French, the film follows a young girl’s bold exploration of love and stands on its own merits beyond politically correct awards and bitter behind-the-scenes clashes. Adèle (Exarchopoulos) is still in high school when she first lays eyes on Emma (Seydoux), who’s close to finishing her fine arts degree in college. Though involved in a sexual relationship with a boy from class, Adèle grows obsessed with the vision of Emma, who she had only glanced on the street, in passing. With her shock of haphazardly dyed blue hair and her arm around the shoulders of a girl, Adèle cannot seem to shake Emma from her head. One night, after another chance encounter, she follows Emma to a lesbian bar. Sitting alone at the bar, fending off advances from other women, Adèle locks eyes with Emma, and Emma wanders over. She warns Adèle about having entered the bar alone with a crooked, interested smile, as they brew up a casual but cute, getting-to-know-you dialogue. They have an intimate chemistry, and when a gang of Emma’s girlfriends interrupt to coax Emma to a club, it’s as if a protective bubble around them has burst. still2 What follows is not so much Adèle’s “sexual awakening” as it is her finding herself caught up in her own feelings for this fantastical pixie-like creature. The unfolding tragedy of this film is that Emma, who has a profound intellectual outlook as an artist, does not return the same level of love. The relationship feels doomed from the beginning, but the viewer will hardly notice, as the film so neatly packs you into the primal experience of Adèle. Before the behind-the-scenes quarrel stole the film’s thunder, a lot of the buzz that seemed to threaten to overshadow the cinematic drama of Blue is the Warmest Color focused on the lengthy, explicit sex scenes between the women. I once heard the film’s first sex scene was 15 minutes long, then it was 10, then eight, but it’s less. Kechiche, who worked with a total of five editors, knows how to hold a scene for maximum impact. It’s a three-hour film that seems to defy time by offering moments where time seems to hold still. He also cannot be accused of allowing scenes to move too slow. He understands the impact of patient, dramatic build-up. Some scenes are almost musical crescendos. They can be as tender as Adèle’s and Emma’s first conversation, and as rough as the argument that inevitably ends their relationship. Though the sex seems to get all the attention, what with the film’s NC-17 rating, Kechiche is only applying the same detailed, uncompromising attention he uses in every scene of the film. He lingers on silent glances loaded with revelation. To Kechiche, reaction shots seem to hold more depth than dialogue. There is a moment when the camera lingers on Adèle’s face, in the afterglow of her first sexual experience with Emma, where she does nothing but stare at Emma’s crotch, her face loaded with amusement and disbelief. Cinematographer Sofian El Fani knows how to focus on Exarchopoulos’ face throughout the film, and the actress rises to the task. Her lips in a perpetual open-mouthed pout, her doe-like eyes and her thick hair an amorphous, ever shifting puff makes Adèle look like a subject in an Egon Schiele painting. It’s no wonder Adèle becomes Emma’s muse. Still 3 As the film carries on, Adèle works to hide the relationship from suspicious, bullying classmates and her straight-laced family. Meanwhile, Emma and her bohemian friends keep it casual and open. Despite the seemingly progressive quality of the relationship in Emma’s world, it also hints at its triviality to the elder, more experienced half of the couple. After Adèle cooks dinner for Emma and her friends, Emma makes a speech, stating, “I’d especially like to thank my muse … who makes me happy today, Adèle.” The temporal quality of that statement is not lost on Adèle, and the first dagger subtly plunges into her heart. As the hip dinner guests wolf down the meal of spaghetti alla bolognese Adèle has cooked for the occasion, Emma brings up the question whether pleasure is a shared experience. Joachim (Stéphane Mercoyrol), who admits to his bisexuality, speaks of his limited masculine pleasure compared to what appears to him is the rather mystical experience of female orgasm. “We attain differing realities over and above orgasm,” he says. “Insofar as I’m a man, everything I’ve glimpsed is frustrated by the limits of male sexuality.” With this speech also arrives Kechiche’s redemption as a director accused of offering a queer film with a heterosexual, alleged pornographic, gaze. Still 5A lot gels together with this game-changing speech at the center of the film. This is more than a man allowing his camera to linger long on sex between two young women, edited to offer a variety of positions, some of which never appear in mainstream films. On a more contextual level to the central drama, Adèle overhears Joachim’s statements as another dinner guest, an actor named Samir (Salim Kechiouche), compliments her on her “yummy” pasta. As Joachim says he can never experience the ecstasy depicted in the woman’s gaze captured in Emma’s paintings, Samir prods Adèle about her relationship with Emma. “Is this the first time she’s been with a woman? Is it different? Does she want to have children?” It’s almost the base version of Joachim’s statements, and Adèle seems to brush it all off, though actually she takes it very much to heart. This scene and its layers of narrative, both external and internal, speaks to the complexity of Blue is the Warmest Color. The English title hints at this, by attributing warmth to a color commonly associated with coldness. It’s not about irony or contrast. It’s about loving someone so hard that it hurts. The French psychoanalyst turned theorist Jacques Lacan took Freud’s pleasure principle to another level when he employed the French version of orgasm, le jouissance, to describe taking something enjoyable, and using up all the pleasure to the point that it turns into pain. It’s a drive for pleasure that becomes pain, a mix of revelation and ecstasy. That’s the jouissance Adèle endures by overhearing the one conversation while partaking in another that asks her to consider children. It also takes care of the male gaze so often questioned when it comes to this brilliant movie. still1 In the documentary Zizek! noted Lacanian Slavoj Zizek shrugged off sex as mutual masturbation. It’s not incidental that Kechiche chose to illustrate his story of pained love with two women. During one sexual liaison, both thrust their crotches into one another in a moment of passion and ecstasy. Seeking more connection, they clasp hands. The notion cannot be more literal than this. To Zizek, sex is two people wrestling to achieve the most pleasure from the other. The romantic notion of shared pleasure is just that: a romantic notion. Beyond sex scenes as described above, Blue is the Warmest Color calls for a subtle awareness and a maturity in experience that merits the NC-17 rating. To some, the film will end on a rather abrupt note. But it actually marks another heartbreaking moment of jouissance where Adèle comes to realize love is never equal or shared at the same level. Still 4When Emma tells her, “I will have infinite tenderness for you” it’s different from what Adèle feels. This is not a film so much about gay love as it as about love in itself. Adèle is not sexually confused. She loves Emma in a manner that defies gender. That the actresses can convey this while under the meticulous direction of a man speaks to the power of Blue is the Warmest Color. The full-frontal nudity, the sex and the masturbation, juxtaposed with Adèle teaching pre-school children or her wolfing down dinner while talking with her mouth full with her father shows intimacy and life. This is far from some abstract art film. It conveys life much more honestly than many romantic films out of Hollywood, which only seem to instill some false sense of expectation. This is the real deal. Far deeper than girl-on-girl porn turned drama, Blue is the Warmest Color stands on its own merits as a progressive essay on the elusive sensation of love that defies the hetero-normative constructs of what a relationship is supposed to be.

Hans Morgenstern http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQGSlVJgGlI

Blue Is the Warmest Color is Rated NC-17 (you know the hype: the sex in this film is explicit. Regardless, its story has a subtlety that will only be picked up by the mature audience member), is in French with English Subtitles and runs 179 minutes. It is distributed by IFC Films who provided a preview screener for the purposes of this review. It is now slowly seeping into theaters. It opened this past Friday, Nov. 8 in my area of South Florida at the following theaters:

South Beach 18 – Miami Beach Gateway 4 – Fort Lauderdale

On Nov. 15, it opens further north in:

Parisian 20 – West Palm Beach Pompano 18 – Pompano Shadowood – Boca Raton

Update: The Bill Cosford Cinema in Coral Gables has added the film to its calendar beginning Thursday, Nov. 21. See the cinema’s calendar here. Update 2: The Miami Beach Cinematheque has added the film to its calendar beginning Friday, Nov. 22. See the cinema’s calendar here. Update 3: The Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale has added the film to its calendar beginning Friday, Nov. 22. See the cinema’s calendar here. Update 4: O Cinema’s Wynwood location has added the film to its calendar beginning Friday, Nov. 29. See the cinema’s calendar here. It has already opened in some parts of the U.S., and it may already be playing at a theater near you or on its way there. Visit the film’s official website here and insert your zip code to find out.

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)