Saturday, 29 March 2014


Yes, this really is a terrific film but there is one thing about it which makes it, at times, a problematic watch. There is no clear time scale or indication of how much time has passed. Now this may be because of cultural indicators; there may be signifiers which are clear to a French audience but not to non-French viewers, or it may be deliberate. The only one time when the age of one of the protagonists, Adele, is stated is when it's her 18th birthday; everything else is left for the viewer to work out for themselves. It's not helped by the blurb on the DVD box which states that the age of Adele at the beginning of the film is 15 when it seems clear, to me at least and it could be my misreading, that she is in the French equivalent of the UK's sixth form and she has to be 17. I then, naturally, assumed that only a few months passed between the opening of the film and her birthday. But this may not be the case. Shortly after that, she (seemingly) goes straight from school to teaching a reception class with no indication of college in between. She is also now living with Emma. If, for no other reason though there are many others, I'm going to have to give this a second viewing to see if it becomes clearer.

As the film opens Adele is in the full flush of confusing exploratory adolescence. She's in love with literature (which she's studying at school) and ideas and philosophy, and just beginning to explore her own nature, who she is becoming, though her girlfriends seem to be more interested in talking about sex. She finds a slightly older boyfriend at school and has sex with him but things don't seem to work out for reasons she's not sure of. It's around this time she sees a blue haired girl walking around hand in hand with another girl. When one of her girlfriends kisses her, Adele finds herself responding but, later, when she wants to take it further the girl says it was just a spur of the moment thing and didn't mean anything. After school, and after having had a fight with another girl who accuses her of being a lesbian which she denies, she goes to a gay bar with a male friend, wanders off as he's more interested in snogging a guy, and finds herself in a lesbian bar where she meets Emma who briefly looks after her. It isn't long (or is it? I'm not sure) before they meet up again and eventually fall in love.

And that's pretty much the first half of the film. In the second half Adele and Emma are living together. Emma's painting seriously, having completed her degree in Fine Art and Adele is her muse. Adele is teaching full time.

That's all you need to know about the key events and the film's structure, at least without me spoiling it for you. Now I can talk about it.

And we all know why the film is so controversial so let's get to it. There are two very explicit scenes of lesbian lovemaking separated by a short gap. But if anyone is tempted to watch this film specifically for those scenes then they're wasting their money. Everyone knows you can download for free off the Net videos of girls kissing, and both softcore and hardcore lesbian porn. So, are these scenes justified? 

The simple answer to that is that there's no simple answer because it partly depends on how you view the film. If you are calling it a film about a lesbian romance then, I suppose, yes it is. However, that isn't what the film is about. The focus is always Adele, not Emma. It's Adele's story, the story of an intelligent working class girl trying to discover who she is and about how her experiences affect her and how she changes. Even though her long love affair with Emma forms the central core of the film it's a long way from being the whole of it. That said, it is the centrepiece and the love scenes reveal the intensity of their feelings for each other and their intense desire for each other and form a strong contrast with one scene of Adele's sex with her boyfriend. So, yes, the scenes were justified. Whether or not they were justified in being so long is another question and one I'm not going to answer.

However, there is so much more to the film than that. It's a film of many nuances in which important things can be revealed by the hint of a gesture. Sensationalistic (if that's what they are) sex scenes aside, this is a low key film and actress Adele Exarchopoulos is absolutely stunning as Adele (which came first, I wonder, was the character named after the actress or was it just a coincidence?). Her performance is so convincing and naturalistic that she takes your breath away. Also, mostly makeup free throughout, she is very beautiful but again in a naturalistic way. In contrast and as a personal reaction, I didn't find Lea Seydoux (excellent though she is) as Emma anywhere near as appealing; there was just something about her face and her teeth which put me off. But, though the film covers many topics such as class, politics, sex roles, etc, it's never overt, never hammering home any message, though they may be there subtly embedded. Instead it unfolds gradually, easily over its three hour length and it never feels like three hours.

Is this a classic film, deserving of all its awards? Maybe. Brilliant directing, superb acting, riveting to watch, etc. One thing I do know is that it's one which will repay repeated viewings as things I missed the first time, though they were always there in plain sight, reveal themselves and I intend to watch it again soon.

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