carol-posterIn his  latest film, director Todd Haynes brings to life a love story between a wealthy housewife and a 20-something department store clerk in 1950s Manhattan. Although a portrayal of forbidden love between two women in the ’50s may seem like a familiar trope, Haynes’ portrayal in Carol, which is based on a The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith’s second novel, makes it fresh. The script, written by Phyllis Nagy goes beyond clichés and shows a deep connection between two women that transcends social class, age barriers and even adds a layer of complexity by making Carol a mother of a young child.

Rooney Mara plays Therese, a young, unaffected store clerk, who wants to become a photographer. She’s quiet and unsure of herself, with a bare bones life that includes a cold apartment and a boyfriend, Richard (Jack Lacy), with whom she has reticently made plans to travel to Europe. It is in the department store where Therese first comes in contact with Carol, a glamorous middle-aged woman who commands attention played superbly by Cate Blanchett. She is wearing fur and expensive leather gloves and carries herself with an aristocratic air. When she chats with Therese, Carol sets a flirtatious tone, listening to Therese’s recommendations for a Christmas present for her daughter. When Carol leaves her gloves behind (by mistake?), Therese takes it upon herself to return them. There is an instant attraction between both women, so when shy Therese calls Carol to return her gloves; Carol quickly follows up with an opportunity to meet face-to-face and Therese agrees.

The affair takes place when Carol’s marriage is falling apart and her controlling husband, played by Kyle Chandler, is trying to keep her in line by using their young daughter as a bargaining tool. In the midst of the drama, Carol not only falls deeply in love with Therese but also cares for her in a motherly way. Carol is also alluring, not only as a beautiful woman, but also in her mysterious and needy qualities.

Carol 2

Haynes’ details include a misè-en-scene that creates an environment of unbridled passion that seeps from the screen. The dialogue is sparse but profound, as are the detailed shots that suggest oppression, love and the high stakes of this affair. Therese seems undaunted, at first, leaving her boyfriend behind to follow Carol in her world, head on. The chemistry between the two women is electric, although the repercussions could be especially high for Carol, who has settled in the heart of suburban New York as a mother to a young girl she deeply loves. Nonetheless, Carol puts it all on the line and unravels onscreen only to reveal that the only great sacrifice is lying about who you are and who you love.

To be sure, Haynes does not mince the film’s message with Carol. In fact, the dialogue is sparse with lots of subtext, conveying the hidden-in-plain-sight nature of being gay in hetero-sexist 1950s America without ever using the word lesbian. But even more importantly, Haynes does not mince images either. Carol’s powerful imagery oozes into the audience, delivering a mood that unfolds slowly, yet Carol still2it is quite potent. The all-knowing glances exchanged between young Therese and the haughtily beautiful Carol, along with loving gestures, speak volumes of the fine acting coming from Mara and especially Blanchett. The camera lingers enough to let the audience catch up and inhabit this secret world that can only exist indoors in a sexually repressed America. When Therese, the budding photographer, shoots Carol with a camera she received as a gift from Carol, we can see how much she cares. The photographs are telling of the depth of feeling and the caring eye Therese has for the somewhat broken Carol.

Within the confines of the small domain of a patriarchal society with strict class boundaries, enforced dress codes and morality clauses; Carol shows that love is one of the ways through in which challenging these power structures is not only possible but inevitable. After fleeing with Therese in a road trip, Carol returns to the fold as her husband pulls her back in by using their daughter. The sequence shows a desperate mother, willing to do whatever it takes to gain back her daughter. But after the first encounter, it becomes obvious that the marriage and Carol staying within that framework is an unsustainable deal. As Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” In that vein, Carol decides to let her own story be told, making sacrifices along the way to be able to gain herself, in her own terms.

Ana Morgenstern

Carol runs 118 minutes and is Rated R. It opens in our South Florida area, on Dec. 25, at the following theaters, but let’s start with the local indie art house: Coral Gables Art Cinema. Other theaters in Miami include:

AMC Aventura
Regal South Beach
AMC Sunset Place

In Palm Beach County, it shows at the following theaters:
Carmike Parisian 20 at City Place, West Palm Beach
Cinemark Palace, Boca Raton
Regal Shadowood, Boca Raton

It opened several weeks ago in the U.S. in other locations, check here for local listings. The Weinstein Company invited us to a preview screening for the purpose of this review and provided all images for this post.

(Copyright 2015 by Ana 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.)