What if everyone color-coded their outfits with the people they happened to be in love with?
I found the span of time to be a bit confusing, it seems like the movie covers about ten years in the life of Adele (two years of high school, followed by six years of college (she says she needs a master’s then specific training to be a teacher, in the US at least that’s 6 years, more if the master’s is in something other than teaching), then the crisis occurs her first year of teaching and the meet again at least one but no more than three, years after that. So by the end of the film, Adele should be 27-30 years old. Maybe she skipped college and went right to work?
I say it’s confusing because Adele shows none of the signs of maturation or growth that most humans go through during their twenties. She begins her love affair in intoxication, seemingly convinced that not only have they discovered sex, but invented it as well. Perhaps it’s that addiction that stunts her growth, that prevents her from forming a fully adult relationship. Their meeting in the last third plays like a junkie taking heroin out for coffee, trying to be friends when they both know they have only one thing in common. Kechiche wants to get right up close and examine the tragedy (helpfully defined in class as the inevitability of destruction) of a person whose libido is limited to a single other person, who may not be that compatible otherwise.
As such, the film is strongest in its first half, a minute exploration of the first stages of love and teenage life (17 years old in France in 2013 is apparently much different than 17 years old in Spokane in 1993 was). The plot points are bluntly melodramatic (Adele’s friends react poorly to her apparent lesbianism, Emma’s parents are open while Adele is closed to hers), but the relaxed pace and close-up camera allows the actors room to create a realistic world (I especially liked the overlapping dialogue of her friends, as they argue about whether one girl was too harsh: clearly not all of them are jerks, but its unclear who the friends and enemies are as the group begins taking sides and Adele wanders off). The verisimilitude of course extends to the sex scenes, which seem a bit excessive, but that’s also kind of the point I guess.
I guess too that the realism falls apart with that ending. I just have never met anyone that was (or at least thought she was, which amounts to the same thing) attracted to only one other person. But the world is a weird place, what do I know? I think it likely that the film elides over Emma and Adele’s adult years because they never really have an adult relationship. They try to extend that chaotic passion of first love for as long as possible, but seem incapable of relating to each other as fully-formed individuals. Perhaps a useful comparison is Annie Hall, a far more convincing examination of the destruction of a relationship founded in some of the same issues (lack of self-respect driven by a perceived difference in class and intelligence). Annie and Alvy break up, reunite, break up again as they love each other but kind of hate each other as well. Adele and Emma have a passive aggressive fight, exchange some mournful glances at a party and then infidelity (of all things! In a movie about sexual obsession with one person, to be ruined by a dalliance with another!) ruins everything. Kechiche can’t dramatize a more interesting relationship, and a more interesting collapse to the relationship, because its sole basis is in that first look, that rush of lust and love that comes with a sidelong glance in a crosswalk. The film can’t go any deeper than that, but I’m also not sure that it should.