Tuesday 31 December 2013

La vie d'Adèle - Chapitres 1 et 2

“You tell your story. It’s your truth”.
(from La vie de Marianne, as read in Adèle’s class)
Marivaux’ La vie de Marianne is the book that Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is reading in her literature class. She will later state that she doesn’t enjoy the detailed and focused analysis, being questioned to take the text apart, but she enjoys the novel for the emotions it conveys – and yet, the teacher’s attempt to steer his students towards an interpretation seems relevant for what will soon happen to Adèle herself. The idea of “predestinations of encounters”, of filling an empty space in the protagonist’s heart, comes back to haunt her, and it’s an interesting choice for a film that so explicitly attempts to portray something that is, within the narrative, dismissed as almost impossible. For Adèle, the novel resonates, it absorbs her, in that way in which literature and art can fill that empty place and help to make sense of things – and in this case, it’s like a premonition of things to come. 
Adèle seems to be drifting, forever narrowly missing her bus to school, not being able to tame her hair, going along when her friends push her towards a guy who is interested in her, even though they have nothing in common, while the film subtly adds nuances to her character and her life – her parents, the way Adèle approaches every aspect in her life with passion, even if the expression of that passion is limited to how she eats dinner for now. Everything changes when she catches a glimpse – and that’s all it is, a glimpse of blue – of a blue-haired girl on a crossing, which leaves her so distraught and shaken to her core that she only barely escapes the cars. The girl turns around for a moment but is then lost to her, but also forever caught in her imagination, as some bits and pieces of her self fall into place. The earth-shaking, life-changing quality of that emotional realization is captured perfectly, and it colours every scene that follows. The blossoming relationship with the boy pales, and Adèle is obviously less affected by him and his devotion to her than she was by that small moment on the crossing; a fantasy of that girl (again, a glimpse of her hair) seems more passionate than her first time with the boy. It’s an essential “not quite” moment, where something doesn’t work out, regardless of how nice he is – but for Adèle, the process of finding herself, realizing something about herself and understanding herself, has started the moment she caught that glimpse, and she can’t help but pursue that truth now. 
And she does, even if it’s difficult. A female friend kisses her and she seems to be ready and enthusiastic to embrace that opportunity, and her devastation is obvious when the other girl later tells her that it was a meaningless, spur of the moment thing, that neither of them should talk about. The disappointment leaves her more confused and desperate than breaking up with the boyfriend did, and she goes to a gay bar with her best friend – the way she tentatively navigates the new territory obvious in Adèle’s face, the uncertainty and wonder at new world that she is about to discover, and she ends up running into Emma (Léa Seydoux) there. It’s the teacher’s predestination of encounters (“no such thing as chance”, says Emma), a series of events that are now unstoppable. Regardless of the fact that they are divided by age, that Emma at that point is in a relationship with someone else, that Adèle’s friends react with extreme hostility, they are drawn to each other. La vie d’Adèle is about Adèle (in a way, the two different titles do work – La vie d’Adèle is Adèle as the subject, it’s her subjective story, Blue is the Warmest Colour is Emma as the object of that story, the flash of blue, but also never the person that is explored any further) – Adèle’s attraction to Emma, the immediate falling in love, but also how falling in love with Emma becomes part of her identity, of her making sense of herself. She falls into it with the same passion and abandon that she used to have for eating, there is no hesitation or doubt, no uncertainty, not even awkwardness, despite the fact that Emma is more experienced than she is. 
There is a discussion within the film about whether “pleasure can be shared”, if it is a highly subjective feeling that everybody experiences differently – which raises the question of how and if it can be captured on film – and also, if men trying to depict female pleasure ultimately only depict their own fantasies rather than the truth of the characters that they are portraying, and whether the film succeeds on that level again is a highly subjective question that every viewer will need to answer for themselves – in a way, the scene itself works perfectly because it’s a discussion that takes place in the background, while the focus is on Adèle herself not taking part in it, like it isn’t relevant to her because she isn’t analytical, but emotional, and feels more comfortable at her own party once she gets to discuss the ingredients of her pasta rather than talk art theory with Emma’s friends. 
I’d argue that the explicit and long sex scenes serve an important purpose, because without them, an essential part of the story would be missing. They show Adèle making sense of her desires after she meets Emma, something falling into place that was missing before. There is also a balance in their relationship obvious during the sex scenes that is missing in the other scenes. They have different aims in life, as is revealed in the two family dinners we witness, they come from completely different backgrounds, even if that fact is never directly confronted and doesn’t seem to bother either of them, but they are on equal terms when it comes to sex from the beginning, this is without a question a part of their relationship that works (but significantly, in the end, it’s not enough for the relationship itself to survive – and this is one of the questions Adèle will later ask Emma about her new one). It’s important for everything that follows, because of the different things that contribute to their relationship falling apart, and them no longer being intimate with each other (and Adèle needing that intimacy and passion in her life so desperately that she tries to find a replacement somewhere else, even if it’s never mean to be a replacement for Emma herself) signifying that everything else is wrong as well. Emma withdraws emotionally long before they have that fight, and the second half of the film is filled with moments that navigate around the cracks in their relationship – while before that, the differences between them didn’t seem to be relevant. Adèle managed to charm Emma’s parents, even though they were surprised at how certain she is about her path in life, Emma dealt with the questions about her future plans from Adèle’s, who couldn’t imagine being an artist without any other securities. The fact that Adèle isn’t open about her relationship to her parents and her co-workers doesn’t become a breaking point in their relationship until other things are wrong as well – Adèle seems content in the nourishing role, obviously lightening up whenever she is with the children, brilliant at it, while Emma insists that she must want more from life and aspire to a different kind of happiness – as an artist, she doesn’t understand how someone who doesn’t express herself artistically (at least not publicly, the way Emma does) can be happy and content. The film captures the smaller things as well, Adèle feeling out of depth with Emma’s friends, later telling her that they intimate her, not being able to contribute to a discussion about Schiele and Klimt (because, as she’s said before, she doesn’t like to dissect art, she just enjoys it for the emotions it conveys), and instead playing the graceful host brilliantly, but not becoming part of Emma’s world. This misunderstanding between them, and Emma’s inability to understand Adèle, and to value the way she does express herself – and to take her seriously when she tells Emma that just being with her like this is what makes her happy - is what drives her away from Adèle, who only notices the sudden distance, and desperately grasps at an opportunity to find that warmth again. 
Adèle is so immersed in the relationship, and it is such a profound part of her identity, that she never conceives of the possibility of them breaking up. In a conversation during the party with an actor she seems to realize for the first time that the question of them having kids might become important and a breaking point for them. 
Emma starts spending hours with another woman who, and she mentions this explicitly, also paints, and Adèle stops turning down invitations to go out with a colleague, and once Emma finds out about it, it gives her an opportunity to break up that isn’t about being unfulfilled or the dissatisfaction that she seems to be feeling, but puts the blame squarely on Adèle. It’s a brutal and utterly devastating scene (because Adèle’s adult life is built around Emma – “Where do I go without you?”). 
At this point, Blue is the Warmest Colour captures another truth perfectly: Life doesn’t stop, regardless of the fact that Adèle visibly suffers, retracing her steps by going back to the significant bench, sleeping there, as time passes, falling into a hole that moment she is unobserved, but still, she grows and changes (as signified by her hair and her choice in clothes), she becomes more assertive at work as she takes on new responsibilities. The pain stays with her – and when she invites Emma to meet with her, years later, they are still so close that they don’t talk to each other like strangers. There probably isn’t one answer to what Adèle is trying to achieve – to get Emma back, to find closure – or what she actually does find, when Emma tells her that she doesn’t love her anymore but that she will always have “infinite tenderness” for her. 
In the end, after going to one of Emma’s exhibition and still seeing herself there, on the walls of the gallery, it’s unclear if Adèle does find closure. The same song plays, as she escapes again from a place where she doesn’t feel she belongs, that was in the background of her first catching a glimpse of Emma on that street crossing. It’s two chapters in her life, not the finished book. 

2013, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, starring Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux, Salim Kechiouche, Aurélien Recoing, Catherine Salée.


Unknown said...

This is beautiful and so on point.

cathy leaves said...

Thank you! It feel like there's still so much to say though, I think I could go back to this film again and again.

susan said...

Please, do you know what is the name of actress which talk with Emma about Schiele??

cathy leaves said...

I think her name is Lucie Bibal, not certain. She hasn't been in anything else before or since.