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Review: Blue Is the Warmest Color

Abdellatif Kechiche reveals through his sense of composition, and collaboration with his remarkable actresses, a sensitivity to emotional nuance that’s striking.

 

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Blue Is the Warmest Color
Photo: Sundance Selects

Abdellatif Kechiche is a rhythm man, building the novelistically lyrical realism of his movies with the trickiest of notes: plaintive glances, surreptitious cuts, seemingly improvised dialogue. He memorably etched a panoply of converging ethnicities in L’Esquive, a document of a moody teenage wasteland where language clanked like weaponry, and again in The Secret of the Grain, which warmly allowed us to inhabit the lives, and dinner tables, of characters whose passions are roused by familial and romantic conflicts, as well as by the food that sits heavily in their bellies. His Palme d’Or-winning Blue Is the Warmest Color, based on Julie Maroh’s acclaimed graphic novel, is beholden to a less multi-ethnic premise, but it hums just as vibrantly in its articulation of the refulgent sense of electric connectivity that would seem to forever bind two women when they catch sight of each other while crossing a busy city street.

Kechiche reveals through his sense of composition, and collaboration with his remarkable actresses, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, a sensitivity to emotional nuance that’s striking, and as the work of a great rhythm man, the film doesn’t lack for grace notes. There’s the sense of awakening that alights bubble-lipped Adèle’s (Exarchopoulos) face when she kisses a girl for the first time, and the horror that brings her to tears when she comes back clamoring for more. There’s also the terror and ecstasy that simultaneously overwhelms the high schooler when she walks into her first lesbian bar and her pheromones lure all the wrong women. Then there’s cerulean-haired Emma (Seydoux), the college girl she truly hungers for, who studies Adèle and her pilgrim’s progress toward queerhood with a curiosity and ardor that’s decisive in its coolness. The moment Emma, entangled in a relationship with an unseen woman, decides that Adèle is hers is as transcendent in its near-imperceptibility as the transition between Adèle and Emma in love to Adèle and Emma going through the motions of their doomed relationship.

In the film’s early stretch, the camera dawdles in the hallways, cafeteria, and periphery of Adèle’s high school, and Kechiche exhibits, as he did in L’Esquive, his talent for capturing the exuberance and moodiness of pubescent experience. And as in his 2003 breakthrough, which revolves around a group of teens rehearsing a passage from Marivaux’s play Games of Love and Chance, there’s a sense here of adolescence as perpetual theater. But Kechiche’s rhythms aren’t always melodious. In a scene where one schoolgirl, Amélie (Fanny Maurin), giddily forces a meet-cute between Adèle and a boy, Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte), of unbelievably feline beauty, Kechiche demonstrates his ear for the cadences of teenage speech, but he also, like Amélie, exerts a heavy hand, allowing an ongoing classroom discussion about Marivaux’s La Vie de Marianne to both set up and aggressively comment on his characters’ routines outside the classroom: At one point, Adèle and her classmates discuss love at first sight, and almost on cue the girl sees Emma for the first time and is instantly smitten.

More dubious than the use of the classroom lecture as a condescending audience guidepost, or the absurdly suggestive equation Kechiche makes between eating oysters and eating pussy in a scene where Emma brings the seafood-averse Adèle to her parents for dinner, is the filmmaker’s use (or rather, overuse) of blue throughout. The color, guesting on everything from clothes and nails to club lights and protest smoke, clumsily pockmarks Adèle and Emma’s lives during the lifecycle of their romance, as if the world was slowly sapping Emma’s dye job at the start of the film until her hair returned to its natural blond. Early on, as the girls speak of and bond over Sartre and humanism (what else?), one wonders if the only reason Adèle declares her fondness for Pablo Picasso, after learning that Emma is a fine-arts major, is because the Spanish Cubist painter had a “blue period.” Kechiche’s methods are neither poetic nor surrealist enough for this florid use of color to feel like anything more than a flat affectation, conveying only an incredibly vague and sophomoric sense of the melancholic, though Emma, who defends Gustav Klimt in one scene for not being florid, would likely disagree.

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And then there are the film’s much-ballyhooed sex scenes, which are shot with a surgical precision that’s provocative in the way that it seeks to key itself to the idea of love being genderless, a theory voiced to Adèle by an overzealous queen after she walks into her first gay club. Pornographic only in the most literal sense, these sequences aren’t expressions of a lurid male fantasy, but articulations of the characters’ intense sexual chemistry, and they convey, especially in a scene where Adèle and Emma madly lick and grab at each other inside a coffee shop some time after they break up, how the world and everyone who lives in it has a way of evaporating when lovers lock more than just eyes. Kechiche may not have the eye of a poet, but then, he isn’t interested in poeticizing gay experience, or normalizing it exactly, but to simply and banally represent Adèle and Emma’s physical relations, like the nuances of Adèle’s coming out and coming of age, as something altogether routine. And as such, this experience becomes familiar to anyone, regardless of sex or sexuality, who’s ever loved someone and felt as if they were dying when it seemed as if that love was being taken away from them.

Cast: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche, Jérémie Laheurte, Catherine Salée, Aurélien Recoing, Mona Walravens, Alma Jodorowsky, Fanny Maurin, Benjamin Siksou, Sandor Funtek Director: Abdellatif Kechiche Screenwriter: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix Distributor: Sundance Selects Running Time: 179 min Rating: NC-17 Year: 2013 Buy: Video, Book

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2019 Oscar Nominations: The Favourite and Roma Lead Field, Bradley Cooper Snubbed for Director, & Cold War Surprises

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced today and The Favourite and Roma led the way.

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The Favourite
Photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Nominations for the 91st Academy Awards were announced Tuesday morning. Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite and Alfonso Cuarón’s Roma led the nomination count with 10, followed by Adam McKay’s Vice and Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born with eight, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther with seven, and Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman with six.

Cold War made a strong showing, with Pawel Pawlikowski claiming his first nomination for best director. Notably snubbed in the category was Bradley Cooper and Peter Farrelly, whose Green Book is considered the favorite to win best picture after its victory at the Producers Guild Awards. Elsewhere, Timothée Chalamet (Beautiful Boy) had to make way for Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born) in best supporting actor, while Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate) snagged a spot in the best actor race thought to be reserved for John David Washington (BlacKkKlansman).

See below for a full list of the nominations.

Best Picture
BlacKkKlansman
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
The Favourite
Green Book
Roma
A Star Is Born
Vice

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Best Director
Alfonso Cuarón (Roma)
Yorgos Lanthimos (The Favourite)
Spike Lee (BlacKkKlansman)
Adam McKay (Vice)
Pawel Pawlikowski (Cold War)

Best Actress
Yalitza Aparicio (Roma)
Glenn Close (The Wife)
Olivia Colman (The Favourite)
Lady Gaga (A Star Is Born)
Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)

Best Actor
Christian Bale (Vice)
Bradley Cooper (A Star Is Born)
Willem Dafoe (At Eternity’s Gate)
Rami Malek (Bohemian Rhapsody)
Viggo Mortensen (Green Book)

Best Actress in a Supporting Role
Amy Adams (Vice)
Marina de Tavira (Roma)
Regina King (If Beale Street Could Talk)
Emma Stone (The Favourite)
Rachel Weisz (The Favourite)

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Best Actor in a Supporting Role
Mahershala Ali (Green Book)
Adam Driver (BlacKkKlansman)
Sam Elliott (A Star Is Born)
Richard E. Grant (Can You Ever Forgive Me?)
Sam Rockwell (Vice)

Best Costume Design
Mary Zophres, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Ruth E. Carter, Black Panther
Sandy Powell, The Favourite
Sandy Powell, Mary Poppins Returns
Alexandra Byrne, Mary Queen of Scots

Best Sound Editing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
A Quiet Place
Roma

Best Sound Mixing
Black Panther
Bohemian Rhapsody
First Man
Roma
A Star Is Born

Best Animated Short
Animal Behaviour
Bao
Late Afternoon
One Small Step
Weekends

Best Live-Action Short
Detainment
Fauve
Marguerite
Mother
Skin

Best Film Editing
Barry Alexander Brown, BlacKkKlansman
John Ottman, Bohemian Rhapsody
Yorgos Mavropsaridis, The Favourite
Patrick J. Don Vito, Green Book
Hank Corwin, Vice

Best Original Score
Ludwig Goransson, Black Panther
Terence Blanchard, BlacKkKlansman
Nicholas Britell, If Beale Street Could Talk
Alexandre Desplat, Isle of Dogs
Marc Shaiman, Mary Poppins Returns

Best Documentary Feature
Free Solo
Hale County This Morning, This Evening
Minding the Gap
Of Fathers and Sons
RBG

Best Documentary Short Subject
Black Sheep
End Game
Lifeboat
A Night at the Garden
Period. End of Sentence.

Best Foreign-Language Film
Capernaum (Lebanon)
Cold War (Poland)
Never Look Away (Germany)
Roma (Mexico)
Shoplifters (Japan)

Best Production Design
Hannah Beachler and Jay Hart, Black Panther
Fiona Crombie and Alice Felton, The Favourite
Nathan Crowley and Kathy Lucas, First Man
John Myhre and Gordon Sim, Mary Poppins Returns
Eugenio Caballero and Barbara Enriquez, Roma

Best Visual Effects
Avengers: Infinity War
Christopher Robin
First Man
Ready Player One
Solo: A Star Wars Story

Best Cinematography
Robbie Ryan, The Favourite
Caleb Deschanel, Never Look Away
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Matty Libatique, A Star Is Born
Lukasz Zal, Cold War

Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Border
Mary Queen of Scots
Vice

Best Animated Feature
Incredibles 2
Isle of Dogs
Mirai
Ralph Breaks the Internet
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

Best Adapted Screenplay
Bradley Cooper, Will Fetters, and Eric Roth, A Star Is Born
Joel Coen and Ethan Coen, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs
Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel and Kevin Willmott, BlacKkKlansman
Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk
Nicole Holofcener and Jeff Whitty, Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Best Original Screenplay
Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, The Favourite
Paul Schrader, First Reformed
Brian Hayes Currie, Peter Farrelly, and Nick Vallelonga, Green Book
Alfonso Cuarón, Roma
Adam McKay, Vice

Best Original Song
“All the Stars,” Black Panther
“I’ll Fight, RBG
“The Place Where Lost Things Go,” Mary Poppins Returns
“Shallow,” A Star Is Born
“When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings,” The Ballad of Buster Scruggs

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Review: Never Fear Is Driven by Its Maker’s Personal Demons

If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Ida Lupino’s own.

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Never Fear
Photo: Eagle-Lion Films/Photofest

In a 1985 interview with DeeDee Halleck conducted at the Chelsea Hotel, filmmaker Shirley Clarke stated that she made films about African-Americans as a way of working through her own ambivalence about being a woman in a male-dominated culture: “I identified with black people because I couldn’t deal with the woman question and I transposed it. I could understand very easily the black problems, and I somehow equated them to how I felt….I always felt alone, and on the outside of the culture that I was in.” One can detect a similar tendency in the work of Ida Lupino, whose independently produced dramas of the 1940s and ‘50s tackled hot-button issues such as rape, bigamy, and unwanted pregnancy. These films are no mere homilies on contemporary social problems, but complex and deeply personal explorations of what it means to be an independent woman in a world ruled by men.

Lupino’s pioneering work is suffused with a profound sense of alienation and self-doubt. Her films are about people whose conventional middle-class existence is suddenly, sometimes violently, upturned, causing them to feel completely unmoored. No longer sure of where they’re going in life or what they truly want, these people find respite away from their old life, in an unfamiliar place with a new potential lover. And Lupino tells these stories with an empathy that’s striking for its directness and lack of condescension.

Such is the case with the first film Lupino directed completely on her own, Never Fear, an emotionally complex drama about a young dancer, Carol (Sally Forrest), who seems to have it all, as she’s just gotten engaged to her partner, Guy (Keefe Brasselle), and their careers are on the verge of taking off. But then, all of sudden she’s stricken with polio, and everything changes. Carol, depressed and bitter, enters a rehab facility where she eventually makes strides toward walking again, thanks in part to the inspiration of a hunky fellow patient named Len (Hugh O’Brian). As Carol struggles with her own will to get better, she grows increasingly distant from Guy, urging him to keep pursuing his dancing career rather than settling down into a conventional job selling pre-fab “Happy Homes” as he waits around for her to recover.

Free of the noir-ish inflections Lupino brought to her other films—most notably The Hitch-Hiker, and the rape sequence in OutrageNever Fear is directed in a simple, straightforward style that bears comparison to the stripped-down neorealism of Roberto Rossellini. Lupino is captivated by the process of physical rehabilitation, offering detailed observations of Carol’s stretching routine, swim therapy, art classes, and, in one show-stopping sequence, a square dance featuring lines of wheelchair-bound patients twirling each other around in consummately choreographed synchrony. Carol is clumsy and awkward as she struggles to operate her wheelchair, a marked contrast to the film’s opening scenes, in which Carol and Guy move together with lithe sophistication as they perform a romantic swashbuckling tango.

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Never Fear’s subject matter was personal for Lupino, who survived polio after an attack in 1934. But the filmmaker isn’t merely interested in the physical ailment itself, but also in the complicated pressure that recovery places on Carol. There’s a tension in the film, which was released at the height of the U.S. polio outbreak, between what Carol wants and what the men in her life want for her. When Carol begins to reject her own treatment, it’s in part because she’s rebelling against the expectations that her doctor, her fellow patients, and especially Guy have placed on her. “Be a woman for me,” Guy asks of her, but the demand is counter-productive, as Carol can only truly recuperate when she decides to do it for herself.

In Carol’s dilemma, one can sense Lupino wrestling with her own artistic ambitions, coming to grips with the reality that as the only woman director working within the Hollywood studio system in the ‘50s, she too would have to accept the guidance of the men around her, and in so doing she would be forced to bear the weight of their expectations for her—their demands, hopes, dreams, and pity. Unfortunately, Never Fear closes with a cop-out, a last-minute reconciliation that cheapens Carol’s hard-fought struggle to learn to live on her own terms by suggesting she’s fundamentally lost without a man. Almost as if the film is embarrassed by its own denouement, the final screen assures us, “This is not THE END. It is just the beginning for all those of faith and courage.” If the film ultimately seems to question Carol’s courage, there’s at least no doubt about Lupino’s own. Never Fear wasn’t the end for her either, but merely the start of one of the most unique and pathbreaking directorial careers in Hollywood history.

Cast: Sally Forrest, Keefe Brasselle, Hugh O’Brian, Eve Miller, Lawrence Dobkin, Rita Lupino, Herbert Butterfield, Kevin O’Morrison, Stanley Waxman, Jerry Hausner, John Franco Director: Ida Lupino Screenwriter: Ida Lupino, Collier Young Running Time: 82 min Rating: NR Year: 1950

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WATCH: Stylish Queer Short Film Stay Makes Its Online Premiere

Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay debuts for free online.

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Stay
Brandon Zuck

Writer-director Brandon Zuck’s sexy and stylish gay thriller Stay made its premiere on the film festival circuit back in 2013, but the L.A.-based filmmaker is finally debuting it for free online. The short film, which Zuck claims is loosely based on events from his past, follows Ash (Brandon Harris) and his ex-boyfriend, Jacks (Julian Brand), on a road trip to the Florida Keys where the pair get mixed up in a fatal drug deal.

“I think maybe I was holding onto the film because it’s such a part of me,” Zuck says about his decision to release Stay on YouTube, which has been criticized by queer creators and organizations like GLAAD for ever-changing content guidelines that appear to target content made by and for LGBT people.

“YouTube started age-restricting my other LGBT films and—to be totally honest—I got furious. YouTube is this faceless behemoth and there’s nothing someone like me can do to fight any of it directly. Really the only thing I could think of was just putting more queer content out there. And Stay was sitting right there on my desktop where it’s always been. So I just hit upload. And it got age-restricted. C’est la vie. Next.”

Watch Stay below:

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