New York Stories – Blue is the Warmest Colour / 12 Years a Slave

Blue Is The Warmest Colour1

By Glenn Dunks
November 6, 2013

There’s a wide world of cinema out there, and Quickflix’s Glenn Dunks is on the ground in New York City bringing you the titles that will soon be seen in Australian cinemas, and eventually available on home entertainment.

The Manhattan Report: There’s something quite satisfying about living in a city in which Blue is the Warmest Colour and 12 Years a Slave can play to sold out audiences. If you’d said in January that a three-hour French drama about two lesbians who cry a lot would be one of the indie arthouse sensations of the year then I imagine most would assume you’d watched a bit too much late-night SBS. Likewise, an austere Steve McQueen film about American slavery so soon after Django Unchained, and yet here we are. Furthermore, the latter is an Oscar frontrunner while the former is a high profile underdog in several races. Where they go is still to be seen, but their initial success is a highlight of unexpected proportions.

Blue Is The Warmest Colour2

Blue is the Warmest Colour: Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour was an immediate success at the Cannes Film Festival where the director – and in a unique first, the two lead actors as well – took home the Palme d’Or. Much has (and will) be said about the flick – in particular, Kechiche’s frankly explicit sex scenes, the necessity of its three-hour runtime, and whether the supposedly exploitative on-set conditions should be forgiven in light of the results they produced – but what’s hard to deny is the power of its two central performances. Popular French actress Léa Seydoux and newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos are simply extraordinary and none of the petty tête-à-têtes between Kechiche and his actors that have been dragged into the public eye can diminish that.

Adapted somewhat freely from Julie Maroh’s graphic novel Le Bleu est une couleur chaude, Kechiche’s picture begins and ends with Exarchopoulos’ Adèle (in France its title is simply “The Life of Adèle”), following her romantic travails from her mid-teens to early 20s. Like most sexually conflicted teenagers, she experiences meaningless flirtations with the opposite sex based entirely around peer pressure, though it’s not until she meets free-spirited artist Emma (Seydoux) that she and the movie find themselves.

There’s obvious pathos to be found within the lives of these characters, and many viewers, gay or straight, will find much that is unique to their experiences. Best of all is the way Kechiche captures the seemingly unending desire to make one’s first love endure. That constant thought at the back of the mind that says maybe it will all work its way out in the end whether it’s right for the individuals or not. Likewise, scenes showing Adele’s lifeless interactions following her teary-eyed breakup with Emma are all too real. However, as has been noted in the post-Cannes controversy, audiences would be right to question Kechiche’s view of women and homosexuality as he appears to have little interest in either. Nor does he ever seem to justify why Adèle and Emma are together other than for the sex, which his camera lingers on and turns into an almost mechanical display of friction. It’s a shame since he has been gifted with two actors who dig deep to find truths that speak to a specific nature as well as on a more universal level. (It arrives in Australian cinemas February 2014.)


12 Years A Slave

12 Years a Slave: In taking the true story of Solomon Northup, detailed in the man’s 1853 autobiography Twelve Years a Slave, British director Steve McQueen has made what may just become the definitive feature about America’s shameful past of slavery. Far be it for me to decide what one artist’s vision of slavery has over another, but the laser-focused intensity McQueen and his cast have propel it to an incredibly poignant and even cathartic place.

By focusing on one man’s torturous injustice, 12 Years a Slave finds a fresh way into the disgustingly broad subject and is unique in terms of cinematic portrayals of slavery. McQueen has taken elements from other films and fused them together and yet remarkably kept its director’s auteur stamp.

It indulges in many of the flourishes that I have disliked about McQueen’s past works, Hunger and Shame: portentous imagery, and a seemingly unwavering worship of ghoulish depravity. Thankfully the ensemble of actors make it palatable. Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender are suitably fine as Solomon and his tormenter Edwin Epps, but it’s in the background where the most rewarding, rich portrayals come from. Adepero Oduye as a grief-stricken mother, Lupita Nyong’o as a slave targeted by the ruthless Sarah Paulson, and Benedict Cumberbatch as a man stricken by his times. 12 Years a Slave is a deeply rewarding and artistically uncompromised film. (It arrives in Australian cinemas January 2014.)


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