Tuesday 11 June 2013

Cannes 2013 Diaries Day 5: Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Good lord, at that rate I will have finished my Cannes 2013 diaries on time for Cannes 2014. I admire those who, on top of watching films at the festival (sometimes 5 or 6 a day!), drinking, socialising etc... also manage to write! So the previous night had ended in drunken debauchery, yet I was determined to wake up on time to see La Vie D'Adele (Blue Is The Warmest Colour) for its morning screening in the Palais. Later on that day, I was to see a restored classic for the first time, instantly becoming one of my favourite films ever, before seeing a screen icon and one of my favourite actresses in the flesh. Cannes truly is worth all the tears and nervous breakdown (when it all goes well).

So Blue is the warmest colour indeed as I walked along the blue sea and the blue sky, caressed by the morning sun, nursing a monster hangover and with very little sleep. in a year of insane luck, as I barely tried with my little sign begging for an invite, exhausted and chatting to a friend, a kind lady made a beeline for me and handed me an invitation, success! The great thing about Cannes, as I always say, is discovering the films before anybody else, and I actually, rather foolishly, had completely the wrong impression about Blue Is The Warmest Colour. Because of its graphic novel origin, some of the drawings I saw and a vague synopsis describing how Adele saw a blue haired girl in her dreams, I assumed there was a fantasy element to it.

How wrong I was! Not that it's a bad thing, but the film is completely the opposite of that, a naturalistic view at a relationship and love in all its complexities. And what a wonderful film it is. Such is the power of cinema that the hangover and lack of sleep were completely forgotten, and the three hours running time flew by.

The film is split in two parts. First we follow school girl Adele as she negotiates the uncertainties of her feelings, experiencing with a male classmate before finding herself drawn to an older and confident art school student, Emma. Fast forward a few years later, and in the second part, we find them an established couple, dealing with the trials of a long term relationship.

As I was saying, the film is ultra naturalistic, which in the wrong hands can easily become a gimmick but no such thing here. And we basically witnessed the explosion of a young actress, Adele Exarchopoulos as Adele. It is not often that a new actress makes such an impact, but she is extraordinary in this, all the more considering her relative lack of experience. You never see the skills of an actress, but quite simply a real young girl who lives, loves, hesitates... She has a tearful and explosive, snot-filled scene which reminded me of the cry-wank from Naomi Watts in Mulholland Drive, both scenes with such intensity that they almost make you feel uncomfortable and voyeuristic to be watching them.

Scenes with her classmates, with the bickering and the gossiping, scenes with Emma's parents thenher own, less cultured and sophisticated parents, scenes at social gatherings etc... all feel incredibly real, and is given enough room and time to breathe, which is all the more remarkable as again, usually, the more a director tries to be real (especially when dealing with young people), the more artificial it feels.

The running time is no indulgence, it allows the director to follow the relationship as it slowly grows and develops with much subtlety and truth, and he evokes love in all of its complexities, joy and sadness, the excitement, the routine, the different paths that lovers might embark on throughout the years without realising it, the spark of passion and then the lack of... And it's incredibly beautiful and moving.

And again, the 3 hours also gives time to some insightful dialogue, bracing themes of a subtle but real class war, of the importance of culture in everyday's life... And then I cannot not mention an element which got the whole Croisette talking, the sex scenes... They are some of the longest and most graphic ones I have ever seen at a cinema, I think I might have blushed actually! One of them goes on for so long that a French woman (most possibly from the local brigade of ignoramuses which plague the festival) shouted out as it was unfolding "Now I understand why the film is three hours long!". Yes, you big cow, go back with your lot demonstrating against the Mariage Pour Tous and leave enlightened people well alone next year.

But those films never feel gratuitous (despite the annoying controversy which followed, more on this later), they are so passionate and real and full of life and passion, a real masterstroke, given how sex is so difficult to portray on screen without being either too prude or too ridiculous. I have already mentioned Adele Exarchopoulos (better get used to spelling it), but her on-screen partner is just as wonderful, and confirms all the hopes we have all placed on her.

Obviously you all know the film went on to win the Palme d'Or, which, to the end, all of us in Cannes hoped in Cannes but never quite believed the jury would have the audacity to go for it. More on this on my last posts about the awards.

And how do you top up such an incredible film? But by seeing your screen icon in the flesh, obviously! Thanks to my Cinephile badge, I had secured an invitation to an intriguing double-bill in the evening: the restaured version of Jean Cocteau's La Belle Et La Bete, followed by Opium, a film by Arielle Dombasle about the liaison between the French poet and the young novelist Edmond Radiguet.

Lack of sleep and hangover were taking their toll however, especially as the security staff of the Palais refused to let us in, us with Cinephile passes, until 45 minutes before the start of the film. I then found some of the French in me reemerging, as I proceeded to have a go at them, claiming we had zero chance of getting in the screening if that was the case, then had a go at the old lady who tried to jump the queue, then had a go at everybody when we finally got in and everybody was pushing, me included.

The queue I nearly lost my temper in

But I was lucky enough to get a seat, and Thierry Frémaux came on stage to introduce the restored version of La Belle Et La Bete by Jean Cocteau, which I vaguely remembered seeing as a young child and being terrified by the Beast. But what a shock this turned out to be! A timeless classic and the work of a true poet which had me tears (yet again). While a little of it has aged (especially the sections with supporting characters), all the lovely scenes between Beauty & The Beast are just so wonderful, with Jean Marais heartbreaking and so moving despite the heavy make up as the Beast. There is such tenderness in the growing love between the two, and such wonderful visual inventions (the famous corridor of candelabras holding arms), it is a film which must be seen at once! I hope the restored version will find its way to cinemas.

After a rapturous applause and a small break, I noticed a very unusual person which I imagined to be in the entourage of Arielle Dombasle, an incredibly tall and thin woman, very old looking but brought back to life through vast and visible surgery, half cat/half pharaoh, sashaying around the cinema, dressed like Pocahontas, complete with the feather in the hair. I absolutely love this kind of eccentric person and I wish I had the gut to ask her to take her picture as some members of the audience in front of me did. Within a split second, as she then asked them if she could look at the picture to ensure she looked good in it, I heard an slight vulnerability in her voice, and I really wanted to know who she was exactly, but sadly, I never will.

And then, finally, she came on stage, Arielle Dombasle! Preserved intact for half a century like a goddess, she was every inch the film star I had dreamed she would be. The once muse of Eric Rohmer, with her eccentricity and artificial persona is one of a kind, and so was the film! Opium is the most laughable, kitsch object I have seen in a long time. It is a sort of a vanity project where obviously no one dared question any of her decisions on set, and as such the film is a complete mess, surreal and bizarre, like the Trolls 2 of French art house, one to be enjoyed with a carefully selected audience.

Following (loosely) the liaison of Jean Cocteau and Raymond Radiguet, the film has the characters fly off in an artificial sky and appears as stars, using the ultra stylised design of Cocteau's drawing, and Arielle Dombasle herself appearing as a singing priestess of some sort.

The Arielle Dombasle fanboys (they do exist) were out in force, as they erupted in thunderous applause, with the actress/director visibly moved, and I was pleased for her. Cinema (and life!) needs that kind of eccentric characters.

So after 3 hours sleep and 3 films, it was time to call it a day... What a fantastic day of cinema, of great films, of unusual films, of glamour, of surprises... Yes, even in my small capacity, Cannes is worth all the tears and two hours queuing and dramas!

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