LFF: Blue is the Warmest Colour

Surviving the cries of exploitation and the moniker of “The French Lesbian epic”, just, Abdellatif Kechiche’s three-hour picture explores the highs and lows of young love and sexual awakening

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A teenager, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), crosses a street in the city centre on her way to meet her would-be boyfriend. Passing in the other direction is another young woman, her arm around her female partner and her hair died shocking blue. At the moment Adèle catches a glimpse of this enigmatic stranger, performance, cinematography, editing and sound design all combine to incandescent effect, creating a palpable sense that the world has just fallen away beneath her feet. It is a pitch-perfect portrayal of that elusive experience – love at first sight.

Blue is the Warmest Colour has been – and will continue to be – referred to as “The French Lesbian epic”. It’s not an altogether inaccurate outline of Abdellatif Kechiche’s three-hour picture with its attention-grabbing focus on a gay couple, and of course the infamous ten-minute sex scene, but the film is also a remarkably astute and intoxicating portrayal of the ebullient highs and the catastrophic comedowns of young love and of sexual awakening. The recent public relations whirlwind that has been whipped up thanks to cries of exploitation from the actresses and denial from the director are sadly clouding an assured picture that might potentially be remembered for being controversial rather than captivating.

To get the sex out of the way, so to speak, there is a lengthy ten-minute sequence which is possibly longer than it really needs to be. An argument can be made that Kechiche is eschewing the taboos of showing gay sex on screen rather than the leering eye of a male director on two nubile young women. The love scenes between the two women do also serve to heighten the erotic impact of their relationship but they unfortunately never really progress the narrative or the characters’ relationship beyond the obvious.

The courtship begins not when schoolgirl Adèle first glimpses Emma (Léa Seydoux) on the crowded street crossing, but later in a lesbian bar. Adèle has not been able to forget that moment and, as such, has broken off her nascent relationship with a boy and received a kiss from another girl that has confirmed her growing suspicions. Hitting the town with her best friend Valentin (Sandor Funtek) – who is, himself, gay – she follows a group of women to the bar and there once again crosses paths with the slightly older Emma.

On this occasion it is not a fleeting glance, but a wonderful meet-cute that sets in motion the most passionate affair that either participant is ever likely to experience. Emma is already spoken for but is clearly equally bewitched. She soon finds herself waiting outside Adèle’s school and the two spend time falling head-over-heels before finally embarking on a relationship; this is far from the end of their story, however.

Blue is the Warmest Colour is actually an amalgam of two films, The Life of Adèle Chapters 1 & 2, which are being split for their theatrical releases elsewhere. Chapter 1 may be about the wonder of falling in love, but Chapter 2 is a less straightforward affair. Once together, the action jumps forward several years; Adèle is a schoolteacher, Emma an artist. Despite their obvious passion, ardour seems to have cooled slightly and the difficulties of their relationship are explored to the point at which they break.

It makes for an interesting and contrasting duality to the film, which deals firstly with the rise of their great love and then its excruciating decline. The tone, naturally, shifts substantially and whilst this could be a problem (perhaps less so when the film is, in fact, two films) it is generally handed very well. The final half an hour or so are slightly less successful and feel as though they could, feasibly, have been exorcised but it is not enough to completely undo a film which has been of such exceptional quality until this point.

The two lead performances are outstanding. Adèle Exarchopoulos, in particular, is fabulously convincing both as a confused but precocious teenager and then as a young adult seemingly still as lost as she was in the beginning. Léa Seydoux is similarly excellent, especially in her earlier scenes when the heroine’s desires are utterly relatable. It is in capturing that desire and in capturing the emotion of every aspect that Blue is the Warmest Colour is at its barn-storming best. The sex may be the headline, but from the moment that Adèle’s world drops from beneath her feet, to her impassioned plea for Emma to take her back it’s the searing emotional intimacy that proves to be the films tremendous beating heart.

About Ben Nicholson

A compulsive cinephile, Ben fell in love with film through repeated viewings of Michael Jackson being transformed into a werewolf behind the scenes of John Landis' seminal video for Thriller. This passion has manifested itself in his consumption of movies and the enjoyment derived from reading, discussion and writing about cinema which can all be found on New Urbanite. His favourite films include The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran, and Last Year in Marienbad - to name but a few.

A compulsive cinephile, Ben fell in love with film through repeated viewings of Michael Jackson being transformed into a werewolf behind the scenes of John Landis' seminal video for Thriller. This passion has manifested itself in his consumption of movies and the enjoyment derived from reading, discussion and writing about cinema which can all be found on New Urbanite. His favourite films include The Third Man, In The Mood For Love, Badlands, 3 Iron, Casablanca, Ran, and Last Year in Marienbad - to name but a few.

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