Tuesday, September 28, 2004

on being blue: a review of the film Bleu

On Being Blue: A Review of Bleu

Who cannot feel such sorrow and empathize with or for the beautiful juliette binoche and her suffering in the film Bleu, part of the color trilogy (“Trois Coleurs”).. I can’t think of anyone who would lose both husband and child and not feel as she feels, which is so beyond depressed that she retreats deep within herself to a place that is icily cold and utterly untouchable. Here, she will sit out her deep freeze – assuming that there is an end in sight. If there is, it seems very, very far away in this film, and one wonders if anyone, anywhere, could ever recover from such an awful accident.

Julie’s grief is brutal, bashing and smashing everything around it and lacking completely in any sticky sentimentality that we would expect from a film that perhaps had been cut and made by a different director and featuring a different actress.

centered around the film is her late husbands’ work – a concert for the Unification of Europe, of which it is rumored that Julie (Binoche) writes instead of her husband. It would seem, he takes the credit and she does the work. Yet this is known, for when a reporter finds Julie in the hospital, she asks the question directly and is received with an icy stare that says Fuck the hell off (the French version, of course). “I didn’t remember you as so rude,” the reporter says, to which is replied, “perhaps you didn’t hear. I lost my husband and daughter.” Was she supposed to be all happy and light.

Julie emerges from the hospital still with her iciness intact, but with a different sort of blankness that she tries to fill in various ways; by donating the bulk of her estate to the gardener the cook, and so on, and eventually, giving over the grand country house in which they all lived to her husband’s pregnant lover (this is all very French, bien sur, but no surprises here.) In a way this is so much more civilized and respectable than some histrionic and hysterical woman on a jealous rage. After all, what emotion could Julie have left. What is jealousy over a mistress or anger compared to the incredible grief that she feels and is yet unable to express. Even halfway through the film, Julie has not cried or visibly mourned. Her mourning takes an entirely different form, and one that is not so different from a truer grief – a grief so profound that one is in a state of almost permanent shock, as if joy would never be felt again.

On return home from the hospital, Julie returns home to her country house (filled with blue things, the whole film is filled with blue things really, in particular, a blue bead mobile that is the only consistent thing that Julie seems to have in her possession; the rest of her previous life is quickly dispensed with) Julie smashes around, plays a piece of the concert on her piano, but in general, she seems mostly to just stop around a lot, crashing and bashing. This is her anger and it is righteous and loud. What’s more, one can understand as much as anyone else, unless you have had the awful misfortune (a weak word, and not strong enough I know) to experience the awfuls that have befallen her.

Without a thought, Julie picks up her husband’s concert notes from a woman who has been writing out the music and destroys them, throwing then into a rubbish truck. The unification is moot, she seems to be saying. If my life will be destroyed, then at least I can control it.

but I don’t want to give a plot summary here, because I’m trying to get at what it is that has drawn me to this film several times now. it’s not that I like it exactly, it’s more that I can relate or understand it. Perhaps anyone who has lost family in a dramatic and awful way can relate. There is a numbness and blankness that comes with grief that can only be experienced in the deepest depression. This is why some people who are grieving cause themselves physical harm: it is but a physical manifestation of an interior emotion that is safe in a lockbox. When Julie fucks her husband’s partner, summons him by telephone to her home, it is much in the same vein. It is a way of punishing herself, a sort of survivor’s guilt. It is not about sex – not in any normal or healthy way. It is more, it seems, about doing yourself some damage, about saying, I don’t care anymore. I’ll fuck until I feel something. She comes at it with him with that same iciness and coolness that in this context is almost hateful. By now, the house is stripped of furniture, leaving only the mattress, she tells him. This is why they must have sex. The mattress is all that is left.

After, she smiles, thanks him. says she is like any other woman. She spits, she coughs. she is human after all. What is interesting is what compels this. Is it that she didn’t die in the accident and this is some kind of proof to herself that she is human, fallible; she is telling us, She too could have died, but this time, did not. Julie can bleed, she wants to tell us, for immediately after, we find her running her knuckles along a rough brick wall until they bleed, as if she is humming the mantra, “I feel, I feel, I feel” expressing what she is unable to express, letting her banging and smashing and bleeding do the talking for her.

Even a necklace that is returned to her by a young boy who has witnessed the accident seems to leave her unmoved. She meets him, tells him a joke her husband was telling them the moment the car crashed, but leaves him holding the golden cross found at the scene that could be her daughter’s or her husband’s – her rejection of it is no less than a rejection of religion, it seems, of Christ. what use could God be to her now. He has failed her for the last time, she seems to be saying. If she rejects the cross, then she cannot be failed by a false god that would cause or just allow such horrors to befall anyone.

She is told by a neighbor who finds out that she lives alone that Julie is “not the type anyone would dump” which is both true and not true. First, she has been left but by death that nobody could have prevented, and more, in time she will find out about her husband’s affair; which is to say that wasn’t dumped, but she was rejected in some way. The affair, while in reality it likely says more about the husband, no doubt to Julie is yet another way in which she is less human not only to herself, but in the eyes of her husband when he was alive. She wasn’t even the type to fuck and have fun with; he had to get a mistress for that. Julie is too holy, too pure, in everyone else’s eyes and for the bulk of the film, she sets about proving everyone wrong; she bleeds, she feels, she too can kill (as she shows by killing some mice in her new and spare apartment). She is a murderess, she tell us, as if she is taking responsibility for killing her own husband.

Of course, this is just one interpretation and it may be dead wrong. But her murderess rage toward the mice and the small mouse newborns that are blind and helpless as her own little girl was at one time is telling. She will first close the door on them, pretend them do not exist. But cats eat mice, and Julie will find a cat or some other remedy for the constant reminder that the mice provide – of the life, of death, of nurturing and being a mother.

There’s a great deal to blue, and more than meets the eye. its not what anyone would call the usual French film if such a thing exists if one can stereotype so greatly. There are many who really hate this film, noting it is “too French” but I’m not sure what that even means. I’ve seen many French films and while I think they are no doubt different in style and tone from the work of say, America, I wouldn’t say they are better or worse. Bleu is different, no doubt, and parts of it, the close-ups on objects, the blackouts between shots make this an art-film in many ways and may grate on the nerves of some viewers. That said, it’s a film worth seeing, and there could be no better title for it than Blue, save perhaps Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s “Mean Reds” which are, she tells us, far worse than the blues.