So much noise has surrounded the release of Abdellatif Kechiche's controversial Palme D'Or-winning film that several clarifying points may help potential viewers navigate the sound and fury.
1. It's French. Whether you become utterly enraptured by the film or want to bolt from the theater will likely depend not on your inhibitions regarding female nudity and explicit sexuality but rather your feelings about the oeuvre of such Gallic masters as Agnès Jaoui, André Téchiné, Catherine Breillat and Big (Grand)Daddy Eric Rohmer. Viewers who come alive when French is spoken -- and lament the American inability to emulate that je ne sais quoi sensibility, the light-yet-profound examination of corners of human existence large and small -- will find Blue intimately compelling, even transporting, as it unhurriedly unfolds its tale of intellectual and artistic striving, sexual communion and the indelible impact of first love.
2. It's entirely concerned with the inner life and outer experiences of a girl. Name another contemporary movie that is solely interested in the world of a young woman -- and that spends nearly three hours exploring it.
3. It cannily reveals the charms and dangers of loving an artist. Part of what makes Blue so gripping is the nature of its mixed marriage between artist and non-artist (and working class versus privileged elite). Léa Seydoux's Emma is an irresistible monster -- a painter who lives and breathes her work, who falls passionately in love with her subjects but who can't sustain interest in anything she can't make use of in her art. The irony of the film is that while Adèle Exarchopoulos' Adèle blames herself for the breach she ultimately brings about, her straying is a preemptive act of self-defense, a desperate--and terribly sad -- attempt at connection when the person who is her whole world has already started to slip away.
4. It is as fascinated by the heart and the mind as the body. See Nos. 1, 2 and 3.
5. It captures the primal essence of first love in all its exquisite rapture. And eternal heartbreak in all its wrenching devasatation. Viewers who try to parse the various roles the male characters are meant to play in lead Adèle's life will discover that questions of sexual identity are irrelevant here. Any future without the person who has transformed Adèle's life, no matter whom she tries to fill her loneliness with, will be a hollow one. Unless there is a continuation of the story in La Vie d'Adèle Part 2, we will never know if Adèle will be granted a second chance at love -- and if that chance can ever be anything more than a shadow of her first.
6. It understands the human condition. Blue displays a keen awareness of the various relationships that make up our social structure: The mise-en-scène with Adèle's schoolgirl friends provides a bristling backdrop of believable jealousy, intimacy and strife, while the push and pull of family expectations is touchingly represented in both the frank embrace of Emma's parents and the sad machinations Adèle goes through to appease her own. With a distinction no less effective for being understated, Blue empathizes with what people navigating the closet must undergo while matter-of-factly airing the beauty of living openly.
7. Its love scenes will surprise you. Anyone who has seen Shortbus, John Cameron Mitchell's unique, oddly touching film about the quest for connection and the unsimulated mechanics of how humans actually go about it cannot help but view the way sex unfolds in nonpornographic films with a somewhat refocused eye. Blue straddles the divide between art film and erotica with a specificity previously unseen, but while its sex scenes are far longer than viewers of nonpornographic movies are accustomed to, and the actresses wholeheartedly throw themselves into them, the auteur's hand cannot be completely removed from our experience of the film. The visual beauty and heat of the actresses' tableaux battles the subjective history viewers will inevitably bring to bear. Yet the film undeniably and searingly captures the branding power of great love, the alchemy between two people whose chemistry will always be explosive. The intensity of the characters' physical bond was believable to me -- even dramatically necessary -- and its dissolution heartbreaking.
8. Actors' (and directors') feelings about their own work should not enter into the discussion. Stars' complaints about their filmmaking experience, and directors' wounded pleas to remove the film from distribution in response to vitriolic critiques, should be disregarded. The art on screen will speak for itself. Exquisitely.