Adèle is a high school student who is beginning to explore herself as a woman. She dates guys but finds no satisfaction in their company, and is rejected by female friends who she does desire. She dreams of something more. She meets Emma who is a free spirited girl whom Adèle’s friends reject due to her sexuality, and by association most begin to reject Adèle. Her relationship with Emma grows into more than just friends as she is the only person with whom she can express herself openly. Together, Adèle and Emma explore social acceptance, sexuality, and the emotional spectrum of their maturing relationship.(Imdb)
21 November 2013
Big success in the film business often means opening a can of worms along with the champagne. The Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes film festival went to the epic and erotic love story Blue Is the Warmest Colour. But the jury and its president, Steven Spielberg, insisted the prize should be accepted not only by the director, Franco-Tunisian film-maker Abdellatif Kechiche, but also by his two young stars, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos.
Julie Maroh, who wrote the original graphic novel, dismissed Kechiche’s adaptation as a straight person’s fantasy of gay love. As for Kechiche, his feelings about that last-minute requirement to share the Palme with his two actors can only be guessed at – and the same goes for their feelings about his feelings. Seydoux and Exarchopoulos have since said he was oppressive, intrusive, and even tyrannical in the demands he made, especially in the extended explicit sex scene, which took fully 10 days to shoot.
Led by this internal dissent, the film’s critical tide may be slowing, if not turning. But I think that the impact of the movie increases with a second viewing, and my own objections about the lovers’ ferocious “confrontation” scene have been answered. It no longer looks melodramatic, but rather the icy and violent culmination of a hitherto invisible disconnect between the two women. This dramawas never supposed to celebrate the equality of their romantic good faith. Its original French title is perhaps a better guide: La Vie d’Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2. Adèle, played by Exarchopoulos, is the sympathetic centre of the story, a schoolgirl at the beginning and a teacher by the end: the two chapters of innocence and experience.
What a passionate film it is. At the outset, Exarchopoulos’s Adèle is a shy, smart high-schooler who finds that she is lonely and tentative in her social life. A good-looking boy who likes her is rewarded with a brief relationship, but he is merely John the Baptist to the imminent Christ: Emma, played by Séydoux, a twentysomething art student. The romantic spark between them is a lightning bolt.
As for the much discussed sex scene, I predicted earlier this year that some sophisticates would claim to find it “boring”. The second charge, that it is exploitative or inauthentic, is also naive. It is no more authentic or inauthentic than any sex scene, or washing-up scene, or checking-in-at-the-airport scene. It is fictional. The sequence certainly strikes me as uncompromising and less exploitative than any smug softcore romcom or mainstream thriller in which women’s implied sexual availability is casually served up as part of the entertainment, although I will concede one tiny moment of misjudgment: when Emma is painting a nude of Adèle (unfortunately like Leo and Kate in Titanic) and the camera travels up her naked body.
When the love affair starts, Emma has blue hair; as it proceeds, the blue colour grows out. As Kechiche shows, that is a bad sign. Their love is cooling. Emma is always the senior, dominant partner: better educated, more worldly and higher up the social scale. Kechiche sketches this out by having Emma bring Adèle around for dinner with her mum and stepdad. There is no secret about their relationship, and they stylishly have oysters. When Emma meets Adèle’s conservative folks, however, the food is humbler – spag bol – and Emma has to pretend to have a boyfriend. And when Emma’s art career takes off, Kechiche shows how she is starting inexorably to outgrow Adèle, and yet it is Adèle who develops a kind of emotional maturity that Emma, the increasingly smug careerist, can’t match.
The movie’s final sequence is heart-stoppingly ambiguous. Yet the point is surely that there is no guarantee that either Adèle or Emma will ever find anything as good ever again. The notion that they can each go on to find a better or richer experience is illusory. This isn’t young love or first love, it is love: as cataclysmic and destructive and sensual and unforgettable as the real thing must always be. To paraphrase Woody Allen, if it doesn’t make the rest of your life look like a massive letdown then you’re not doing it right. Here is Emma and Adèle’s moment, the definitive blaze.
Blue Is the Warmest Colour really is an outstanding film and the performances from Exarchopoulos and Séydoux make other people’s acting look very weak.
By A. O. SCOTT
Published: October 24, 2013
“Blue Is the Warmest Color” is a feverish, generous, exhausting love story, the chronicle of a young woman’s passage from curiosity to heartbreak by way of a wrenching and blissful attachment to another, slightly older woman. Although there is plenty of weeping and sighing, the methods of the director, Abdellatif Kechiche , are less melodramatic than meteorological. He studies the radar and scans the horizon in search of emotional weather patterns and then rushes out into the gale, dragging the audience through fierce winds and soul-battering squalls.
Lea Seydoux in “Blue is the Warmest Color,” by Abdellatif Kechiche.
The storm system we are tracking is named Adèle. Played with astonishing sensitivity by the 19-year-old Adèle Exarchopoulos, she gives every appearance, when we first encounter her, of being an ordinary French teenager: running to catch the morning bus to school, daydreaming in class, trading gossip with her friends in the cafeteria. Her transformation, before our eyes and in close-ups that register every stray tendril of hair and fluctuation of skin tone, is not necessarily into anything more extraordinary. The child of a lower-middle-class family in the northern industrial city of Lille, Adèle is pointedly and contentedly modest in her ambitions. She likes reading and eating (especially her father’s spaghetti) and aspires to a career as a schoolteacher.
And yet, over the course of nearly three hours and what seems like about a half-dozen years (Mr. Kechiche is not fussy about marking the passage of time), Adèle acquires a depth and grandeur that make her equal to some of the great heroines of literature. For a while, as with Anna Karenina or Elizabeth Bennet or Clarissa Dalloway, her life is also yours, and afterward you may discover that yours has altered as a result of the encounter.
“Blue Is the Warmest Color” is the loose amalgam of two literary sources: Julie Maroh’s compact graphic novel of the same title (published in 2010) and “La Vie de Marianne,” a sprawling, unfinished doorstop of a book by the 18th-century author Pierre de Marivaux. (In the movie, Adèle calls it her favorite novel.) The film’s focus is nonetheless resolutely contemporary and its achievement decidedly cinematic. Immersing us in the everyday facts of 21st-century French life — including school, politics, food, wine and sex — Mr. Kechiche illuminates the suffering and ecstasy of an awakening consciousness.
Ms. Exarchopoulos almost never departs from the camera’s scrutiny, and her reality, her ways of seeing and feeling, define the many shades of “Blue.” Mr. Kechiche’s earlier films include “The Secret of the Grain,” a similarly messy and capacious consideration of the life of a North African immigrant in France and his extended family, and “Games of Love and Chance” (“L’Esquive”), which sets a Marivaux comedy in a rough housing project in the Paris suburbs. He rarely allows the machinery of plot to distract him from the tangents of talk, and the first part of “Blue” is preoccupied with what seem to be extraneous, trivial arguments and conversations. Adèle chats about boys with the girls at school, and about music and books with a boy named Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte), who briefly becomes her boyfriend. She naps, snacks, studies and pushes her unruly hair into a ragged ponytail atop her head.
Then one day, she crosses paths with Emma (Léa Seydoux ), and everything changes. Emma, blue-haired and fox-eyed, walks past Adèle in the street, shows up in her dreams and flirts with her in a lesbian bar. “I came here by chance,” Adèle says, which is only half-true. She was not exactly looking for Emma, or for anyone in particular, but rather for confirmation of a hunch about her own desires, something Emma is happy to provide.
Emma, an art student and an aspiring painter, relishes the role of mentor. A bit pompously, she lectures Adèle on the ideas of Jean-Paul Sartre — she sees him, not altogether implausibly, as a forerunner of gay liberation — and offers to tutor her in philosophy. Later, when they are more or less securely established as a couple, Emma prods Adèle toward loftier ambitions, almost as if she is embarrassed to be with someone so down to earth.
There is a subtle but unmistakable class difference between them. When Adèle has dinner with Emma’s mother and stepfather, she is served oysters and high-flown conversation about the value of culture. At Adèle’s house, Emma eats pasta and gets a paternal talking-to about the frivolity of art and the importance of making a living. Emma is proudly out. Adèle is, somewhat defiantly, closeted. There are unspoken tensions and imbalances between them that eventually erupt with shattering force.
When “Blue Is the Warmest Color” was shown at Cannes in May — where the jury, headed by Steven Spielberg, took the unusual step of awarding the festival’s highest prize jointly to Mr. Kechiche, Ms. Exarchopoulos and Ms. Seydoux — much attention was paid to its explicit sex scenes. Not without reason. One sequence in particular is longer and more literal than anything you are likely to encounter outside of pornography. Ms. Maroh (among others) objected that Mr. Kechiche’s rendering of her work was indeed pornographic, reflecting a prurient male fantasy rather than the truth of lesbian sex.
A conversation late in the movie (after most of the on-screen sex has taken place) seems to anticipate this criticism, as does an earlier scene in which Adèle and Emma visit a museum and gaze at paintings and sculptures of naked women, almost all of them produced by men. The conversation features a male gallery owner who rambles on breathlessly about the power and mystery of female sexuality, which has fascinated male artists for centuries.
A parallel argument between Emma and another woman about the relative merits of Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt — tireless painters of the female form, as is Emma herself — underlines the theme. All this talk may be an attempt by Mr. Kechiche to cover his own backside while Ms. Exarchopoulos’s and Ms. Seydoux’s are on full, undraped display. Like Titian or Degas or Flaubert, he just can’t help it.
But “Blue Is the Warmest Color” is ardently and sincerely committed to capturing the fullness of Adèle’s experience — sensory, cerebral and emotional. The sex is essential to that intention, even though Mr. Kechiche’s way of filming does not quite succeed in fulfilling it. Trying to push the boundaries of empathy, to communicate physical rapture by visual means, he bumps into the limits of the medium and lapses into voyeurism, turning erotic sensation into a spectacle of flesh.
That is a small failure, given the scale of this movie’s achievement, which belongs equally (as the Cannes jury recognized) to the director and the actresses. The film is at times as sloppy as its heroine, with her runny nose and unruly hair, but it is never dull, lazy or predictable. Mr. Kechiche’s style is dizzy, obsessive, inspired and relentless, words that also describe Adèle and Emma and the fearless women who embody them. Many more words can — and will — be spent on “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” but for now I’ll settle for just one: glorious.