A problem I have with some coming-of-age films is that they feel far too rushed. In many movies of this genre, the audience does not have enough time to connect with the main character. Instead, they merely are shown that she or he is at an uncomfortable point in their life. We do not see the character’s life before or after, just at that awkward stage, and how it is dealt with.
Blue is the Warmest Color does not have this problem. It delivers three segments, each roughly an hour long, allowing the audience to understand how the main character, Adèle, has changed psychologically and emotionally. To make a film this length was an incredibly risky move by director Abdellatif Kechiche which brought wonderful results. It is an unbelievably intimate film, as Adèle becomes increasingly more nude (figuratively and literally) to the audience, who feel as though they really understand her perspective.
(Warning: This review contains some spoilers.)
The first act of the film follows Adèle at high school and at home. Her friends talk with her about sex, boys who are attractive to them, and who is interested in whom. At home, dinner conversations are kept at a minimum as the family watches television while eating (which is shot in a strangely funny way through close-ups). She meets a senior boy who likes her, they go out on a date, they kiss during a movie in a cinema, they make out in a school hallway, they have sex. Except, it doesn’t feel right for Adèle. The kissing seems forced. The sex is not comfortable for her. She breaks up with him.
She enters an almost comatose state after this. She is paler. She hates the fact she did not receive the satisfaction she ‘should’ have from her ex. She seems totally and completely wrecked. One day, a friend takes her to a gay dance club. She sees him happy, dancing with another guy. She exits the club, walks for a little bit, and finds herself in a female gay bar. There she meets Emma. The bulk of the rest of the film is about how the romantic relationship between Emma and Adèle affects the main character’s life.
Kechiche does something absolutely brilliant with the use of the blue motif seen throughout. He has it signify the change of both Adèle and Emma’s stage of life. At the beginning of the film, Emma has blue hair and wears a fair amount of blue clothing. Adèle is mostly seen wearing a gray and tan color palette. As the film progresses, Emma’s clothing becomes increasingly lighter, less blue. Eventually, her hair coloring fades back into a blonde. Adèle is in the opposite situation. As her character changes, the more blue she becomes. The last shot of the film is her walking down a sidewalk in a dark, dark blue dress. This is an absolutely ingenious way to visually show both characters develop and grow to be separate.
One of the aspects of the film many have mentioned are the extended and explicit sex scenes. I, for one, find them to be necessary to juxtapose Adèle’s feelings for the boy earlier in the film, her sense of boredom with their relationship, and to articulate her stimulation while with Emma. Did they need to be as long as they were? Probably not. Would their effect be lost? I would argue so. The length of the sex shows a certain organic and intense feeling that the two characters feel for each other at first. As the film continues, their sex scenes become shorter and shorter and shorter up until there is none. The excitement has died as they have become different people. Emma has become completely enamored with art and cannot seem to understand anyone being interested in anything else, like, for instance, Adèle’s love for teaching young children. Adèle is no longer interested in art in any way, becoming numb and distant whenever it is mentioned.
Some have labeled the film as a lesbian flick. While there are several scenes with lesbian sex, it would be wrong to label the film that way just for this reason. This is a coming-of-age film about people who fall in love. We do not care about their anatomy, we are only concerned with their minds. We care that they are three-dimensional people, with conflicting feelings, that feel the need to love as others do. This is an amazing accomplishment by Kechiche; the feeling of frank realism, that everything is immensely personal and human, that the audience is watching actual people interact for a few hours.
The music was approached in an interesting way as well. There is no real score to speak of during most of the film, instead, the choice has been made to have the music be diegetic. The dance music of the club, the sounds of the bar, the sounds of the setting. It is pretty effective, adding to the atmosphere of realism.
The acting by Adèle Exarchopoulos as Adèle and Léa Seydoux as Emma is phenomenal. They enter their roles as completely as it is possible to do. They each have various little quirks that make them feel human. They, along with various other members of the cast and crew, have complained about Kechiche’s behavior while directing, with him having been accused of harassing them. It is clearly wrong that he has done this, but he has delivered a film with some of the best acting of the year.
Is Blue Is The Warmest Color an absolutely flawless film? Not by a long shot. It runs maybe five minutes too long (which is not bad for a three hour film), dragging a little bit halfway through its final hour. A few various moments felt a little clichéd, like Adèle walking to a school bus only for it to drive away before it got there. However, it is without a doubt one of the best films of the year; Adèle being as human as she was, her relationship with Emma being so unique for the film world, the numerous small moments which adds a little indescribable something… It is an enthralling work of art everyone should experience.
As a side note, it is incredibly disappointing that the MPAA chose to rate it NC-17. The people this is meant for are the very people who cannot enter the cinema to see it. The association’s fear of sex in film is as ridiculous as their apathy towards violence in film. Given, it is not a film for the immature, but one should give teenagers more credit.