Without any further ado or hullabaloo, My Favourite Song And Film of 2013:
(If you’d like to know what “WAR value” is and how I’m using it, click here: https://thepunissure.com/2014/01/13/top-25-songs-and-films-of-2013-25-16-with-a-nod-to-mlbs-war-system/)
1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Despair (WAR value: 11.0)
“Despair” is the song that elicited my most visceral reaction. It’s the one song I shed tears to in 2013. It’s the one song that took a direct flight from my brain to my heart, my ears to my blood, my senses to my sensibilities. It’s the song that not only defined the year in music for me, but my ever-growing openness to different ideas, different considerations, different possibilities.
“Despair” is a distilled desire to dream: in song, in art, in life.
“Oh despair, you’ve always been there, you’ve always been there, you’ve always been there, you’re there through my wasted years…”
The music is sensational. Nick Zinner’s guitar work is among the best he’s ever done. Brian Chase’s drums are gargantuan. Karen O is, per usual, superb. Her vocal — pitch, timbre, the way she accentuates (read: sings) certain words — is phenomenal. Although their most recent album, Mosquito (from whence “Despair” comes) is good, I don’t like it quite as much as their gobsmackingly good previous LP, It’s Blitz. For as powerful as that record was and remains (see/hear: “Hysteric” [the only song from that record that can rival the power of “Despair”], “Soft Shock”, “Zero”, “Heads Will Roll”, and “Skeletons”), it doesn’t contain a singular force of expression quite like “Despair”. I may be blaspheming, but I think “Despair” could be as good or better than their ace-in-the-hole, and one of the best songs of the 2000’s, “Maps”.
“My sun is your sun, my sun is your sun, my sun is your sun, my sun is your sun; their sun is our sun, their sun is our sun, their sun is our sun, their sun is our sun…”
“Despair” exemplifies the rare instance when a song and video are of the same artistic soul. Videos, first and foremost, are vehicles that promote: the song, artist, and (possibly nefarious) desired image. In order to keep turning, the wheel must be greased after all. This video is not that. There are some occasions where the promotion at hand is more: of an emotion, of passion, of life. This video is that. The video for “Despair” serves to connect, to espouse, to free. It does so more than any other song/video combination I can remember. It’s as if the video and song are true soul mates, in a world where that term is both overused, and like a plume of smoke, hard to actually grasp.
Brian Chase’s smile lights up the video, and makes me want to give him the biggest bear hug of all-time. Karen O’s facial expressions are perfect. In the darkness, in her blue winter coat, she wears hopeful sadness. As night turns to morning, she embraces the light, shedding her dark coat for a yellow suit to welcome the sun, like a butterfly discarding the skin of its former self. It crawled, but now it flies.
There’s a moment in the video, at 5:09, when the music climaxes, and Karen O’s smile melts away all the cold in the world. This is a celebratory euphoria so rarely seen; it’s pure, sincere, and bigger than everything else. It’s more important than everything else. This is revelation.
A symbol of death, ashes are black, gray, and dull as they rest together, fragile and still on the ground. But something happens when the wind picks them up. They immediately brighten when caressed and carried by the deep blue vastness of the sky. And one by one, slowly but surely, each piece of ash dissolves in the air, into something else. The beauty of an ash becoming part of something else, something new, is a freeing, serendipitous process. “Despair” is this transformation’s kin.
This song is inexorably about despair, about pain, loss, and fear. There is no escaping that. Such is life. But like a phoenix, the song rises from the darkness, soaring into the air, where pedals of sunlight bloom in a burgeoning warmth. It affirms the idea that to appreciate the sun, one must accept that it rotates with darkness. There is such a profound, simple beauty in this idea, this video, this song, this art.
All of it, a gift.
“Through the darkness and the light, some sun has got to rise.”
Blue Is The Warmest Colour (WAR value: 11.0)
Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a love story above all else. It just so happens to be the best one I’ve experienced since Brokeback Mountain.
I love everything about this film, but the brilliance that transcends the other brilliance is the acting of the two leads, Adèle Exarchopoulos (Adèle) and Léa Seydoux (Emma). I haven’t seen a love story this real and natural, this powerful, since green was warmer than blue. This is all the more mystifying and impressive given that the leads are both heterosexual in real life. (Although frankly, it doesn’t matter if they’re heterosexual, homosexual, or anything in between or outside of that in real life — their performances are all that matter.) Their performances, strewn with brush strokes of passion, colours of anxiety, sounds of pain, and aches of torment, make the fact that this is a lesbian couple a moot point. It’s probably not a moot point to the gay and lesbian community, and that’s okay too — this film and the performances of its leads should be exulted in every way, shape, and form — it’s just that all I saw in this film was love, all I see when I play it back in my mind is love. This is what should be gleaned from this utterly incomparable display of cinematic magic.
Yes, Blue Is The Warmest Colour is Adèle’s coming of age story, and her realization that straight isn’t as warm as blue is a central tenet of this film, but her developing sexuality is not the point. Just as the long, graphic, much discussed sex scenes are not the point. The point, again, is love. Real, wonderful, awful, beautiful, hideous, lifting, crippling, love.
If Blue Is The Warmest Colour were just about love, it would still be coruscating jewel, but it’s not. It’s much more than that.
There are so many penetrating scenes in director/producer/screenwriter Abdellatif Kechiche’s scintillating, controversial, touching masterpiece. So many ideas, stylistic elements, subtleties worth mentioning. I fell in love with how the scenes are given time to breathe. Conversations are allowed to flow naturally, looks are given time to make an impact, and silence is revered. There’s no cutting for cutting’s sake here. There are many American films that I love, but there’s also a distinct “American Style” of filming that I’m so grateful is missing here. Generally, the “American Style” compromises, cuts, moves quickly (often too quickly), and much of the time, has a fundamental distrust (at best) or disdain (at worst) for its audiences ability to exercise patience and critical thinking. Kechiche doesn’t compromise at all in those ways, and a fresh beauty bombards the viewer because of it.
I’m in awe of the way Kechiche weaves fascinating intellectual and philosophical ideas throughout. There are two scenes in particular that I was rapt by. Near the beginning of the film, Adèle’s philosophy class poetically discusses water’s only vice: gravity. The other is during Emma’s first showing, where her art gallery owner-friend and the group discuss pleasure and the difference between a man and woman’s experience, perception, and representation of pleasure. It’s one of many fantastically written and acted scenes dealing with philosophy, with ideas.
Dealing with ideas of any real consequence does not seem to be a priority for too many films these days, so to experience one that cares about thoughts and sharing them in such a witty, charming, organic way is a feat Kechiche and all involved should be extremely proud of.
Blue Is The Warmest Colour made me yearn for education, consider how I learned, jealous of how the French approach schooling. It seems as though the French value critical thinking, philosophy, and art in a way that should make Canadian and American education systems blush with envy. The film illuminates philosophy, intellectualism, fantasy, art, teaching, gender roles, perceptions of race, economic disparity, and the anxiety of job prospects for young people with such grace and effectiveness that in one viewing, it could replace certain textbooks and improve education by leaps and bounds.
I also adore that the dialogue is French (with English subtitles). French is a beautiful, romantic language as it is, and its use here, to my ears, is such a compelling vehicle to convey the myriad wonders this film has to offer. The French dialogue dances with such elegance, elocution so divine, that I wouldn’t dare dream of it being delivered in any other language.
There are so many joys to behold in the film that inexplicably, for me anyway, music falls lower on the list of important features here than it would almost anywhere else. That said, there are two songs in particular that grabbed my attention and that I now link with Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Aventura’s “Mi Corazoncito” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fzfk8wtnFos), and my favourite, the sensational “I Follow Rivers (The Magician Remix)” by Lykke Li:
In atypical fashion, Blue Is The Warmest Colour paints a devastating, raw, uncomfortable, realistic portrait of a break-up, of how some ties can never be wholly severed, and what that does to a person’s emotional state. The break-up scene is absolutely terrifying, and terrifyingly glorious. Archopoulos and Seydoux’s acting in this scene is a step beyond phenomenal. Emma and Adèle do not stop loving each other. But they’ll never be together again. If at all possible, there’s a scene later in the film, set in a café, that’s even more heart-wrenching, an imbroglio of lust, regret, and the shattered remnants of love. These two scenes are without a doubt the most powerful in a film rife with powerful moments.
I adore the allusions to colour in this film. The first time Emma, with her blue hair, visits Adèle’s school, Adèle’s wearing a blue top. Some time after the break-up, Adèle’s still clearly overcome with a deep emptiness, and on a day trip to the beach with her young students, she asks a fellow teacher to watch her kids as she makes her way to the water. She lets her hair down, and floats in calm water so clearly blue. No matter her pain, she cannot overcome water’s only vice: gravity. She cannot escape Emma. She cannot escape the torturous warmth of the love they shared. She cannot escape blue, as it continues to douse her life with various shades of melancholy. Near the end of the film, at Emma’s prestigious gallery opening, Emma no longer has blue hair, but Adèle still can’t let go. She watches what love does when it moves on. The emotion on her face, like her dress, blue…
There’s a lot going on in Blue Is The Warmest Colour, emotionally, intellectually, philosophically. There is one line, though, that Emma somewhat begrudgingly admits to Adèle in the café scene that perfectly encapsulates how I feel about this film, how Emma feels for Adèle, Adèle for Emma:
“I have infinite tenderness for you… and will my whole life.”
Blue is indeed the warmest colour.
The sky kisses water, the sun blesses them with heat.
Hearts are broken, love remains.
It has nowhere else to go.