Blue Is the Warmest Color and The Counselor

A great film from France and a Ridley Scott misfire.

Blue Is the Warmest Color arrives trailing clouds of buzz from this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where it walked away with the Palme d’Or. Even the French were somewhat agog at the movie’s extended lesbian sex scenes. But while it’s true that these scenes are unusually graphic—only millimeters away from full-on porn (thus the picture’s NC-17 rating)—the movie is more than just rote groan-and-grind. It’s a love story with a deep emotional charge—it feels like real life unfolding before our eyes. And its centerpiece is a knockout star performance by 19-year-old Adèle Exarchopoulos, whose pillowy lips and guileless eyes illuminate every scene. (Unsurprisingly, she has already been scooped up by a major American talent agency, CAA.)

Exarchopoulos plays Adèle, a provincial high school student who’s confused about her lack of response to admiring male classmates, even after having sex with one of them. Walking through a park one day, she passes a young woman with jaunty blue-dyed hair (Léa Seydoux, of Midnight in Paris and the last Mission: Impossible film). Their eyes lock for a moment, but they both move on.

Later, a gay friend takes Adèle out for a night of club-hopping. They wind up at a lesbian bar, where Adèle encounters the blue-haired woman again. Her name is Emma; she’s a university fine-arts student, and she’s immediately drawn to the lonely Adèle, who shyly reciprocates. “Your type is rare here,” Emma says, amid the sapphic hubbub. “A straight girl who’s...a little curious?”

The stages of their blossoming relationship have an easy realism that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever engaged in the mating game. Adèle hopes that Emma is the soul mate she has yearned to find. They talk excitedly about literature; they flirt and then kiss, and soon they’ve tumbled into bed.

The movie’s extreme closeups on the two actor’s bodies in the long sex scenes suggest a voyeuristic obsession on the part of the director, Abdellatif Kechiche. (In an interview with the Daily Beast, Seydoux said he made them continue performing one heated scene for 10 days.) But Seydoux and Exarchopoulos keep the carnal acrobatics grounded in feeling—in the characters’ passionate sense of mutual discovery. We feel them “breathing in each other,” as Adèle puts it, and for a while it seems that maybe they are soul mates.

But after Adèle moves in with Emma, fissures in their initial happiness begin to appear. Emma is determined to become a successful artist; Adèle knows nothing about art. She plans to become an elementary school teacher; Emma can’t understand why she won’t pursue writing, for which she has a talent. Their emotional alignment starts cracking apart, and along the way there are some sensational (fully clothed) scenes. In two of them—one a fierce argument in Emma’s apartment, the other an eruption of desperate longing in a sleepy cafe—Exarchopoulos probes the outer limits of emotional meltdown with unforgettable intensity.

It’s unfortunate that the movie is three hours long, for no good reason. Kechiche reportedly shot hundreds of hours of footage, and he and his five editors were evidently unable to part with a lot of it. Way too much time is wasted on characters eating (spaghetti is a persistent motif) and on dinner-table chit-chat and meandering schoolroom scenes. It’s a wonderful movie, but it would have been even better trimmed down to two and a half hours, max.

The picture’s ending suggests that the story will continue (its French subtitle translates as Chapters 1 & 2). But given the nasty sniping that has broken out between Kechiche and his two stars, that seems unlikely. In pre-release interviews, Seydoux has said the movie’s sex scenes left her “feeling like a prostitute,” and neither she nor Exarchopoulos seems interested in working with the director again. (“Never,” says Seydoux.) Kechiche, fighting back, accused Seydoux—in league with a scandal-mongering French journalist—of conspiring to kill his career.

So Blue Is the Warmest Color might never have a sequel. But that’s okay. This picture stands on its own as a mighty cinematic achievement.

The Counselor

How is it that a movie directed by Ridley Scott, with a script by Cormac McCarthy (his first) and a cast that includes Michael Fassbender, Penélope Cruz, Brad Pitt, Cameron Diaz and Javier Bardem, could turn out as dull and jumbled as The Counselor? I mean, really. This is the new Osterman Weekend of major motion pictures.

The movie opens with Fassbender (looking even waxier than usual) playing a ritzy El Paso lawyer who’s addressed only as Counselor. He’s in bed with his girlfriend, Laura (Cruz), and they’re fooling around under the sheets in the manner of a Magritte painting (Scott is an art-school grad). Then we cut to a big lug named Reiner (Bardem), whose chaotically moussed hair appears to have been styled with a salad fork. Reiner—one of Counselor’s drug-biz clients—whiles away spare hours out in the desert sipping martinis with his icy inamorata, Malkina (Diaz), as they watch their two pet cheetahs chasing jackrabbits around in the scrub. “I never tire of it,” Malkina says, flashing a gold tooth and a set of daggery silver fingernails that could probably poke a hole in a beer can.

Next, it’s off to Amsterdam, where Counselor buys a big diamond for an engagement ring for Laura. He obtains this rock from a gem dealer, played by Bruno Ganz, who regales us with windy observations like “We announce to the darkness that we will not be diminished by the brevity of our lives.” Noted.

Also passing through from time to time is a character in a cowboy outfit called Westray (Pitt), a sleepy-eyed middleman of some sort who could be (I’m guessing) the guy who lured Counselor away from the straight-and-narrow professional path into the more lucrative field of representing big-time drug creeps. Pitt is so laid back in this role, it’s surprising that nobody trips over him.

Then there’s, let’s see, Rubén Blades as a Mexican drug-world jefe who delivers some very bad news, and Rosie Perez as another of Counselor’s clients, now imprisoned, who triggers the story’s most implausible plot element. There’s also some jammed-in talk about snuff films and beheading machines, and the moment they’re mentioned we know with a weary certainty that they’ll be coming into play later in the movie.

Some of these characters—the ones who aren’t simply uninteresting—are lurid in an entirely over-determined way. The plot is tediously opaque (is there really anything new worth doing in the hyper-complicated drug-scam film genre?), and the Big Trouble in which Counselor finds himself turns out, upon minimal contemplation, to be ridiculous. There’s also some unnecessary nonsense with the lewd Malkina and a hapless priest in a church confessional. And special mention must be made of the scene in which she drops her thong, climbs atop the hood of Reiner’s Ferrari, and grinds herself to orgasm against its windshield. You have to see this to believe it. Or…wait—no you don’t. 

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  • catbonez||

    Seydoux, you feel like a prostitute because you are one. Any prostitutes out there who feel like actresses?

  • lap83||

    I agree with this. Also, unless he directed at gunpoint she chose to do it.

  • hotsy totsy||

    Except a very well paid prostitute.

  • AlmightyJB||

    You had me at extended lesbian sex scened.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Scenes

  • Tommy_Grand||

    that sucks. I thought the counselor would be good.

  • Killazontherun||

    I've saw a pretty positive review of it, yesterday from Roger Moore, of the Orlando Sentinel. He's usually pretty tough on action movies that don't have much else but being highly entertaining going for them.

  • JW||

    Some of these characters—the ones who aren’t simply uninteresting—are lurid in an entirely over-determined way. The plot is tediously opaque (is there really anything new worth doing in the hyper-complicated drug-scam film genre?)

    I was hoping it wasn't true, but, after Promeaningless and this film, Scott seems to have completely lost his touch.

  • casey5990||

    Google is paying 80$ per hour! Just work for few hours & spend more time with friends and family. Yesterday I bought a top of the range Lancia after having made $9458 this month. Its the most-financialy rewarding I've had. It sounds unbelievable but you wont forgive yourself if you don’t check it out www.Pow6.com

  • R C Dean||

    I'm sorry, but "mighty cinematic achievement" and "way too fucking long" are mutually exclusive.

  • The Last American Hero||

    I'll wait for the extended edition director's cut DVD with the bonus materials. For the The Counselor of course.

  • Benjamin||

    Good grief, who wants to watch two young women tribbing? Gross.

    Had high hopes for the Counselor, am disappoint.

  • Killazontherun||

    Every guy I know, in fact, interest in lesbian sex is the strongest indicator of heterosexuality of all possible measures according to science.

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    It's spelled SCIENCE!

  • Benjamin||

    Yeah that was sarcasm.

    But you bring up an interesting point. I wonder what heterosexual indicators exist for women. What would they think of homosexual male sex? What do homosexual males think of lesbian or heterosexual sex? Would they experience the same sense of revulsion I experience when considering male homosexual sex? Interesting...

  • Killazontherun||

    I leaned towards that being sarcasm. Well done that I wasn't entirely certain, but still wanted to put that out there.

  • Killazontherun||

    Women have a natural urge to get off on male domination of one guy over the other. Not a complaint on my part, I benefit. They may go for a top, but the bottom guy is shit out of luck.

  • Libertarius||

    UGH, more glorification of lesbianism and feminine mysticism from the matrix.

  • Knarf Yenrab (prev. An0nB0t)||

    I read the first few pages of the Counselor screenplay months ago and was blown away by how historically awful the dialogue was, to the point that I set the script aside and got on with things far more important, like watching the 2006 NLCS again.

    McCarthy has always been hit/miss, particularly with dialogue, and that screenplay was pleading for a Coen treatment to dial things back before it made it to the screen.

  • UCrawford||

    McCarthy lost me after "The Road". When he isn't being reined by someone with more popular sensibilities, his work is way too pretentious to stomach when it's put on the big screen.

    Actually, "The Road" was overly pretentious in writing too.

  • Farshnoshket||

    Sorry Kurt, but you missed the boat on this one. Like McCarthy's other success, No Country for Old Men, the film asks the viewer to put the pieces in place. Once you realize enough about what is actually going on it all makes perfect sense. You can't blame a film for being smart enough to test it's audience. Here's a clue. The relationship between Westray & Malkina is much more than what we see, but if you listen carefully enough you'll know.

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