It seems like it’s been years since ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ was released, solely because there has been so much talk about this film since it premiered in Cannes last year. Whether there be talk on the content, the explicit nature of the sex scenes, the tremendous performances by the stars, the shared Palm win or the tyranny on set (thanks to those candid interviews likening director Abdellatif to Hitler), there has not been a lack of talk surrounding this award winning drama. So, to say that I can’t believe I’ve FINALLY seen a film that was only released on DVD this week and only played in select theaters last October thanks to the subject, length and subtitles may seem odd and yet it doesn’t at the same time. It feels like everyone has already seen this and I’m VERY late to the party.
I’m glad I finally attended.
I love that controversy continually surrounds the very best of films, because there are always going to be critics or self-proclaimed critics trying to degrade any film that is put on a pedestal. It’s too long! It’s too gay! It’s too honest! It’s too European! The bottom line is that ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ is about as good as they come, and to pick it apart or place upon it unfair criticisms is to not fully understand the depths to which this film actually goes. Yes, it is long and it is gay and it is honest and it’s European, but I have yet to see a complaint and feels like a detractor.
Count me in!
The basic premise here is quite simple (but it’s not). Adele is a young girl living in France who is attending High School and trying to discover herself. She tries dating boys, but she’s uninterested. Then one day she happens to see a blue haired lesbian crossing the street and their eyes lock and she’s hooked. She thinks about her all the time. She abuses herself to the thought of her. She eventually seeks her out in a curiosity infused visit to a gay bar and stumbles across her. Her name is Emma, and she is equally attracted to the young Adele. Despite being tepid about announcing her love affair to her friends and family, Adele jumps right in, engulfing Emma and everything she represents. But love is tricky and never as smooth as we’d want it to be and as the years pass by and they settle into their life together, people, professions and insecurities begin to erode their happiness.
I hate the criticism that surrounds this film and others like it. I remember when ‘Brokeback Mountain’ was being heralded as THE film of 2005 and all the naysayers were barking about how the only reason people find it interesting is because it is a gay story, and once you take out the gay the story becomes just another troubled love story. Maybe the GAY aspect of the story is the point. Maybe it isn’t supposed to be so different. To me, this is such a lazy complaint. A good story is a good story at the core, and a film like ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ reaches Bergman levels of blunt force honesty by dragging us to the depths of this love affair and actually developing a deeply moving portrait of love gained and lost. Take away the gay aspect and you STILL have a powerful portrait of love gained and lost, but it is in those details that this becomes something so much more.
Adele’s depiction as a girl unsure of her sexuality, ashamed almost, is a great plot point because it helps color in the fact that despite the forward steps made in the acceptance of the LGBT community, there are still so many stigmas attached to the idea of homosexuality. Adele was frightened to embrace who she was, and it was that fear that caused her to make some foolish decisions, to hold back from being herself and ultimately lose out of what she wanted most.
But it’s more than that.
Strip away the gay aspect and you have a pretty rock solid depiction of a couple who has passed the point of mere infatuation and lust and moved into that area of subtle judgment. You have the artistic and soulful Emma, older and surer of herself, who was initially attracted to the youthful innocence and high-minded ideals of Adele, but who has grown into quietly condemning her for being complacent in her life and not trying to be something Emma thinks she should be. There is a moment when they are lying in bed and Emma tells Adele that she wishes she would do something that makes her happy and Adele says “I teach” and Lea tries to convince her that she should be a writer and then cops out by saying something like “but it’s up to you” and you can sense the judgmental mindset, the idea that Adele is beneath her because she’s not trying to be like her. This isn’t uncommon in any relationship, and it is films like this that put a very familiar face on LGBT relationships, showing that they aren’t any different than the ones we are used to.
We are all human beings.
There are three people who made this film work so well, and it is a beautiful thing that they all share the Palm. Director Abdellatif Kechiche may have been a terror to work with, but he pulled out so much raw emotion from his stars and depicted such a raw and tremendously honest portrait of love that I can’t help but applaud his methods, whatever they were. His stars, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, are so committed to these performances that it is no surprise that they were heralded as two of the greatest performances of the year. Exarchopoulos is so raw here that you can see every shade of innocence get stripped away from her as she discovers her new life. Seydoux is far more comfortable, easing into every scene, but her moment in the café is a true testament to how well she built this character. Her quiet breakdown in the midst of Adele’s more vocal one is so heartbreaking.
And yes, there are some very explicit sex scenes here, but they are not gratuitous in the way that they were depicted as in some reviews. These scenes are there to present us with a complete picture of how deeply invested in each other these two girls were, and that café scene really brings us back to that in a very strong and connective way.
Such a powerful film!
I give this an A+ without hesitation! This is truly a remarkable film and one of the best of the year. I still personally prefer 'Lawrence Anyways' (that film still hits me so hard) but this is a VERY close second, to be honest. Oscar cruelly snubbed this, and France botched their chance at an Oscar win (because we all know it would have won) by not releasing it in a timely fashion, allowing it to compete for the Foreign Language Oscar. Exarchopoulos's snub is disgusting, to be frank, especially when you see how strong her reviews were. This is a rich, raw and flawless performance that is above all vanity and really a brilliant performance.