Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Why is sex so much the focus of reviews of "Blue is the Warmest Color" or "La Vie d'Adele"?

Reading a number of reviews of "Blue is the Warmest Color" (La Vie d'Adele in French) led me to anticipate that the sex scenes, extended and realistic, or idealized, would be the highlight of the experience of viewing the film. The reviews led me to believe that the sex scenes somehow broke new ground.  I wasn't sure whether I would be shocked, embarrassed, titillated, or what.  I didn't know whether all the attention was due to the graphic nature of the scenes, or perhaps the fact that the lovers were so young, or both female.

What I found, instead, was a film that portrayed a young woman, an adolescent, in the process of discovering herself, or exploring herself, in an interesting but fairly ordinary human way.  Sex, or her sexual orientation, seemed to be one particularly salient aspect of her self exploration.  What struck me most about the film was the focus on the faces, close up, the level and subtlety of emotional expression in the faces of the young actors, particularly Adele. This was ordinary life in all its pain and wonder. Why the one dimensional focus on sex?

In the final scene of the film, after the relationship between the two lovers comes to an end, eighteen year old Adele walks off into her future, while a young Arab man wistfully watches, clearly smitten with her.  At that point, I thought about the Tunisian origin of the filmmaker, a man from the French colonies.  I wondered then whether the film depicted the experience of a Tunisian feeling as excluded by the French as a man would feel being in love with a woman who is in love with another woman. I have sometimes thought about the colonizer-colonized relationship as a kind of intense, violent, surreptitious love/hate affair underneath the political, military veneer.  I first contemplated this level of colonialism while reading about the alleged erotic/professional relationship between D.W. Winnicott and Masud Khan, the British psychoanalyst with his Pakistani protege.  I imagined that their relationship reflected an erotic connection underlying and motivating the violent possessiveness of colonialism.  Could the erotic connection work both ways, with the erotic connection of the colonized to the colonizer accounting for the former's vulnerability to the latter's contempt, his internalized racism, his identification with the aggressor?  Was all this embodied in the Arab man's hapless, helpless, hopeless, fascination with the French teenager who is totally engrossed, body, mind, and soul, in her French female counterpart?  With such thoughts in mind, the one dimensional focus on the sex in the movie came to seem a reflection of an eager willingness to distract ourselves with the spectacular and the titillating, rather than attend to the painful, violent, and complex realities of life at the intersections of politics, bodies, and minds. 

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