What’s It About In A Nutshell?
Art house French lesbo epic, replete with sizzling sex scenes and Palme d’Or award.
In a Bigger Nutshell….
Blue Is The Warmest Colour is essentially a small, personal story: that of Adele, an averagely mixed up 17-year-old school girl, who falls for the enigmatic, older and blue-haired art student, Emma. The film can be divided in two parts, the first part dealing with Adele’s emotional and sexual awakening during her affair with Emma, the second about their resulting relationship and Adele’s feelings of isolation and insecurity. Parts of the story are based on a graphic novel of the same name by Julie Maroh.
Why Is It So Awesome?
There’s a neat scene towards the start of the film, when Adele is discussing literature with her soon-to-be (but not-very-long-lasting) boyfriend. He confesses that the only book he ever enjoyed was Liaisons Dangereuses (fantastic book btw, if you haven’t read it yet) and only then because his teacher helped him analyse it and see meanings and texture that he would otherwise have missed. Adele counters that she prefers to interpret a novel on her own, using her own imagination, without some professor forcing her to “overanalyse every word”. In highlighting these two opposite ways of enjoying literature, I can’t help feel the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, is holding up the same choices for us, regarding his film. It’s his way of saying, “I’m making a film packed full of artistry, clues and contrivances… so have fun unravelling the layers. Or else just order some popcorn and take from it what you like.”
I love the film just for that. It’s a story rich with symbolism (starting of course with the use of the colour blue, and its symbolic representation of the French ideal of liberty… in this case to the emotional and sexual freedom that the cobalt-coiffeured Emma offers Adele) and plot echoes (most obviously in the form of the classroom literary discussions), but they never threaten to turn the film into a pretentious art house exercise. In fact, most of the symbolism is the opposite of obscure, such as Adele’s conversion from shellfish spurner to oyster lover, a stunningly unsubtle metaphor for her newly acquired tastes in the bedroom.
Aside from the effective use of artistry, what made BITWC such a pleasure for me to watch was the myriad of “real” details in every scene. Right from the very start, when Adele leaves her house, we see her pulling up the back of her jeans in classic awkward teenager style (nota bene: despite being extremely easy on the eye, and the inherent eroticism of a lesbian coming-of-age movie, Adele is never portrayed as some idealised screen siren) and running for the bus, like all good over-sleeping school girls do. These small touches set the tone immediately and ground the film in reality. The director then serves up a masterful vignette of a literature class that everyone should be able to relate to, as the smarmy male teacher (reminding me of my own English professor and arch-tosser Mr. Loader) forces students to reread passages of the examined text (for no good reason), and then, after inviting the collective to give their opinions, proceeds to shoot down the first kid brave enough to offer one… a reaction met by guffaws by the rest of the class. Just beforehand the camera lingers on another pupil, who we see think about daring to answer, half raising his hand, before (wisely) bottling it and allowing his classmate to be humiliated instead. The scene could hardly be more convincing.
The Star Performer
When the Palme d’Or was awarded to this film, the jury insisted the director share it with both the lead actresses…. but make no mistake: this is the Adele Exarchapoulos show. Every emotion, and even thought, of her adorably naive and guileless character is communicated with an impressive inventory of subtle gestures, glances and changes of expression, yet all as plain as a letter in their meaning (any idiot can do “inscrutable”). I honestly couldn’t take my eyes off her (to the extent that I barely noticed Lea Seydoux, as Emma). I think this might be my favourite ever performance ever by a leading lady. She even managed to steal the highly coveted Actress-most-able-to-make-me-cry Award from Natalie “Just Take My Picture” Portman. Sorry, Nats.
Spoiler alert: you might want to skip this section if you haven’t watched the movie yet.
The attention to detail in each scene of this film, the slick composition and the clever editing is such that I could choose from about twenty favourite mini-dramas. And that’s without due prejudice for the five minute long, fierily passionate – bordering on pornographic – lesbian love making scenes (if you thought scissor sisters was a band, then you’re in for a wake up call). In the end I can’t consider this review complete, without shouting out a top two, starting with the obvious candidate: the big break up scene.
There’s a sick tension in your stomach as you watch Adele kiss her (male) lover goodbye and step into the flat where a if-looks-could-kill Emma is there waiting for her. The is she/isn’t she busted suspense continues as Adele tries to play innocent and even concocts a semi-plausible defence. But it’s quite at odds with her forlorn and guilty expression. Her jaw starts wavering, her resistance cracks, and her face melts into a blubbery mess of contrition (and if you managed not to cry as well, then you’re clearly a kitten-torturing monster of a human being). There’s some slightly predictable histrionics as the truth comes out, and then, just for a moment, we are allowed to think Emma might be in a forgiving mood… (oh so sly Monsieur Director!) before she forcefully evicts her schoolgirl lover. The scene ends with the camera, positioned inside the flat, viewing Adele standing stranded outside the flat through the window. The sense is clear: she is being excommunicated from Emma’s life.
Whatever I hear you say… she is a cheat and she got caught. Where is the drama in that? Why should we sympathise? But the fact that we’ve been witness to Adele’s isolation in amongst Emma’s older, art world, circle of friends – and the fact that Adele herself doesn’t even realise what drove her into the arms of another lover and can’t communicate this to Emma – makes the emotional tragedy painfully acute.
Ok onto my other favourite moment and I will give a quick, honourable mention to the school yard bullying scene, when Adele is called out for being gay. It’s a deliciously uncomfortable drama. The nastiness of the ringleader is so viscerally-rendered that you can almost feel the jibes and incriminations yourself, as the under pressure Adele, taken completely unawares by the ferocity of this surprise attack, tries to stammer out a defence. Now, I’ve never been unexpectedly accused of being a lesbian in front of all my peers, but after watching this scene I’m pretty sure I know exactly how it feels.
‘A worm crawls out of a plate of spaghetti and says, “Wow, that was some gangbang!”‘
Not at all representative of the film as a whole, but hey the best line is the best line… It’s uttered during the garden party, given to celebrate Emma’s graduation (if I remember correctly), during which Adele is tasked with the subservient role of preparing food for Emma’s pretentious mates… she does so with a symbolically simple dish. Despite the hipsters (feigned) enthusiasm for the spagbol, it’s clear she does not belong.
Arty types, who prefer style over substance. And dirty old men, who like plenty of teen lesbian love action. If like me, you happen to fall into both categories, so much the better.
Alone. So you can cry salty tears…
Gripes and Grievances
The intense close ups, whilst allowing us to all the more easily read the small print in the characters’ emotions, feels a little bit claustrophobic at times and restrictive. It’s like we’re being forced to view the world through a pair of toilet roll binoculars. I get why the director did it, but at times I just wanted to scream at the cameraman to zoom out a bit and let me see what the f@ck was going on.
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Runtime: 179 min
Watch Online / Buy DVD or Blueray
Links coming soon.
What Did You Think?
Please do leave your thoughts, comments and counterpoints below…
One thought on “REVIEW: Blue Is The Warmest Colour (2013)”
Excellent review Duncan! I shall be seeking out this one.