Saturday, March 1, 2014

On DVD/Blu-ray: BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (2013) and MR. NOBODY (2013)

(France/Belgium/Spain - 2013)

The Palme d'Or winner at last year's Cannes Film Festival has stirred controversy for a number of reasons, from its explicit NC-17 sex scenes to director Abdellatif Kechiche's post-release war of words with stars Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos.  The actresses said in interviews that, while they respected the filmmaker, his methods and treatment of the cast and crew (there were also allegations of Kechiche violating French labor practices on set) made for a highly unpleasant atmosphere and they'd probably never work with him again.  Kechiche repeatedly lashed out at a lot of people but reserved most of his rage for Seydoux, accusing her of coming to the set unprepared and claiming he unsuccessfully tried to have her replaced.  Regardless of whatever turmoil took place, BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR is a remarkable achievement, a raw, honest, unflinching look at first love, sexual awakening, and the entire cycle of the relationship between young, inexperienced Adele (Exarchopoulos) and the few years older, free-spirited artist Emma (Seydoux).  With the focus on Adele, Kechiche takes his time building the characters and the world in which they live.  We see Adele's interactions with her family, her circle of friends, and losing her virginity to nice-guy Thomas (Jeremie Laheurte), who's devastated when she breaks up with him not long after.  Adele's journey of self-discovery leads her to Emma, who she originally passed in a crosswalk weeks earlier where the two shared a glance that was enough to tell Adele that Thomas might not be who she wants.  Adele accompanies her gay friend Valentin (Sandor Funtek) to a gay/lesbian bar and runs into Emma.  The two strike up a flirtation that leads to an all-consuming passion, and Kechiche shows the audience everything:  the intimacy, the dynamics, the reactions of friends and family.  Anchored by a pair of fearless performances, there are no corners cut, no clich├ęs, and no plot turns that transpire because of convenience.

The sex scenes in BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR caused quite a sensation and make no mistake, the NC-17 rating is earned.  But there's nothing trashy or exploitative about them and they aren't what the film is about.  They match the intensity of the performances of the two stars, who shared the Best Actress award at Cannes.  Seydoux has been seen in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS and MIDNIGHT IN PARIS and had a small but memorable role as an assassin in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: GHOST PROTOCOL, but Exarchopoulos is new to me.  It's an astonishing performance and an egregious oversight that she wasn't nominated for an Oscar.  Often, Kechiche will just leave the camera lingering on Exarchopoulos' expressive face, and with the film taking place over several years, even her physical transformation from confused and sometimes awkward 17-year-old to a grade-school teacher in her mid 20s feels extensive even though she doesn't pull some De Niro/Christian Bale tricks.  The film doesn't feel three hours long, and Kechiche makes every moment and every shot count.  Funny, emotional, exhilarating, exhausting and devastating in equal measure (their late-film meet in a coffee shop is just heartbreaking), BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR is like an absorbing novel played out on the screen, rich with characterization and detail, and an extraordinary work that will stay with you long after it's over.  (NC-17, 180 mins, also streaming on Netflix Instant)

(France/Germany/Canada/Belgium - 2010/US release 2013)

When Jared Leto started getting accolades for his performance in DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, he kept saying it was the first movie he made in six years, even though MR. NOBODY was in limited release just a few weeks prior.  He wasn't lying or pretending it didn't exist:  MR. NOBODY was filmed in 2007, premiered at the Venice and Toronto Film Festivals in 2009 and was released in Europe in 2010 where it's developed a significant cult following.  It finally received a very belated US release in the fall of 2013.  Leto took a sabbatical from acting after MR. NOBODY, focusing on his band Thirty Seconds to Mars and, under the pseudonym "Bartholomew Cubbins," directing the music industry documentary ARTIFACT, which played the 2012 Toronto Film Festival but still hasn't been picked up for distribution.  Leto probably needed a break after the workout he got in MR. NOBODY, an often astonishingly ambitious mind-bender from Belgian filmmaker Jaco Van Dormael (best known for 1991's TOTO THE HERO).  Exploring the idea of alternate universes, the Butterfly Effect, and theories of parallel and diverging timelines, MR. NOBODY opens in 2092 and tells the story of 118-year-old Nemo Nobody (Leto), the world's oldest man and also the last mortal on Earth.  Some years earlier, humanity was able to achieve "quasi-immortality" via cell regeneration courtesy of pigs.  Now, no one ages, no one is born, and no one dies, but it's a rigid, sexless, clean, overly-safe utopia--regarding the Earth of his youth, the aged Mr. Nobody says "There were cars that polluted. We smoked cigarettes. We ate meat. We did everything we can't do in this dump and it was wonderful! Most of the time nothing happened... like a French movie."  The world is now how it shall always be, with Mr. Nobody the final relic of a mortal, flawed era.  Reflecting on his life to a journalist (Daniel Mays), Mr. Nobody's memories seem inconsistent and incoherent.  He tells of multiple lives, wives, children he did or didn't have, jobs he worked, how he had two distinctly different childhoods when his parents (Rhys Ifans, Natasha Little) split up.  As nine-year-old Nemo's mother boards a train, Nemo tries to jump on the train--in one memory, he makes it and in the other, he doesn't.  But he's lived both existences.  The argument is that if one happenstance doesn't occur in one reality, it happens in another simultaneous one.  He has multiple lives with three different wives--Anna (Diane Kruger), Elise (Sarah Polley), and Jean (Linh-Dan Pham)--and the circumstances (and the wife) might change several times in a scene.

It's an impressive feat that Van Dormael and his editors manage to keep the potentially unwieldy plot and its endless possible directions on task and coherent.  The only recent film that occurs to me that juggles this many complex narratives without dropping the balls is 2012's CLOUD ATLAS.  MR. NOBODY has a lot of obvious influences but still manages to be its own film, even if it sometimes feels like Benjamin Button has become unstuck in time and dropped into a precious reimagining of SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE directed by Wes Anderson.  There's a lot to absorb, though Van Dormael sometimes belabors the point--in one life, Elise is suffering from crippling depression, and around the sixth or seventh Polley crying breakdown, you almost want to tell Van Dormael "OK, we get it"--and he lets the film go on forever (the DVD and the Blu-ray contain his 156-minute unrated director's cut, which runs 18 minutes longer than the barely-released R-rated US theatrical cut).  But with its incredible fusion of romance, tragedy, and sci-fi epic, incorporating stylistic and thematic elements of other films as diverse as THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH (1976), DEATH WATCH (1980), SOLARIS (1972), and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) and even taking a version of Mr. Nobody into Neanderthal times as well as a future incarnation living on Mars, MR. NOBODY is quite possibly the most batshit insane, yet oddly touching and sentimental, big-budget epic sci-fi art film that you haven't seen.  Also with Juno Temple (unknown when the film was made), Allen Corduner, and an impressive Toby Regbo as the teenage Nemo.  (Unrated, 156 mins)

1 comment:

  1. Seydoux is one of my favorite young actresses. If you haven't already, go watch last year's SISTER on Netflix Instant if it's still there. She plays the title character so beautifully.