Sometimes the most frustrating reaction one can have to a supposedly brilliant work of art is ambiguity. February 25th will see the Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray and DVD release of Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Colour, the coming-of-age melodrama of queer youth finding young love, that was adapted from a graphic novel, premiered at Cannes in 2013, won the Palme d’Or, and pretty much came to be critically agreed-upon as the best film in at least half a decade. When I first saw Blue is the Warmest Colour last year at Ritz at the Bourse, only half of me got the hype. I mean, it was a flawlessly made work of art… The cinematography was stunning, the pacing was perfect, the screenplay was eerily reflective of actually being in love, and (and I’m well aware that I speak in superlatives) I’m hard pressed to come up with a better sex scene in the history of cinema than Adele and Emma’s first carnal encounter (I’ve never seen something capture everything that is appealing and unappealing about actual sex that exists between human beings on this Earth… It’s fucking hot, but, somehow, the furthest thing from what you would intentionally fantasize about.) And while I usually rant about the worthlessness of actors, referring to them as necessary evils that deserve no credit for anything to do with a film, Adele Exarchopoulos’ performance as Adele actually moved me, to tears, to arousal, to complete ecstasy and complete horror… Watching her felt like being in love… every great and gloriously atrocious aspect of it.
… However, Blue is the Warmest Colour does have its flaws… which I can only imagine critics choose to ignore, instead of miss… They’re chasms, really… The story itself is as trite and clichéd as a Taylor Swift song and about as ultimately profound as How I Met Your Mother. (Spoiler Alert) So the message of the film is that your first true love can be the most magically intoxicating thing you ever experience… and its ending can be as traumatic (existentially, speaking) as actually kissing a ten-ton truck at 100 mph, crippling you emotionally for years to come (which is, of course, true)… but, everything will eventually be okay, with puppies and rainbows accompanying you by your mid-twenties… Not only is this something that’s been done more times than there are Simpsons episodes… But it’s simply a lie… I could forgive the re-heated fast food that is the plot itself, if only it bordered on the realistic, if Adele had actually been forever handicapped due to the failure of this ideal romantic existence (as is actually the case… you know… in real life), but the film ends assuring us that no matter the agony-of-the-heart suffered, everything in life has a happy ending… It’s as if a film on a victim of domestic abuse convinced you, by its end, that the experience is generally a healthy “character-building exercise.”
So I may be missing something… Is it simply the queer thing that makes the story so significant? Because, I’m not sure if people simply forget the work of Derek Jarman, Gus Van Sant, Todd Haynes, and Gregg Araki, but the “queer experience” of “young love,” was brilliantly documented by the auteurs of New Queer Cinema several decades ago. I mean, had Blue is the Warmest Colour existed, in time, alongside My Own Private Idaho and The Living End, it would be nearly Proustian… But it now exists as a slightly-more “artful,” and slightly-less incestuous, take on Disney’s Frozen (Whose ending is, notably, not actually any happier or more realistic than the winner of film’s most prestigious honor.)
So what is my point, what is my point? Blue is the Warmest Colour “frustrates” me because it gives me both so much to love and so much to loathe. Anyone who gets off on cinema-gone-right will surely have multiple satisfactions amidst its viewing… But it’s ultimately useless… giving us nothing new or newly-framed to consider… And it is, like “love” itself, just “a miserable lie.” So to celebrate the home-viewing release of this beautiful waste, I am providing you with five (and-a-half) “colour” movies that are substantially worth more repeated viewings than Blue is the Warmest Colour.
5. The White Ribbon Michael Haneke (2009)
While I do often express resentment that The White Ribbon beat out Lars von Trier’s Antichrist for the 2009 Palme d’Or and that it’s essentially an R-rated remake of Pasolini’s Salo (which Haneke has admitted to being his fourth favorite film), this gently heavy narrative, regarding the circumstances leading to World War I, is as poignant a critique of “community,” capitalism, and terrorism as has existed in the past decade.
4. Blue Velvet David Lynch (1986)
Although far from David Lynch’s most radical, unintelligible, or shocking film, Blue Velvet may be his most brilliantly concise. The nuclear family is a lie,“Highschool sweethearts,” are perverted, and popular culture is, at best, laughably (or scarily) entertaining are just a few of the concepts that Lynch touches on in one of his most accessible hours.
3. Pink Flamingos John Waters (1972)
So you think being “queer” in 2013 is a noteworthy “quirk?” Try being queer in 1972, exploring people with an inclination for cross-dressing, an inclination for receiving sexual gratification from the person that birthed you, and an inclination for banging chickens… More than forty years ago John Waters recognized that the US population viewed same-sex relations as being akin to people fucking farm animals… And he addressed it with the hilarious absurdity that is warranted by such a notion.
2. A Clockwork Orange Stanley Kubrick (1971)
While Stanley Kubrick’s (albeit pompous) adaptation of Anthony Burgess’ novel may be most famous for being the cinematic calling cry of disenfranchised suburban youth, with a penchant for punk (the Sex Pistols) and post-punk (Bauhaus), and for relegating Beethoven’s “9th” to the theme song of aforementioned alternative, pseudo-intellectuals, it is probably the greatest mainstream work of cinema that will ever exist. Beautiful, young Malcolm McDowell takes on Alex as a fashionable, nihilistic dandy who sees rape and “ultra-violence” as a formidable response to high-technology and “psychology.” It’s a bit like a two-and-a-half-hour music video about mods who know they’re smart, who know they’re stylish, and who know that the world they (and we) live in is fucked…
1. and 1.5. I Am Curious (Yellow) Vilgot Sjoman (1967) and I Am Curious (Blue) Vilgot Sjoman (1968)
Vilgot Sjoman was a cohort and understudy of Ingmar Bergman (arguably cinema’s most accomplished individual) and in these two accompanying films; boasting some of the most impressive, celluloid-based, Marxist propaganda of the 20th Century; he displays an undeniable comprehension of Bergman’s craft of moving-picture storytelling, French New Wave political radicalism, and a proto-mature grasp of the power of the docu-narrative. If that isn’t enough, the protagonist and heroine of this visual re-telling of Das Kapital is Lena Nyman, a pretty and chubby young girl who possesses the curiously-similar appeal (even beyond the strange similarity of moniker) of history’s most recent champion of advisor-to-real-life-girls-in-matters-of-love, Lena Dunham.