If you’ve heard of Blue is the Warmest Color, it’s likely for one of two reasons: (1) You know that it won the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and in the process became the first film adapted from either a comic or graphic novel to win that award, or (2) you’ve heard it has explicit lesbian sex scenes. Maybe you’ve heard of another reason, or perhaps you’re interested in it because of both, but these are the reasons people are talking.
The best way to describe the film is to say that it is best enjoyed as a mixed-bag of emotional states. From one scene to the next, or sometimes in the middle of scenes, many emotions will be felt by the characters. There is lots of pleasure, a multitude of sadness, anger, love, lust, joy, and the rest of the human spectrum. You, too, might feel these things, as this three-hour ride really draws you into the world of the lead character, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos). At least, the film hopes you will feel just what its lead character feels, as she is front and center for the vast majority of the scenes in the movie.
The story spans several years and follows young Adèle at 15 into her early twenties. In an early moment, Adèle sees a woman on the street, an older, blue-haired lesbian by the name of Emma (Léa Seydoux), who catches her eye. Things aren’t the same after that. We remember the words about first loves that the earliest scene foreshadowed into our minds. Adèle becomes fixated on this woman, and after an intentional “chance encounter,” they begin talking, meeting, and eventually having sex.
From there, Blue is the Warmest Color takes us through the trial and tribulations of what’s more or less a normal marriage, except the couple never ties the knot. The two women grow up — Emma is a painter who is in her fourth year at a fine arts program when we first meet her, and embarks on that career path after graduation, while Adèle begins the film in high school and eventually winds up as a teacher, as she likes children — their relationship develops as it seems like it should, some forced drama is thrown in for good measure, and then it all wraps up right around the time the third hour is ready to hit.
I’ve mentioned the movie’s length twice now, because I think it bears repeating just how long it is, especially for how simple a story it tells. Many films tell a similar story — although not with a young lesbian couple, I’ll grant you — in two hours or less, while this one drags it out a full hour longer. And by the end, it does feel like it’s gone on for too longer. Problematically, there isn’t a single scene that doesn’t feel important, and not one that the film needs to lose.
Well, not a single one but the much-talked-about sex scenes, which are frequent in the film’s first half, probably more graphic than you’ve heard, and far longer than they needed to be. After a certain point, the point has been made, the meaning has been lost, and the film would be better served to move on, even though it wants to linger for an additional five minutes or so. Trimming these down to more manageable lengths might not alter the running time too much, but it would be sufficient, I think. The only dull moments of the film, really, are in the prolonged sex scenes. Cut them down and there are no more pacing issues.
You will feel emotions while watching Blue is the Warmest Color. Likely, you will feel a lot of them. The film does such a good job of characterizing its lead, Adèle, and her lover, Emma, that you’re with them to the end, whether you’re going to like that end or not. You feel a whole range of things as we progress through different chapters of Adèle’s life, and if you don’t, I feel a little bit sorry for you. This is a motion picture which is absolutely spellbinding for almost all of its three hours.
One of the main reasons for this is the performance turned in by Adèle Exarchopoulos, who is the film’s breakout star. She has an intoxicating smile, and gets to use it plenty here, but she also shows an incredible range in the heavier scenes. She’s got a strong amount of depth to that face as well. Léa Seydoux doesn’t have to do much more than look warm and smug — not necessarily an easy combination to pull off at the same time — for most of the picture, although in the few moments where more emotion is called for, she delivers. This is a two-person show, and both actresses are up to the task.
It helps that the film has been directed by someone who understands people, and knows how to tell a good story. unfortunately, given that the graphic novel on which the film is based hasn’t been released in North America, I can’t say exactly who deserves the most credit for the story, its characters, and specific moments, but I will say that the use of visual metaphors was superb and rather funny at times, and that the film did a good job of bringing these character to life and making them feel like real people. How much word did director Abdellatif Kechiche have to do in order for this to happen? I don’t know. I’d be remiss to not mention that there are two shots in this film that are so gorgeous, so picturesque, that you’ll wish to save them and stare at them forever.
Blue is the Warmest Color is a fantastic drama detailing the life of one person from adolescence to her early twenties, and while watching it you will feel a range of emotions unlike in most films you will see. There’s happiness, sadness, laughter and anger. The characters feel real and are performed perfectly, the story works on a human level and contains great scenes of irony and metaphor being used in playful ways, and if it had some of its sex scenes trimmed for pacing purposes — there is such a thing as too much explicit sex; after a certain point it loses meaning — it would basically be a perfect movie. As it is, it’s a great one that you should see, assuming you can get in given its NC-17 rating.