Posted in: by Robert Horton, Contributors, Film Reviews

‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’: This is a Love Story

Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos

Blue Is the Warmest Color is, on one hand, a three-hour lesbian love story about two Frenchwomen of different classes, partially set in the art world, with a certain amount of NC-17-rated sex. Alternate summary: This is a love story.

I prefer the latter description. Abdellatif Kechiche’s film, which won the top prize at Cannes earlier this year, is rooted in the specifics of its situation, but is universal in ways that make it belong to everybody.

Our main character is Adèle, played by the splendid Adèle Exarchopoulos. She begins as a high-school student and grows up during a half-dozen years, mostly involving her relationship with Emma (Léa Seydoux). Emma is a dashing figure, artsy and experienced, with upper-class parents and intellectual friends. It’s a lot to handle for Adèle, who comes from humbler origins and really just wants to teach grade-school kids.

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Essays, Film Reviews

Abdellatif Kechiche’s Moveable Feast

Before 2000, Abdellatif Kechiche was an actor, presumably finding pleasure and profit in performance. When he came to make movies, the French-Tunisian gravitated to raw, often nonprofessional performers, faces and bodies fresh to the pressure and invasiveness of the camera eye. Reviewing Poetical Refugee (originally La Faute à Voltaire), Kechiche’s first film, critic A.O. Scott remarked the new director’s “fine and unusual instinct for ordinary beauty.” That instinct has persisted in all of his subsequent work. And from the start, the former thespian celebrated the saving power of creative presentation of self in theater, dance … even by means of splendid cuisine! For this immigrant artist, body-based connections often generate a sense of home and metaphysical sustenance for his refugees, literal and/or existential.

Abdellatif Kechiche

Games of Love and Chance

Games of Love and Chance (2003) features a tribe of teens who live and thrive in dreary housing projects outside Paris. Typically, Kechiche concentrates on memorable faces and feelings, human landscapes of passion and individuality so richly diverse they totally background the unprepossessing environment.

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Film Reviews

SIFF 2011: Black Venus

As you may already know if you attended SIFF’s Opening Night, The First Grader goes down easy, despite pedestrian scripting and direction. Quickie’d and ranked (C+) weeks ago by Entertainment Weekly, this forgettable flick about a onetime Mau Mau warrior determined to learn to read in his old age relies on two attractive performers—Naomie Harris and Oliver Litondo—to gin up inspirational glow. Such feel-good fakery requires the glossing over of inconvenient historical nastiness: Mau Mau butchers morph into Kikiyu Freedom Fighters, while the Brits darken the hero’s memory as brutish killers of women and children.

Like The First Grader, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Black Venus, also based on actual events, deals with troubled relations between Africans and Europeans. But Kechiche’s film breaks your heart and hurts like hell to watch. Black Venus insists that we put skin in the game. It won’t allow us to lean back and look at this African life through a happy haze of unreality.

That short, sad African life was Sarah (Saartjes) Baartman’s, a young black woman brought to England by a South African Dutch colonist around the turn of the 18th century. There she became a circus freak dubbed the “Hottentot Venus,” her huge buttocks (steatopygia) and pendulous genitalia (“Hottentot apron”) the drawing card.

Continue reading at Straight Shooting