Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Blue-Is-The-Warmest-ColorIt’s something of a shame that Palme d’Or-winning drama Blue Is The Warmest Colour has been overshadowed by controversy. Following an acclaimed Cannes premiere, the two female leads had a very public falling out with director Abdellatif Kechiche, claiming they were poorly treated on set.

The actors have since partially recanted their statements, but all focus is now on the much-hyped lesbian sex scenes, and whether they amount to exploitation.

Pity, because it’s actually a beautifully crafted romantic drama, and greater than the sum of its parts.

The scenes in question are indeed about as explicit as mainstream cinema is likely to get (aided in no small part by prosthetic genitalia). But they actually take up a small fraction of the three-hour runtime.

The story told roughly spans a decade – from early schoolgirl crushes, to a settled adult life of housewife-esque domesticity.

When we first meet Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), she is naive and shy, racked with confusion. It takes artist Emma (Léa Seydoux), with her shock of blue hair and worldly nature, to help the teenager grapple with her burgeoning sexuality.

Like 2011’s Weekend, this a gay love story which generally shirks the ‘issues’ that similar films might previously have felt obliged to consider.

Adèle inevitably experiences some homophobia from her classmates at school, but the age-old battle to be accepted by society is infrequently touched upon.

In fact, it’s a fairly conventional love story, with familiar relationship rigmarole every couple can recognise: meeting the parents; a messy split; an awkward post-break-up coffee.

The debate will rage as to whether those now-infamous love scenes are exploitative, or even pornographic. But in such an intense portrait of love, they’re arguably key to the broader narrative.

This is a love story told in intimate tones. Kechiche’s camera hugs Adèle throughout, the frame perpetually filled by her puppyish face. By the time the heartbreaking finale rolls around, we feel irrevocably intertwined with her story, and share in her grief.

These universal themes of love – the joys, the tragedies,  the “infinite tenderness” as Emma puts it – will, with luck, resonate far beyond any media-generated controversies.

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Frozen

frozenIt’s a Disney recipe as old as time. Take a much-loved fairytale, add a princess looking for love, reduce the story’s unpalatably dark elements, chuck a couple of talking animals into the soup, season with some catchy singalongs, and bam – you’ve got yourself an animated classic.

The blueprint has had a chequered history over the years, but Disney are riding a new, confident wave at the moment, and Frozen is a new height.

This time, it’s the turn of The Snow Queen to be run through the Disney-fier. Little of Hans Christian Andersen’s bleak original makes it to this adaptation (which has been mooted by the studio in one form or another since the late 1930s).

Instead, it’s a largely winning blend of Disney old and new: an unabashedly crowd-pleasing musical of princesses and true love colliding with more contemporaneous themes of independence and femininity.

Interestingly, Anderson’s tale has been diluted to the extent that, at least until the conclusion, there is no significant ‘baddie’. The biggest conflict comes from within Elsa, a princess with powers over ice and snow.

After a lifetime of incarceration for her powers, she accidentally sends the quasi-Scandinavian town of Arendelle into an eternal winter.

But if Elsa is the film’s confused, screwed-up head, its heart and soul is in younger sister Anna (voiced with gusto by Kristen Bell). She’s recognisably well-rounded and immediately endearing: sassy but awkward, sunny but insecure, relentlessly positive but inescapably klutzy.

Peppy Broadway show tunes are sprinkled throughout, and while they might induce the odd wince among grown ups (‘Love Is An Open Door’ imparts few great truths on the mysteries of the human condition), the appeal is plain to see. Frozen’s likeability factor is too hard to resist.

There’s inevitably the usual guff about the transformative power of love. But with a neat twist on the old ‘only true love can break the spell’ concept, an age-old formula is neatly refreshed.

In fact, the zippy, engaging approach is enough to forgive a few infractions. The character design, for example, is hardly original – Barbie doll for the girls, boyband looks for the guys. But then Olaf the singing snowman bobs along, with a heart of gold and a brain of mush; your cynicism melts and your grin widens.

With a semi-sophisticated sense of 21st-century wit mingling with a bit of old-fashioned Disney charm, it’s nearly impossible not to be enchanted by Frozen. Walt himself would approve.

 

Philomena

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How do you spin comedy out of tragedy? The true story of Philomena Lee, a Cathloic woman forced to give up her infant child for adoption in 1950s Ireland, is not exactly laugh-out-loud material on paper.

But Steve Coogan – who both stars and co-writes the screenplay with Jeff Pope – extracts some convincingly warm and human moments amid the horrors of Irish Catholicism’s darkest chapters, in which children born out of wedlockwere effectively sold to the highest bidder.

Stephen Frears’ unfussy direction – and Coogan’s splendid script – maintains a confident balance across many potential conflicts: between humour and pathos, religion and atheism, revenge and forgiveness. And, at its core, a careful equilibrium between the two leads, who join forces to track down the long-lost son.

On the one hand, there’s Philomena: a gentle soul who, despite the grave injustice dealt against her, bears no grudge or bitterness towards the church. On the contrary, a cross hangs permanently from her neck, a prayer never far away from her lips, forgiveness in her heart.

Martin, on the other hand, is almost her antithesis: a lapsed Catholic, an almost-lapsed journalist, impatient of Philomena’s grannyish tendencies, and cynical about the wider world.

They certainly make an odd couple. And much of the comedy is mined from this clash of cultures. Martin observes his unlikely accomplice is what “a lifetime’s diet of Reader’s Digest, the Daily Mail and romantic fiction” will result in.

But despite plenty of opportunities, Frears and Coogan never veer into clichés. It’s emotional without being maudlin, heartwarming without being over-sentimental, a comedy-drama which never once feels cheesy or overcooked.

In the title role, Judi Dench is reliably superb. And as investigative journalist Martin, Coogan delivers a strong, convincing supporting role, laying (at least temporarily) the ghost of Alan Partridge to rest; his powerful, sweet-natured and effortlessly funny script only cements this further.

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