First love. Passionate love. The ultimate feeling if there is one. Blue Is The Warmest Color is a story about the intense and life-defining experience of a first love. It’s a beautiful, highly sensual film. Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, it was the winner of the Palme d’or in Cannes in 2013.
The film tells the story of Adèle (played by Adèle Exarchopoulos), a high school student who, after briefly dating a boy and later sneaking a sweet kiss with a girl, falls in love with an alluring blue haired beauty. The film introduces Adèle by showing us a normal day in her life. Kechiche follows Adèle through the mundane events of her day at school and at home, largely by looking at her face. The effect of these close-ups is not so much to give us an understanding of Adele’s internal life but to feel the power of her physical, sensual experience. This is evident by the type of actions in which we see Adèle: sleeping on the bus on her way to school, sitting through conversations with her friends, eating dinner with her parents, sleeping again in her bed. The emphasis is on her body and its needs, and throughout these scenes she is shown to be almost child-like, a pure being feeling her way through life.
After realizing that she is not really in love wit the boy she’s dating, Adèle goes through a difficult crisis. She is confused about her feelings of attraction to another girl. Her confusion crystallizes into curiosity when she passes by a mysterious girl on the street. Later, on an outing with one of her friends, Adèle wanders into a bar. There she meets Emma, the beautiful girl she had seen on the street. Emma’s beauty and intelligence overwhelms Adèle. The close-up, up to this point focused on Adèle, becomes her gaze, as now we see Emma through her eyes.
A lover’s gaze…
It’s a true meeting of opposing temperaments: Adèle is sensual and earthy while Emma is cool and highly intellectual. But Emma, as played by Léa Seydoux, is also warm and nurturing, an irresistible combination for Adèle. The result of this meeting, as when they kiss and make love for the first time, is explosive. This is the subject matter of the film: the euphoria of love and its effects on the senses. But it’s not just the love scenes that convey this: it’s scenes of long conversations to the sound of birds chirping in a park, a street march where couples dance and kiss to the sound of house music, a party where we see long conversations about art and philosophy in between huge plates of pasta. It’s beautiful, intense and immersive.
Immersive also are the movie’s much talked-about explicit, long sex scenes. Their power is undeniable, but to reduce this movie to those scenes does no justice to Emma and Adèle’s story. However, to dismiss them would also be unfair. They are indeed beautiful, their purpose to show passion, desire, and fulfillment of this desire in a most idealized way. Still, siting through a particular long one I could’t help but think of the controversy surrounding the film and the demands Kechiche placed on Séydoux and Exarchopoulos while shooting it (after the film came out, both actresses talked, not always in a positive way, about his excessive demands).
I guess the length of these scenes simply matches the level of detail we encounter in every other aspect of Adèle and Emma’s story. It also serves to emphasize the fact that their relationship is based more in a meeting of the bodies than in a meeting of ideas: the intellectual Emma sees art and the pursue of artistic expression as the highest of ambitions, while Adèle’s uncomplicated and practical approach to life leads her to a career as a pre-school teacher. For Emma–we can see it in her eyes–this choice is unambitious and safe. This divide ultimately manifests itself in how they see their relationship: Emma holds it in a intellectual, still realistic, but also idealized place, while Adèle continues to base it on her intense fascination and physical need for Emma. In fact Adèle, despite going through a defining, very adult sexual relationship, never seems to age: she remains a child, open-mouthed and hungry which weakens the story in the end.
At almost three hours, the film has an accumulative effect. We have seen so much of Adèle and Emma’s relationship, the feeling is of having lived through it all. In the end the close-up opens up, and the pain is in the distance, to see from afar the arm of your lover around somebody else’s waist. We feel the heartbreak, as we have deeply felt everything else.