Monday, December 23, 2013

A celebration of life and romance; and all they have to offer

“Blue is the Warmest Color” tells its story with intelligence, maturity and passion, making it an incredibly powerful journey. The scope of the movie is too vast to describe sufficiently in a single sentence, but when pressed, the simplest term for it would be a love story. Yet is it not just a story about the love between two people. It’s a story about the love of work, art, food, political causes, and other sources of inspiration which make life more fulfilling. The film spans several years and when the audience is first introduced to Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) she is a bookish high-school student with a circle of friends she doesn’t seem to connect well with. She is asked out by a boy and they engage in discussions about literature, one of her favorite subjects. He is working his way through a book she’s studied and likes, “La Vie de Marianne”, and promises to finish the 600-page tome and while he does so out of sincerity and interest in Adele, it’s clear he doesn’t have her same love of reading. She is soon captivated by the sight of a woman with closely cropped blue hair and after meeting her at a bar, the two start spending time together. The other woman is Emma (Lea Seydoux) and she’s hoping to make a career as an artist. She and Adele easily talk to each other about art and they soon fall in love. Throughout the course of their relationship each one visits the other’s parents for dinner and the conversations at the table are some of the best and most memorable in the film. Adele doesn’t like shellfish, so when she has dinner at Emma’s house the sight of oysters and shrimp is not appealing but she listens to the instructions on how to properly flavor and eat oysters and gives them a try. Part of the thrill of a relationship is having one’s life enriched by sharing new experiences with one’s partner and finding a connection through already shared interests. Movie lovers are compatible with other movie lovers, book lovers with other book lovers and in the case of Adele and Emma, there's a shared passion for art, literature and the accompanying culture. Yet even the most loving and passionate relationships can be damaged if a difference creates a large enough schism. During the two dinner sequences is when the source of this rift first appears. Emma’s parents ask Adele about her plans for the future and she tells them she wants to be a teacher because she loves working with children. She describes this path as being more stable than going to college and then struggling to find a job. The lack of opportunity facing the young in France is referenced in a scene showing Adele protesting the country’s austerity measures. Emma’s parents pick up on Adele’s fear of the job market. When Emma visits Adele’s family she is almost condescended to by Adele’s father who upon learning of her dream of becoming an artist lectures her on the importance of earning a living rather than pursuing a passion. The movie eventually leaps years ahead and Adele and Emma are living together. Emma is a successful artist, renowned in certain circles and on her way toward an even brighter future. Adele seems content being a teacher and the less interesting person of the couple at dinner parties but Emma persists during some pillow talk in trying to get Adele to start writing more and fulfill her life by making a career as an author. They have this conversation while Adele embraces Emma at night and it’s a turning point in the film because it shows Emma is starting to be dissatisfied with Adele’s complacency and her lack of passion outside the confines of their romance. Just as their love was born out of a shared lust for life, it is now suffering from the doldrums of domestic bliss. Many relationships have ended because the two were not at the same place professionally and when someone who is attracted to drive begins to see it fade from another, the wonder and appreciation they once felt for the person might fade. Something striking about “Blue is the Warmest Color” is the representation of hunger for life’s pleasures. This is first shown early on when Adele is eating bolognese with her family at home. She eats ravenously, taking large bites of the pasta and leaving bolognese sauce at the corners of her mouth. At first, it seemed the sloppiness of her eating was to be more realistic, but it’s perhaps representative of her appetite for life’s joys. One of these joys is sex and “Blue is the Warmest Color” is the source of much discussion because of its lengthy and uninhibited sex scenes. The love scenes between the two women reveal enough to earn the film its NC-17 rating but to classify them as tawdry, prurient or gratuitous would be a mistake and to dismiss the film because of them would be unfortunate. Something unique about these scenes is the lack of agenda. Often in movies, sex is the product of an attraction following an act of danger in which the partners are turned on by this; it also forms out of taboo, such as when the two are turned on by infidelity. These associations have painted a negative portrait of sex and perpetuate the idea that sex is usually connected to sin. In “Blue is the Warmest Color” the audience only sees two people who care for each other and enjoy expressing this on a physical level. By this standard, the movie features some of the most romantic bedroom scenes in cinematic history. “Blue is the Warmest Color” is likely to be significant to different audiences in different ways throughout various stages of life. Because of this, it will be enjoyed for many years to come and will remain just as relevant.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Inspired by classics, 'Stoker' becomes one itself

To say one watches “Stoker” is to use a far too passive verb. One doesn’t merely watch this masterful thriller, but instead is mesmerized by it and at times can even feel as if they’re being pulled toward the screen. The movie has been receiving comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock classics and while there are definitely strong similarities, director Park Chan-wook (“Oldboy”), writer Wentworth Miller and contributing writer Erin Cressida Wilson put enough of their own stamp on it to allow “Stoker” to stand alone. Mia Wasikowska has played several blonde and demure characters in movies like “Alice in Wonderland”, “The Kids are All Right” and “Lawless”, but here she reinvents herself as the dark (both in hair color and mood) India Stoker, a young woman whose father has just died. Her father was a mentor to her and she has a strained relationship with her mother Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), so when her long-absent uncle Charlie arrives, the two start to form a bond. Movie buffs might recognize this plot point as an homage to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt”, the 1943 film with Joseph Cotten as a visiting uncle whose arrival marks the start of unpleasant events. While the two uncles are both named Charlie and “Stoker” clearly draws inspiration from “Shadow of a Doubt”, it embarks on its own strange and engrossing path. As Charlie acquaints himself with India and her Evelyn, a battle for affection takes place between the three. Evelyn tries to get closer to India, who was always more connected to her father, while Charlie begins to spend time with Evelyn before connecting with India. While this transpires, the true characters of Charlie and India are revealed with startling results. To reveal anything more would cheapen the experience for viewers and while the story is good, the technical aspects are where the movie really excels. “Stoker” is consistently ornamented with sharp uses of editing, sound and color. Transitions from one scene to the next are often so stylish the viewer might need a few seconds to appreciate the effect before fully turning their attention to the next scene. Robert Altman was credited with popularizing overlapping dialogue in which characters speak over each other and dialogue at times carries from one scene to the next. The scene transitions in “Stoker” occur in a similar way and in one of the best sequences the audience is taken from a school where a student walking from one side of the screen to the other serves as a wipe, bringing the audience onto a bus. The camera focuses on Wasikowska as the bus and everyone else on it dissolves, leaving Wasikowska walking on the same stretch of road the bus was just travelling on. As she walks, her surroundings disappear and are replaced with another road and new scenery as she makes her way toward her home, now at the top of the screen. In perhaps the most striking of these transitions, India brushes her mother’s hair and there’s a close-up image of the brush flowing downward through the red strands as they begin to change color, shape and coarseness, becoming tall blades of grass. Suddenly, the audience is looking at a field with a breeze travelling through it. Sometimes there is so much to appreciate simultaneously the eyes and ears are competing against each other. Near the end of the movie, the dialogue is revealing important details, but while the characters are speaking, the room they are in and the clothes they are wearing are so richly colored and the atmosphere so vivid that one has to focus with extra intent. Sound is practically its own character and the sounds of an eggshell cracking, a pencil being sharpened and the stretching of a leather belt are augmented the way one might gaze at a distant landscape through a telescope. Contrasting with these sounds, the quiet surrounding a desolate road in the daylight is unsettling and enhances the scene. None of these editing techniques, transitions, colors and sounds are simply for the sake of being strange or different. They all play an important role in creating the “Stoker” universe. It’s a universe in which these sights and sounds are not superfluous and are closely related to India. It’s a universe in which seemingly innocuous items pose a threat and the sight of a pair of high-heeled shoes increases the tension in an environment already saturated with anxiety. It would be easy to go on about how remarkable this movie is, how it’s refreshing to see there are still people working who love to further the possibilities of filmmaking and how this will invigorate the jaded filmgoer who’s tired of the endless stream of superheroes, vampires and teens with magical powers. As is always the case with great movies, no amount of writing can ever do the film justice. “Stoker” is a film which simply needs to be experienced.