Tuesday, November 12, 2013


You don't just watch the two characters at the center of Abdellatif Kechiche's "Blue Is the Warmest Color." You live and breathe them, feel what they feel. The film is a long 179 minutes, but from beginning to end, every minute feels necessary. Once we are first introduced to Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), the film quickly settles into it's rhythm and pacing, and we too settle in, lavishing over every detail of this 18-year-old girl who's about to embark on an intimate coming-of-age saga. We are right there along with her on the journey, to the point where long after the credits role, you may find yourself wondering how she's doing, as if she is more than a fictionalization. It's a testament to both Exarchopoulos' performance and Kechiche's extraordinary film. It's an explosion of love, passion and anguish, an enthralling piece of cinema that is not to be missed.

While Lea Seydoux is the top billed, as she's an actress well known in France, this is Adele Exarchopoulos' film through and through. The luscious film lingers over Adele's lips and mouth, as well as her beautifully messy hair, which she pulls haphazardly into a nest atop her head. There's a fixation on food and appetite. Adele mentions how she's always hunger and could always eat. She has an appetite, a lust. In one of the film's cheekiest moments (there are a few), she says at the dinner table with her parents she'd like some salad, as she leans back uttering a light moan. At her high school, she starts dating the most attractive guy, mostly due to pressure from her friends. But she knows deep down it's not what she wants, and the way the film handles her frustration is eloquent and heartbreaking. It's a perfect portrayal of adolescent confusion in the face of conflicting sexuality.

Adele's gay friend takes her out one night, and we watch as she, wide-eyed as if entering Wonderland, takes in the scene of a lesbian bar. That's where she finally meets the alluring, intoxicating blue-haired Emma (Lea Seydoux). Adele had seen her in passing before this initial encounter, a fleeting moment on the street that knocks the wind right out her, a moment of seeing the one. In Adele's class, they read a passage about love at first sight. A lot of Adele's schoolwork reads into what she's experiencing and, consequently, many of the film's themes. Later discussions about art and culture suggest ideals on gender norms and female sexuality. It's in this sense "Blue" is like a richly textured novel, one that requires multiple pass-throughs to capture every nuance of meaning.

The film is split into two distinct chapters, chronicling Emma and Adele's blossoming romance. Both actresses are brave, relevatory breakthroughs in putting on display the aching desire, electric chemistry and impending torment of a first love. Blue really is the warmest color as it appears in every single shot, on clothing, paintings and of course in Emma's hair. What the color represents transforms as does what Emma and Adele's relationship means to each of them as they grow and learn. Desire and despair come in equal waves.

"Blue Is the Warmest Color" won this year's Palme d'Or at Cannes, the first ever gay film to do so, and it happened right as France legalized gay marriage. This is a gay film, but it's also a film universally about love, which is even more important in its addressing (or lack thereof) of being specifically about two lesbians. Making the most headlines has been the graphic sex scenes earning the film its NC-17 rating. This should be what is least talked about with this movie. Yes, they are lengthy almost to a fault. But the intensity of the scenes informs how we view Adele and Emma together. We experience the raw lovemaking and nakedness right with them, and it lingers in our mind just as it does theirs. And it makes the pain of it afterward, the loss and unholy emptiness, feel all the more real.

1 comment:

  1. What a great point on appetite. I agree that Adele Exarchopoulos was wonderful and fixating.