I have watched two stunning movies recently: Monster (2003) and Blue is the Warmest Color (2013). They are driven by two of the most spectacular performances by female actresses: Charlize Theron as Aileen and Adele Exarchopoulos as Adele.

Both films deal with confused sexuality, loneliness in modern society, and friendship/relationship that sadly but unavoidably runs its course. Both explore these issues from the perspective of a couple of females. The two films also exemplifies the differences between American and European cinema.

Monster is shocking in its violence and brutality. It may be based on a true story, but the film is undeniably a freak show, a circus act, a proverbial train crash that we know can not be real but we can’t look away. The characters, Aileen in particular, are victims of circumstances, both direct social forces and indirect mental disorders caused by abuse. There’s an sense of inevitability in her march towards self-destruction, and she has little choice.

Blue is the Warmest Color is a much more subtle, artistic and, ultimately, more interesting film. Even as a 15 year old student, Adele straddles on the edge of society. Most of the time, she is a very normal, popular girl at school. But at times, her eyes glaze over and there’s a hollowness behind it (similar to Matteo’s eyes). She takes comfort in food, sleep and other basics of life but there’s little joy in it. She comes to life in moments with friends, especially when they are marching in protest or dancing at picnics. She cries often and we don’t know why. Perhaps Adele doesn’t know herself. Her relationship with Emma is driven by raw physical attraction, but they have different outlooks on life. Emma is in the art world, is intellectual and comes from a sophisticated family. At times, she talks like a feminist artist pamphlet.

Adele likes art but not at the intellectual level. She is content to be a physical muse and a cook and server at parties. Throughout the film, she looks like a high school student (Adele was 18-19 at the time of the filming); a girl in the world of grownups. Even though at least 6 years passes during the movie, she never ages. She’s never comfortable in the grownup world of artist/intellectuals, but she’s troubled and has lost some of the innocence of childhood. She enjoys working with kindergarten kids but otherwise drifts without ambition. Is she happy?

Emma loses the wildness of her student days (symbolized by the dyed blue hair) and they inevitably drift apart. The film is less about a love story and more about the confusing coming-of-age of one girl. What does it mean to fall in love beyond the physical attraction? Adele’s sexual ambiguity highlights this question. Her interactions with Thomas (the first boyfriend) is just as natural and compatible as her interactions with Emma.

The film has several recurring motifs: the color blue, close up shots of Adele sleeping with her mouth open, voluptuous eating, Adele fussing with her hair. These motifs stabilize the movie and give the viewers a constant stream of familiar handles. They are also quirky ticks that make the characters much more real.

Monster: 4/5

Blue is the warmest color: 5/5




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