In Lorrie Moore’s review of Blue Is the Warmest Color in the December 19, 2013 issue of the New York Review of Books, she begins with a question: “Can a moviegoer set academic theory aside and still ask, What is the cinematic male gaze, and is it so very different from the female one?” The answer to this question is unequivocally “yes” because most moviegoers do not consider academic theory before, while, or after watching a movie. The question should read, “Can a scholar set academic theory aside…”
Moore shifts back and forth between film theorist and film critic, using whichever perspective is to her advantage. As a feminist, she snickers at director Abdellatif Kechiche’s oversimplified understanding of homophobia and gender – he uses these as a mere backdrop for a 21st-century tearjerker. As a critic, she condemns Kechiche’s efficiency, referencing Vivian Leigh’s smile as a more subtle expression of satisfaction than the drawn-out sex scenes in Blue. Yet if we inverted these perspectives, we might come to different conclusions. A feminist would certainly find Leigh’s smile, the entire love story of Gone With the Wind for that matter, as a laughably polarizing understanding of femininity, as if women are either the angelic, wholesome type or the lustful, licentious type, thus a poor example of contrast to Kechiche’s film. And a critic could find the appeal in Kechiche’s contemporary romance. It positions current events – students protesting government disinvestment in education, perpetual homophobia, the loneliness of post-baccalaureate life – behind the preeminent performances of two intelligent and dynamic young actresses.
Moore does praise actors Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux for their brilliance, but not before accusing Kechiche of being a “ball-busting” director whose methods push actors out of the business and into real estate. The most expressive performances, are they not the fruits of collaboration between both actress and director?
Although I agree with some of Moore’s criticisms, I cannot help but feel she is concealing her anxiety about Blue by decorating her disapprovals with academic jargon. Robert Warshow argued that, as film critics, we must give priority to that precise moment of experience when we are at the mercy of the tremendous images flickering in front of us. If after the fact we project onto those images doctrines of thought, their meaning will escape us.
I believe Moore accurately sums up the plot: “Girl meets girl. Girl loses girl.” It is that simple. But I am a young man living in an age identical to that of Adéle’s. I found similarities between her friends and mine, her eating habits and mine, her routine and mine. I am in love with a woman who loves me, but our circumstances interfere with our getting together. Blue is one of the most immediate movies I have ever experienced. The final image of Adéle, walking away with her back turned to the camera down the streets of Lille at dusk, haunts me – I can only see myself treading lightly into the future, the memories of my younger days dimming behind me. This movie comes close to transcending gender. Perhaps it should simply read, “Youth meets youth. Youth loses youth.”
Ms. Moore, you are a published author, a professor, and a critic. I would like to ask you, setting literary references and film theory aside, what was your immediate reaction to the movie?
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MAX ILDARI graduated from Emerson College in 2012 with a BFA in Film Directing. Currently he works as an assistant editor for the Blue Horizon Foundation’s film production branch.