Having just made its premiere in the Philadelphia region at the Philadelphia International Film Festival, within Landmark Theater’s Ritz East this past Tuesday evening, Abdellatif Kechiche’s film depicting a young woman’s first passionate romance- incidentally, with another woman- is quite the film to behold. At once radiant, fearless, challenging, long (around three hours), arduous and lyrical in all the best ways, Kechiche’s film is an experienced exploration of the misadventurous thralls to which romance plies us all (gay, straight, and all in between), with any beloved.
To not delve too deep within the narrative framework, which covers several years, this film first and foremost takes place within the intellectual and professional growth of a young woman. Indeed, most of the beginning scenes are based completely within a classroom context, within the school in which our protagonist studies, with numerous respectful nods to many works of literature. The character exposition and initial development also has her discussing well known films, and their impactful import upon life- hers and others. This once again illustrates how often the best art, as with other films, pays homage and acknowledges the insight derived from others’ work, either directly or indirectly. This film is expert at doing this, walking that fine line between pedantic conceit and insightful allusion. Kechiche respects the intelligence of his viewers, allowing us to draw our own conclusions, like the film is a teacher, we the students.
These classroom scenes- student, peers, teachers, all commenting and opining together upon art’s contextual application to understanding life- are so well done. They allow us to cogitate upon the moral and spiritual incoherency of judgment and condemnation in the face of true love and acceptance, supposedly at the heart of all religion, within the context of homosexuality or any other marginalized and demonized characteristic.
Every film is about growth, personal or otherwise, in some permutation. Yet Kechiche seems to focus on this theme with a very specific intensity, formatting each scene, making clear choices to elucidate the character growth, development and expansion from childhood into full womanhood of our protagonist. The choice to make her an elementary/pre-school teacher is especially brilliant, as seeing the young children scamper and play throughout the entire film really drives home the innocence and childhood of young Adele as she grows (sexually, emotionally, inter-personally) with Emma, in her personal non-professional world.
The film’s strengths are the writing, acting, direction, cinematography and insatiable palate for ocean, wind, water, soil, fall autumn leaves brushing our landscape witnessed within the three hours of this film’s duration. Natural landscapes- blues, fall oranges and reds- the gorgeousness that embodies France- polishes every scene with a sort of fragrant illumination.
If one were to see a weakness, it might be the strange casting of these excellent actresses, in terms of their age. Much controversy surrounds and continues to surround this film, but for me, it was weird how Emma was supposedly supposed to be somewhat older than young Adele (but not in the inappropriate way so many are claiming), yet the actresses do not look at all different in age. If anything, the reverse (sometimes) seemed true- Lea Seydoux looks a bit younger, at times, in the film, than the ostensibly “younger” Adele Exarchopoulos. Strange. At any rate, the film is thought-provoking and deeply moving. Surprisingly, the long runtime isn’t felt at all. Highly recommended.