The Poetry of Life

Film review: La Vie d’Adèle – Chapites 1 et 2/Blue is the Warmest Colour (Director: Abdellatif Kechiche)

By Sascha Krieger

Faces in close-up, a chance meeting in a crowded square, eyes meet, hang on for a second, part again. Except from Adèle’s: she turns around, tries to make the moment linger, cannot move on. Before this, at the start of the film, we have watched Adèle’s class read from Marivaux’s La Vie de Marianne, the passage about love at first sight, about being stricken with someone like never before. And so La Vie d’Adèle begins. In Marivaux’s novel, the love will not survive, defeated by differences in class. Something similar will happen here, but what happens along the way and how it happens, is one of film’s greatest miracles in recent years.

For three hours, director Abdellatif Kechiche follows Adèle as she moves from teenager to young adult, as she meets, falls in love, lives with and is left by Emma, a blue-haired artist a few years older. La Vie d’Adèle takes its time, the first scene in which students read from a book lasts for minutes, the lovers’ first sex is seven minutes long. The film consists of episodes, laconically following each other, sometimes there are minutes between them, at others several years. There is an over ten minute spell in the middle – marking the blossoming of their love – in which not a word is spoken, several drawn out and very explicit sex scenes. As slow as its pace is, as long the periods in which nothing much happens, La Vie d’Adèle is never boring, not for a moment, and it isn’t a second too long.

Instead, it develops its own rhythm, like a long, drawn out poem, it creates its own time in which years are seconds and seconds years. Scene follows scene, one after the other, point after point. There is no artificial flow creation – it happens naturally as we go along. Because, if this is a poem with a lyrical rhythm of its own, it is the poem of life and love, its pace that in which life happens – or doesn’t. La Vie d’Adèle is the story of a girl becoming a young woman, yet it is far from being a coming of age tale. Also, this is not about a young Lesbian, just a young woman trying to find herself. The film does not shun the subject of homosexuality and society’s acceptance of it, but it is not a topical film. It is part of life and here, life writes the script.

First and foremost, this is film of faces. Almost the entire film is done in close-ups. Occasionally it leaves the face, goes to hands, breasts, thighs, moves along with the protagonist’s glance only to return. La Vie d’Adèle comes as close as it gets – to its characters’ bodies, to their innermost selves, to us. The explicit sex is just part of this deal, it holds back nothing and yet it leaves so much to the viewer. For nothing is spelt out, all is in those bodies and faces, mostly Adèle’s. Adèle Exarchopulos plays this open-mouthed and wide-eyed average girl with all the openness and closeness of youth. Her face reveals and conceals at the same time. As she tries the conventional sex with boys lifestyle, gets confronted by her friends, gives in to love, clings to it and wanders aimlessly to a life missing its meaning, we watch her. Everything: the fear and love, the insecurity and confidence, the happiness and desperation happens right there. The same is true for Léa Seydoux who plays Emma, a more confident, outgoing but equally vulnerable counterpart.

Everything is subtle. The falling in love just happens and so does its end. When it does there is no run-up to it, it comes right at the moment with a devastating force that hurts. Yet, life goes on while it doesn’t. Adèle’s face becomes aimless, questioning, wondering. The growing conflicts are hinted at and all in the faces that drift apart, the looks that meet each other less and less, that grow asymmetrical – when one looks longingly, the other is occupied by something else. The girl who wants to be a teacher and the ambitious artist, one from a family whose signature dish is Spaghetti Bolognese, the other used to eating oysters, they fit and don’t fit, they complement each other but remain worlds apart. Attraction and distance are again conveyed in ways of looking, in facial expressions, positions of bodies towards each other.

La Vie d’Adèle is a miracle. A long poem with a pace and rhythm and visual language all its own, a story written in and by faces and bodies and looks. It moves along effortlessly, in a matter of fact way that needs no dramatization, no elaborate editing, no music or track shots. As we watch its characters look at each other, themselves, life, it also just looks. and in that look, the look of life, of love maybe, is the story of a girl’s search for herself, of finding and losing, of growing up without even trying. A search that might not be entirely successful and one that certainly doesn’t end. The story of life. Nothing more.


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