This daringly direct insight into brutally honest depictions of love from Tunisian/French director Abdellatif Kechiche will garner a love or hate reaction. Winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival it shocked and made headlines because of the explicit content.
Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) is a book smart high-school student studying literature during her final year. Catching the eye of another college student she starts a relationship with him, only for it to turn sour as quickly as it began. When she happens to meet Emma (Lea Seydoux) with her bright blue hair and confident persona (whom she previously glanced at in the street), the chemistry between them is undeniably electric. Alienating her former school friends and leaving her past behind Adele begins to explore her sexuality with Emma experimenting with her limits and pushing her desires into overdrive.
With such a powerful and provocative storyline, its such a shame that the leading lady is such an unlikeable person. Exarchopoulos has the hardest job of anyone in this film, but despite her quality acting work her character spends most of the film sour faced and miserable, with the only slightest flickers of light coming when she is engaged with Emma, or indeed in the sexual scenes. Kechiche seems to like highlighting this though, with long close up shots of her face straggled with messy hair. You could argue and say that the very reason she is miserable is because her character is so miserable and confused about her path in life, but that’s too much of an excuse not to make the character more engaging.
Lea Seydoux’s Emma on the other hand is a wonderful breath of fresh air; witty, confident, happy and carefree. The acting is undoubtedly superb from the entire cast, both leading ladies being pushed to the extreme limits physically and emotionally in their performances to get to grips with their characters. The shockingly honest sexual scenes are certainly gripping, but why there is so much is debatable. While the physical attraction between the two leads is explored, is it really necessary to have such long explicit sex scenes not just once but again and again? After a while it just becomes too much for the audience to cope with. Should it make you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed? Nothing is left to the imagination and perhaps artistic liberties have been taken compromising the film time length.
The storyline itself is not strong enough, not enough happens. The length of the film is far too long and you lose interest half ay through with not enough action happening. 30 minutes could easily have been cut to make this a cleaner and sharper finish without compromising the storyline. It feels like time drags, and yet the timescale itself is irritatingly lacking in clarity. We skip through the years without knowledge, which makes the story increasingly difficult and confusing to follow. By the end of the film, we are told through the characters dialogue that so many years have gone by, and yet this was in no way clear throughout. While in most cases it is just as irritating for the audience to be spoon fed dates and times, in this case its desperately missed. How can we possibly keep up and have any interest in the characters arch is we don’t know how much time has lapsed in the relationships?
The saving grace is what’s visible on screen. While a lack of music makes you focus more on what’s happening, the quiet mood is also well suited to the background shots that are quite stunning. The cinematography is subtle, capturing the seasonal weather changes beautifully and lingering on the glances between Adele and Emma.
Some will adore this while others will loathe it. Having won the Palme d’Or it will continue to garner attention, but its shockingly explicit scenes will be hard for most audiences to endure, and while the two leading ladies have been well cast and do a superb job with the difficult task they had before them, its still hard to like or engage with Adele and her struggles.
It’s a raw and difficult film to sit through, but while the acting is of top par it’s hard to like the lead character in an unapologetic insight into female desire. However there are some truly beautifully moments and it must be commended in a very brave attempt by director Kechiche.