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Film Review: Blue is the Warmest Color

Blue is the Warmest Color expands to Boston today, November 1. Check your local listings for showtimes.

Film festivals have certainly undergone quite a change in the last twenty years. Festivals were the haven of film critics and devout film fans on a quest to unearth the next great film. Sure, they still exist as locales of discovery, but the internet has greatly altered the way they are discussed. Festivals were like that smart nerdy kid, the one that was your friend and was filled with great insights, but most people in your school didn’t even know existed. Now they have been She’s All That-ed (just go with it), the inquisitive glasses stripped away and replaced with a popular sheen. Cannes, a supremely French film festival, resides in the realm of common knowledge, a place that even The Today Show will go for coverage, but its own sensibilities remain surprisingly unchanged. Blue is the Warmest Color makes sense as the most recent winner of the Palme d’Or, but that title means a lot more than the hype.

LVA_21Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a beautiful 15-year-old girl with plenty of friends. On the surface she appears to be living quite a decent life, a popular high-school student with a passion for literature. However, deep down something is missing. She goes through the paces of young love with a cute boy, but it never seems complete. While walking to a date she catches sight of a blue-haired girl, Emma (Léa Seydoux), and promptly gets her stuck in her head. The encounter appears to be lost, a path that remained untaken, until one night she runs into Emma again. They strike up a conversation and quickly fall into a deeply passionate love affair. The relationship with Emma is Adèle’s first true dalliance with love, and through it she loses and finds herself.

LVA_37Blue is the Warmest Color excels in its characters. All of its characters, even the most minor, are established carefully and deeply. Unlike many films that deal with teenagers, the believability of the people is not to be brought into question. These people act like teenagers, because for most, they are teenagers. They speak frankly with one another, eliminating the walls and platitudes that are more closely associated with measured adult conversations. The interactions are organic and it creates a closeness with the characters. This is a film specifically about Adèle; the film is not concerned with how you ultimately feel about the girl, instead much more with your understanding of what makes her tick. From her attempts to fit in with her peers’ expectations to the passionate erotic moments with Emma, we know who Adèle is. By the end, Adèle is no longer surprising us, because we know who she is; anticipating her decisions before she even makes them.

Both Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux deliver performances of such raw honesty that it is nearly uncomfortable to witness. They transcend the very label of acting, and deliver performances that are lived-in and convincing to the point of blurring lines. Exarchopoulos invokes such childlike wonder and ferocity into Adèle. She communicates all aspects of her life with reckless abandon and ultimate passion. Adèle does not simply eat her food, but devour it with a ferocity that is later seen in her ravenous consuming of Emma. LVA_17This immaturity never leaves Adèle. While she may move on to develop a career, whenever she is around Emma, she becomes a lovelorn teenager. Seydoux creates the other side of the coin in Emma. Her actions are measured and methodical. There is a clear plan to her actions that can be glimpsed as soon as she begins to interact with Adèle. The difference in their emotional maturity is their inevitable downfall, with the fevered lovemaking being the one thing that bridges the divide. Oh, and about all of the sex.

You no doubt are aware that Blue is the Warmest Color has received the box-office black spot of an NC-17 rating. Seeing as this is America, the land of openly accepted cinematic violence, it is of course for several extended sex scenes. The first sex scene alone pushes around seven minutes and is not one to shy away from some potentially graphic content. This scene however is absolutely necessary. As I previously noted, Adèle rabidly consumes everything in her life, and other than a healthy appetite, we have yet to see her really let go. Emma fosters Adèle’s self discovery, and we 20_1_56 cam B.Sub.01are shown an overflowing of pent up passion. They attack each other with animalistic sexual desire, the only sounds being wet and slurpy. Without the scene, the film does not work. However, this is not true of the latter two sex scenes. These scenes feel like lesser repeats of the former. The motions are repeated as Adèle and Emma continue to lick each other all over, but at this point, it is not adding to the film as a whole. Perhaps it is the prudery of American audiences, but by the time they were gearing up for their third go-around, there were audible laughs in the theater. While the first scene served as an expression of the central character’s inner feelings and as yet unexpressed desires, the two that followed felt perfunctory. There is no growth in their inclusion and we are offered no deeper understanding of the characters. It is gratuitous and unnecessary, appearing to be little more than the heterosexual fantasy of the film’s director.

Still-4Outside of all of the behind-the-scenes controversy and MPAA challenging sex, Blue is the Warmest Color is a film about the difficulties of growth. Director Abdellatif Kechiche erodes the barriers that separate us from his subject. Much of the film is shot in close-up, bringing us tightly in-line with the person that is Adèle, her face conquering the screen for long stretches. Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux deliver performances overflowing with genuine honesty. Their relationship is never marred by the sheen of the silver screen. In fact, much of the film refreshingly ignores the common cinematic tropes. Adèle is deeply flawed, complicatedly immature to the point of frustration. She has lived for so long without expectations, and this lack of responsibility finds her continually spinning her wheels. While the sex scenes grow repetitious it does not degrade the strength of the central relationship. Blue is the Warmest Color is a complex examination of the mix of growth and stagnation that accompanies love and the film is just as complicated and fascinating as its subject.

For more film-focused talk be sure to follow Derek on Twitter @DerekDeskins.

 

 

One thought on “Film Review: Blue is the Warmest Color

  1. CONTAINS SPOILERS:

    “The relationship with Emma is Adèle’s first true dalliance with love, and through it she loses and finds herself.”

    Reading your review, it is this line that really causes me to stop and think after seeing the film. I agree with everything that you have said, but I question whether Adèle is truly ever able to “find herself.”

    Her first encounter with Emma mirrors that of the novel she is reading in her class, where the teacher asks the students what happens in your heart when you encounter someone, gaze upon them, but then continue on with your life. One student states that the individual experiences a sense of regret for not stopping to engage more with that individual. Adèle clearly experiences this sense of regret, as you noted, until meeting Emma again.

    While this is the first step toward her trying to discover how she truly embraces love and sexuality, it is the conversation between Emma and Adèle regarding Sartre that makes me question whether Adèle was able to actually achieve this understanding. The two discuss the notion from Sartre that “existence precedes essence” and that a person is not defined by the norms of society around him/her (as Adèle’s female school friends seemed to embrace), but it is the person’s actions and choices in life that defines the essence of the person. Adèle seems to question this notion as proposed by Emma, and her actions throughout the film support this in my opinion.

    It is absolutely true and evident that Adèle absolutely “devours” everything she does from her dad’s spaghetti, to the oysters she thought she did not like, to her sexual experiences with Emma. But while she continuously exhibited an all-or-nothing mentality, she never seems to get past the uncertainty she showed with the boy from school. Earlier in the film, she said she felt she was faking everything, and that her relationship with the boy from school felt like there was a missing piece. She thought that she discovered that piece in Emma, but then displayed the same degree of uncertainty later in the film when ultimately getting with her male colleague.

    Relating all this back to Sartre, I believe that her actions indicate a demand on her part to fall somewhere on life’s path rather than create her own path in life. She refused to open herself artistically, as Emma did because she was afraid that it wouldn’t work out, and she would be left without a job.

    I think in the end, I struggle with deciding whether Adèle never found herself because she kept doing what she thought she was supposed to be doing, rather than what she truly wanted to embrace, or whether she was just immature and it was that immaturity that led to her becoming distant with Emma and ultimately losing that love in her life.

    With regards to the sex scenes, they are definitely graphic, and I have always questioned the decision to use such scenes for artistic purposes, or whether it is purely meant to be titillating to the audience (not in the same way as pornography, but still meant to arouse the viewer in some capacity). Here, while you point out that it helps establish Adèle’s personality, I do think that the scene could have had the same effect and not been as long or, even as graphic. However, given this film allegedly had over 800 minutes of film recorded, a 6-7 minute sex scene is not really that much in the grand scheme of things. Especially since the movie itself wound up to be a very watchable three hour love epic.

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