Last night I took it upon myself to become a little more cultured in some of the movies that people have been hyping about this past year. I ventured aimlessly into the foregin film section on my list and chose, without thinking of the consequences, Blue is the Warmest Color.
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche and starring the two fantastic actors Lea Seydoux and Adele Excarchopoulos, this movie reminded me that cinematography is an artistic medium that can define or cross the lines between acting and being, and telling and experiencing.
The story centers primarily around Adele who is still in what we would call “high school,” living in the northern city of Lille, France. Faced with growing up and finding her footing, Adele explores her strengths and weaknesses through sexual encounters, love, and loss. Pressured to have sex by her girlfriends, Adele tries to have a relationship with a boy. Unfortunately, she doesn’t feel very fulfilled or complete after they have sex.
She then meets Emma, a blue-haired art student, and they instantly feel a strong attraction to one another. They end up in a relationship, with Adele becoming a teacher and Emma, a burgeoning artist. Even though both love one another, their lives are very diferent. Emma’s circle of friends are lofty and intellectual, which makes Adele feel uncomfortable.
In the end, Adele, who feels neglected, has an affair with a male colleague from work. Emma finds out and violently kicks Adele out of her house. In a scene that is just as passionate as when they “make love,” Adele is cast out onto the street in a fit of moaning anguish. The two meet again, once at a cafe and one last time at Emma’s art show. Even though Adele is still in love with Emma, she leaves the art show and walks off into the distance with an unknown future in front of her.
I am aware that the three sex scenes are probably what make this movie most controversial in general conversation and glamour gossip. However, I’d like to give my own impression of the film, but also examine some of its qualities that make it resonate with me.
To be honest, I think that this film is amazing. The prowess of work shown by the actors and the directors lifts the stereotypes of an indie foreign film to demonstrate how a medium, that often gets trivialized into wowing audiences, can explore boundaries and provoke thoughts that seek to parallel the intellectual glory of the classics.
To the praise of some and the horror of others, this film has been named one of the first great classic love stories of the 21st century. I understand that not everyone is comfortable with the portrayal of lesbian affection. However, it is important to note that Adele never specifies what her sexual orientation is. Emma is more comfortable with herself, and that can be seen in her family dynamic as well as her blue hair at the beginning of the film. In fact, both women pointedly avoid labelling themselves. In this way, Adele’s character is non-aligned in many aspects because, starting as a young girl, this is a story of her coming-of-age by finding out what she loves and what makes her happy. Otherwise known as a bildungsroman, even Emma, who is slightly older than Adele, shows signs of development as the film progresses (i.e. stops dyeing her hair blue).
This is a point of criticism that Kechiche, the director, faced from the LGBTQ community and Julie Maroh, the author of the graphic novel on which the film is based. In her graphic novel, Blue Angel (also known as Le bleu est une couleur chaude), the two women are openly lesbian. Maroh spoke against the fact that the film was missing anyone who was actually a lesbian. I guess it depends on what essence of truth one is aiming for?
Some qualities that really made an impression on me were the contemporary setting of the story and the realness of Adele’s interaction with her environment.
Taking place in 21st century France, Adele and Emma’s love story is caught up in a society going through change. One scene takes place at a gay pride protest in which the audience and Adele get to see the complexity that goes beyond the notion of being gay or straight.
Although there is criticism that Kechiche made the film and his audience see Adele and Emma through a “male gaze,” I’d like to give some credit to the male director for developing Adele’s character in a real and intense way. Adele starts as a teenager who is taking French Literature because she loves it and doesn’t know what else to do. Even though Emma begins to push her to become more lofty minded, I think Adele already is. At the beginning of the film, she is explaining to her boyfriend the reasons she loves literature and the freedom to interpret it.
Contrasting that with the scene when Emma’s friends are speaking loudly about Klimt, Sartre, philosphy, and the female orgasm, Adele does not take part in the conversation. Part of this is because she feels out of place, but I also would like to believe that her ideas and inspiration are forming themselves without the posthumous idealogical greats guiding her every step. I guess my attraction to this movie is the loud statement it makes about the complexity of sexuality and the principal character who grows into her own power that I believe she has always had since the beginning.
So I wouldn’t reccommend this movie to anyone personally, but, if you can see yourself watching a three hour movie about love, sex, and coming-of-age without being immature, then I would encourage you to watch Kechiche’s movie and see how you interpret and react to some of the issues I discussed here and even some that I missed.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” ~Martin Luther King Jr.