blue is the warmest color (abdellatif kechiche, 2013)

It’s the movie with explicit lesbian sex, simulated but close enough to cause an uproar and to forever mark the film, no matter its other qualities. It won multiple awards, including two at Cannes. It got almost universal good reviews (“a masterpiece ... and the most emotionally moving film to come along in years”). One of the two leads, Léa Seydoux, was a future Bond Girl. It’s three hours long, and only 15 minutes or so constitute the famous sex scenes. It almost seems that there’s no need to see a film like this ... you may feel you know it just based on the hype.

But you would be missing at least one great performance if you passed, and acting always needs to be experienced ... you can’t just read about it. The actress in question is Adèle Exarchopoulos, and she was 18 when the movie was filmed. Her character, also named Adèle, is in every scene. She is a marvel. Kechiche works hard to disguise the fairly ordinary basic plot of Blue Is the Warmest Color: girl meets woman, girl and woman fall in love, girl and woman fall apart, life goes on. The explicit sex makes the movie seem more extraordinary than it is, but Adèle Exarchopoulos is what really raises the picture above clichés. She is completely believable in a naturalistic way ... she carries the film. This is not to take away from the work of Léa Seydoux, who is also very good as Emma. But what makes Blue Is the Warmest Color compulsively watchable is Exarchopoulos.

And it’s a good thing, because, besides the rather mundane plot, there is a problem, and it lies in those sex scenes. Kechiche may want to normalize lesbian sex by giving us a detailed, honest representation of it, but even at its most erotic, there is a feeling that Kechiche’s idea of the erotic is too driven by the male gaze. We are essentially invited to enjoy these two women having sex, and it’s a fine line between the voyeurism that suggests and the ways sex helps the women discover who they are. It’s Adèle’s coming of age story. Her growth as a person, which comes in part from her sexual relationship with Emma, is the key to the film. But too often the sex we see on the screen has an element of “Woo Hoo!” to it that is distracting at best.

Early in the film, Adèle describes a book she is reading for a class, The Life of Marianne by Pierre de Marivaux. “He explores sentiments but gets under her skin.” This could describe Kechiche in Blue Is the Warmest Color. He is interested enough in his characters and their “sentiments” to spend three hours presenting them to us. But his way of getting under their skin, as if we need the man to explain the women, feels off. And there are enough stories about the discomfort Seydoux and Exarchopoulos felt while making the movie to make us question the methods for making the film. (In fairness, both actresses say they formed a great friendship during the making of the movie.)

Then again, directors demanding greatness from their actors is nothing new. And perhaps I make too much of this, since the result on the screen, despite my misgivings, is strong. Right now, I could watch three hours of Exarchopoulos in anything, and if she rightfully deserves credit for her great performance, at least a little credit must go to the director who elicited that performance. #232 on the They Shoot Pictures, Don’t They list of the top 1000 films of the 21st century. 8/10.


music friday: charlotte caffey

There is something a bit unsettling about learning that Charlotte Caffey, who joined The Go-Go’s early in their history, was born the same year that I was. I can’t believe one of The Go-Go’s is as old as me ... I can’t believe I was ever as young as The Go-Go’s are in my mind when I think of them. Caffey was a bit older than her band mates, which may explain at least a little of all this. She was asked to join the band because she could actually play her instrument.

For The Go-Go’s, Caffey wrote “We Got the Beat”. The original version appeared on a Stiff records single:

The band re-recorded it for their debut album, Beauty and the Beat, and here is where I admit I’m never too sure about which version is which.

Among the many other songs Caffey wrote, she and Belinda Carlisle wrote “Skidmarks on My Heart” on the first album:

With Kathy Valentine, she wrote the title song from their second album, Vacation:

From the third album, Talk Show, Caffey and Jane Wiedlin wrote “Turn to You”, written about Caffey’s ex-boyfriend, baseball’s Bob Welch:

Later, Caffey was in The Graces with Meredith Brooks (“Bitch”) and Gia Ciambotti (Bruce’s “Other Band”). “Lay Down Your Arms” was their biggest single, co-written and sung by Caffey:

Finally, Caffey and fellow Go-Go Jane Wiedlin co-wrote “But for the Grace of God” with the singer, Keith Urban:

brexit comes to football manager

This will be a longer explanation for yesterday’s link.

I used to post about the game Football Manager about once a year, trying to explain what it was and why so many people obsessed over it. Usually, I’d excerpt a complicated discussion about, say, motivational theory or Karl Popper and positivism. Back in 2010, I linked to an article by Brian Phillips, “The Unreal Genius of Football Manager, Greatest Video Game Ever”. And every year, about this time, I’d post something brief to explain why I wasn’t around much because the latest annual edition of Football Manager had been released.

I thought I’d done this forever, but I don’t think I’ve gotten around to it in recent years. I mean posting ... I still crank up the game (for instance, I played last year’s model, FM 2016, for 924 hours, which wasn’t even my record ... that was FM 2014, with 1236 hours played). FM 2017 beta came out yesterday, and I’ve already managed 11 hours. The game’s depth is endlessly complex, and I’ve been at it since the late-90s.

Each year adds new wrinkles to the game, and often, we’ll get preview videos that show some of the changes, like this year’s, dramatically titled “The Big Reveal”:

But there was a surprise for us when the beta was released yesterday. Miles Jacobson, the director of the series, wrote earlier this year, explaining FM to non-players:

We’ve been releasing games for 24 years, starting off as two brothers based in their bedroom in Shropshire through to where we are now, a 110 strong team based in the Old Street area of London. We make niche games, although the niche is pretty popular – we sell just shy of 2m games a year and were independent until roughly 10 years ago when we became part of SEGA. 30 of the 35 people who were with the studio when the takeover happened are still here now. We also have circa 100 contractors at any one time, some in the UK, and some in other parts of the world.

Jacobson joined the team early on, after brothers Paul and Oliver Collyer created the game. For their efforts, the Collyers were named Members of the Order of the British Empire ... later Jacobson became an officer of the order (or something like that ... I admit I don’t quite understand these things). Suffice to say that the Football Manager series has made a lot of money for those three, and a lot of money for England, and a lot of joy to the players. It’s “just a game”, but it regularly refutes that cliché ... take the title of a documentary from 2010, Football Manager: More Than Just a Game. Or Iain Macintosh’s 2012 book, Football Manager Stole My Life: 20 Years of Beautiful Obsession. Or look at the real teams that use the vast FM database for scouting purposes.

Well, the above quote from Jacobson was a prelude to a long piece about how Brexit might affect Football Manager. He wrote primarily about how it could change the way Sports Interactive ("SI", the company that produces the game) works, detailing some real-world possibilities.

Of course, Brexit passed ... and of course, it will take time for it to take effect, if it ever does. Meanwhile, FM 2017 is here, and we’re all busy trying out the new edition.

Except ... there was a little addition that didn’t make “The Big Reveal”. SI must have a pretty strong non-disclosure agreement for its testers, because this little addition was a complete surprise.

Brexit has been built into the latest version of Football Manager.

A brief explanation. Football Manager is a “management simulation”. Unlike video games you might be familiar with, like FIFA, in FM, you do not control the players during a game. You are the manager of a club. You sign new players, choose staff, run training, create tactics, manage games, try to win championships. And after one season, if you are lucky and don’t get fired, you get to do it for another season. And another, and another, etc. So the game starts in Fall 2016, but if you stay with the same game without starting a new one, it will eventually be 2020, or 2025, or 2030, or whatever.

Which is where Brexit will enter the gameplay. As one headline read, “Football Manager 2017 to simulate Brexit - fans of the game go crazy on Twitter”. Among the tweets quoted in the article: “Football Manager 2017 has put more research into the implications of Brexit on the UK in the game than the actual government have irl”, and “Brexit means harder FM. Wish I known that before voting.”

There you have it: the creators of a management simulation have built a Brexit simulator into the game. As Jacobson said, “As far as I know this is the first time a computer game has tried to predict the future of a country.”

Sometime after two years have passed in the game, the player will be informed about the implementation of Brexit in the FM world. (There are random factors involved, so each game will have its own implementation.) There are three scenarios:

  1. Soft Brexit - free movement of workers remains.
  2. Footballers are granted the same special exemptions that are currently given to ‘entertainers’. This means it is easier for them to obtain work permits than other people, and it will not have a huge impact on player movement from the EU.
  3. Hard Brexit: similar rules to those which currently apply to non-EU players are adopted for all non-UK players.

Also, Scotland might decide to stay with the EU.

I suspect most of us just want to manage our favorite team to a championship. The idea of the real world interfering with that is startling. But Sports Interactive have been successful precisely because of how accurately their game reflects the real world of football. Ultimately, I don’t think they could have left Brexit out.

And it was fun to have an actual surprise in this day and age.