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66th Cannes Film Festival Day 8 – La Vie d’Adèle and Behind the Candelabra

La Vie d’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Color)

By Moira Sullivan.

This is truly the year of important gay themes at the festival with L’Inconnu du Lac (Stranger by the Lake)¹ by Alain Guiraudie in Un Certain Regard, destined for a top award, and now Abdellatif Kechiche’s La Vie d’Adèle (Blue Is the Warmest Color) headed for the Palme d’Or or other distinctions.

Rumor has it that La Vie d’Adèle was being finished right up to the opening of the Cannes film festival (the end credits consisted only of the official website of the film). Wild Bunch has packaged it La Vie d’Adèle – Chapitre 1 & 2. I am optimistic there will be more chapters (there should be more chapters), and am thrilled that the filmmakers still have time to put in final touches before Adèle’s October release date in France.

La Vie d’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Color)

The French-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche is a master of capturing the joy of youth, and uses a graphic novel by Julie Maroh for his latest. In the film, fifteen-year-old high school student Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is attracted to Emma (Léa Seydoux), an attractive girl with blue tinted hair. After inadvertently seeing Emma in the street she later dreams about her. Her passionate longing for Emma reinforces a passage in the  The Life of Marianne by Pierre Carlet de Chamblain de Marivaux, read in Adèle’s literature class. The author describes anticipation as a precious component of desire, and Kechiche is excellent in putting this into screen space. Both Seydoux and Exarchopoulos command the screen with their raw, emotional performances.

The evening screening spectators at Salle Bazin seemed somewhat uncomfortable with the scenes of intimacy between two women in love, which were explicit. There was nervous chatter throughout these scenes. In contrast, not a sound could be heard in the audience during Alain Guiraudie’s L’Inconnu du lac‘s many graphic gay male sex scenes. Kechiche does not shy away from these moments though, as his film is shot entirely in close-up, allowing an introspection that makes the cinematography of the film more affecting than any film seen in competition so far. The grasp of the film is far reaching, the framing of the shots is exceptional and the diversity of what is filmed is poignant and unassuming: the fragility and power of youth in high school classrooms, fine art gatherings, preschool classrooms, student demonstrations, gay pride parades, and political rallies. In truth, La Vie d’ Adèle has it all.

Behind the Candelabra

Two films in the official competition are made for TV movies: Like Father, Like Son (mentioned on Day 3) and Behind the Candelabra. It is little wonder that as selections in the official competition they do not command the screen. Steven Soderbergh chose a safe vehicle (HBO) for his film perhaps, because it’s a straight shooter biopic from beginning to end. Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as Scott Thorson, Liberace’s lover of five years, are the novelty of this film: two mega box office stars together, albeit both older and greyer.

A made for TV movie is often just “interesting.” Yes, it was interesting to see Michael Douglas’ fake face as an older man and fake face as an older man wanting to appear as a younger man. It was interesting to see the horrific process of undergoing a facelift and the injection of silicone implants. It was interesting to watch both Douglas and Damon transform, with the help of costumes and make-up, into roles unlike anything they have done before.

Less interesting and more compelling is what a TV movie can only touch on: that Liberace was apolitical and criticized Jane Fonda for her activism; that Liberace was in the closet; that the absence of the legal right to marry defrauded Thorson of his property and entitlements after his relationship with Liberace ended; and that much like Rock Hudson Liberace died of AIDS  but unlike Hudson chose to be quiet about it, lest his lifestyle became public knowledge. Unfortunately, these story elements are alluded to with a minimum of dialogue, and in the case of Rock Hudson, a close-up of a newspaper telling the story of his death. Perhaps the unabridged legacy of Liberace awaits another film.’

Moira Sullivan is an accredited journalist at Cannes, member of FIPRESCI and served on the Queer Palm Jury 2012. She has a PhD in cinema studies at Stockholm University and studied filmmaking at San Francisco State University.

¹L’Inconnu du Lac (Stranger by the Lake) won the festival’s Queer Palm and the director’s prize in Un Certain Regard on award tonight.

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