If you haven’t heard about this film and its many controversies you are one of two things: a frequent rock dweller without an internet connection or my parents. This movie has been bandied about at water coolers and online discussion boards. Every living film critic that has seen this movie has something to say about it and have probably written a couple of think pieces posted to their blogs for their readers to ruminate on. But the frustration of this discussion is that it rarely gets out of the constrictive box of sexual exploitation and homosexuality. I knew little about what this film was about and mostly about what the reactions of seeing this elicited from many different intellectuals and film critics. I feel like this aspect of the film has been talked about too much and theories have been driven into the dirt by the constant rehashing of old controversies. So let me warn you if you are parents or you live under rock and scrapped up enough money to afford a Netflix streaming account without an internet connection that this movie is about a young woman becoming a lesbian and as a by-product of the story, there are graphic sex scenes between the protagonist and her first love. Oh and yes the director was manipulative and wrong in pushing the girls to do those sex scenes if they didn’t feel completely safe. Can we move on now and actually talk about the movie?
The plot isn’t everything here. While it can be seen from the outside as a by the numbers coming of age story with a lesbian twist, it is more about the mood that the director goes for instead of the story. He shoots this movie like it takes place in a dream like world and state instead of modern-day Paris. When the first blush of true love marks our protagonist, Adele, the screen blinds us with its bright and warm sunshine light. As the film progresses and the relationship between Adele and her first love, Emma, becomes complicated the scenes all start to take place at night. This contrast between day and night, light and darkness reflects the narrative structure.
Most reviewers call this an intimate epic and I believe this must be true. While it doesn’t have the scope of a Lawrence of Arabia or a Doctor Zhivago, it does have the rich immersion into what Adele’s life is like that the traditional epic structure allows time for. Her confusion over her sexual orientation, her futile attempts to hide it from her parents and friends, her reckless abandon as she throws herself into her first love experience and the eventual loneliness that creeps in after years and years of being together are all given ample time to develop in this three-hour movie. I got to know Adele during this time and understood why she ended up doing what she did but also why it hurt Emma so much. The director allows us time to explore Adele and Emma’s relationship more than a two-hour movie could.
The greatest movies ever made reflect universal truths and experiences that most humans can relate to. This movie takes a worn out premise and injects it with vitality and universality with a homosexuality twist.