Blue is the Warmest Color

The wolf is coming back

BITWCBlue is the Warmest Color is one of the most heartbreaking films I have ever seen, and simultaneously one of the most beautiful.  Its narrative operates under the same narrative we, as people, tend to operate by, more than it adheres to the inevitability of generic film formula.  Blue, like life, involves things happening with no overt or pre-established pattern.  Relationships begin and end, sometimes within minutes or days, and sometimes over the course of several years.  Sometimes they can be healed, sometimes not.  Mixed signals are sent.  There are misunderstandings.  Characters are frequently wrong when they speak.  Some conversations are very long, and not echoed in obvious ways later in the story.  And when it all ends, it doesn’t.

Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulous) is a high-school student interested in French and English literature.  The opening shots spend lots of time in the classroom, with the students giving their respective readings and philosophical musings concerning specific texts, which in lesser films would spell out the themes of the entire story and leave us with nothing to think about (the opposite of what it intends).  Adèle’s friends constitute the adolescent heteronormative, urging her to spark a relationship with a guy who looks at her in class (Jérémie Laheurte) and threatening to ostracize her when they suspect that she might be gay.  She tries dating Thomas, but according to her, she’s “missing something.”  There’s a part of her that she’s not in touch with, and she must shatter his dreams of being with her to prevent a greater hurt later, like him as she might.  A female classmate kisses her on the spur of a moment, but then lampshades her the next day.  Adèle is so well-characterized and possesses so much narrative power that when these things happen to her, they hurt us just as much.  We can’t help feeling that the barblike comments of her peers are aimed at more than a character in a visual fiction, and all of this happens in a film that, at heart, is not exclusively focused on misconceptions about and abusive behavior towards gay people – the secret is to write and present scenes honestly, to let them happen as they happen, and to leave out the overt social commentary (Look through the recent archives for the year’s most egregious perpetrators of that particular celluloid foul).

Adèle’s friend Valentin (Sandor Funtek) takes her to a gay bar to have some fun, and she leaves, opting to check out a nearby lesbian bar, wherein the film’s only application of the Rule of Inevitable Coincidence takes place: inside, she meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), an up-and-coming visual artist and college senior, whom she passed on the street just days before.  The two hit it off, and through one thing and another, a relationship begins.

This relationship is earned.  In fact, by the time Adèle and Emma begin seeing each other (runtime-wise), plenty of films would already be over.  Things start to progress: they have mindblowingly intimate sex, they meet each other’s parents and have middle-school-style sleepovers, and eventually, they move in together.  But here’s the thing: Adèle still does not identify as gay.  Years pass.  Adèle, per her dreams, has become a teacher of first-graders.  Again, plenty of time is spent in the classroom, and still, looking at Adèle’s face, we can tell that something is missing.  We begin thinking of her own days in school, which were years ago for her, but only an hour and change for us.  Emma, who embraces her natural hair color and abandons the candy-blue, is now a sought-after artist with a big house.  She has large parties.  Her friends, with whom Adèle still has trouble jiving, see Adèle as a trophy wife (a phrase never spoken, but look at how they treat her, and the topics of discussion they bring up with her as opposed to the high-minded art and gender conversations they have with Emma).  Joachim (Stéphane Mercoyrol) pontificates about gender identity, and we wonder about Adèle, how she thinks of herself and her new life, where her level of depression is, what she’s sacrificed over the years to be with Emma.  She meets Samir (Salim Kechiouche), an actor who appears as “terrorists” in American films (and gives a very accurate/humorous criticism of how the American film industry uses actors of Eastern European descent).  He’s interested in her, maybe as a friend, maybe something more, but they feel out one another’s personalities while Emma schmoozes, drinks, and flirts with a pregnant woman named Lise (Mona Walravens).  Adèle, feeling as alienated as ever, once again becomes lonely, even when she’s in bed with Emma.

An affair and a breakup happen.  More years pass.  Adèle, truly alone, floats on her back in the ocean as the lens tries desperately and to no avail to focus on her.  We beg for a reunion (maybe one of the most earned reunions in the history of film), and we get it, but once wounds heal, revisiting their origins can be impossible.  The story leaves us not with a new beginning, not at a definitive coming-to-terms, but where Adèle started and where she always seems to be: listing.

The film’s thread of blue coloring starts, of course, with Emma’s hair.  From then on (mainly because we’ve got the title in mind), everything colored blue seems somehow significant, especially in the end, when Adèle begins wearing a blue dress and cool-colored earrings, which everyone notices, while Emma is now blonde and plainly clothed.

The Palm d’Or received by Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux (only the second ever to be awarded to a woman and the first to be awarded to two) is more than deserved; it’s vital.  Regardless of the sexual identities of the actresses, they’ve given us an honest narrative about all types of identity through the eyes of a woman who happens to be in love with another woman.  And for the first time since Bound, we have sex scenes between women that are not meant for titillation, the director’s gender and sexuality notwithstanding – yes, it is possible for heterosexual men to create honest, non-masturbatory narratives about gay women!  From independent filmmaker and LGBT activist Jodi Savitz, writing for the Huffington Post:

“Forgoing clichés, the scene is not categorically arousing. Better yet, it is nothing short of mesmerizing. Throughout, it not only showcases Adèle’s innocence and instinctual desires but foreshadows the power struggle induced by Emma’s broad palate of sexual experience and her affected social class.”

The gasps induced by these scenes (three total) come not from the fact that we’re watching such a raw portrayal of sex in and of itself, but the fact that we’re being allowed into the intimate lives of these characters, into things that they would never tell us about over dinner (oysters or otherwise), into emotions and bits of characterization that simply cannot be injected through conversation and exposition.  We’re invested in Adèle.  We want to sock the kids who verbally abuse her; we want her to ask our advice on what she should do on nights when Emma stays out uncharacteristically late; we want to float past her in the ocean and tell her that, hey, whatever you’re feeling is okay (which is different from “everything is going to be okay,” because bromidic bullshit does nothing for the perpetually sad).

Perhaps the biggest roadblock for some will be watching this film with anyone else (without blushing, at least).  Why?  Doesn’t Adèle’s story give us enough about the consequences of being ashamed?  Well, maybe that’s the film’s meta-point, right there.  This is a masterfully-acted masterpiece whose ending has made me feel more broken-up-with than any before it.  And more than many actual breakups.

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013); based upon the graphic novel by Julie Maroh; scripted and directed by Abdellatif Kechiche; starring Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux.