The choppy but bountiful waters of teenage angst are fished once again, this time by French director Abdellatif Kechice in his new film Blue Is The Warmest Colour. Its extremely explicit lesbian sex scenes guarantees it to be one of this year’s most controversial films. It is also one of 2013’s best.
Blue’s premise is a simple enough bildungsroman. Our heroine, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), is fifteen years old when we first meet her; as hungry for knowledge as she is her father’s patented spaghetti bolognese (a meal featured with such bizarre regularity that I wouldn’t be surprised to find Mr. Dolmio listed as one of the film’s Executive Producers). She enjoys school, and is popular enough to serve as a lieutenant in a Mean Girls-esque clique. Her aspirations in life are modest and honest: to be a good student and become a primary school teacher after she graduates.
But, just as with all coming of age tales, Adèle’s life is doomed to change and change it does after a chance meeting with Emma (Léa Seydoux) — a bohemian Fine Arts student with electric blue hair. Emma is out and proud, avant-garde and firmly middle class. She’s quirky and interesting and confidently commands our interest, as just as much she hold’s Adèle’s. Her friends are all pretentious intellectuals, obsessed not with school politics but with the study and creation of Art. She is the chalk to Adèle’s cheese.
Wisely, Kechice holds off from introducing Emma properly until we have spent a good amount of time getting to know Adèle. The director fills every inch of his film’s three hour running time with characterisation; so much so that by the time this blue haired mystery plonks herself into our psyche (perhaps a third of the way into Blue) we have spent so much time in Adèle’s company that Emma’s spanner like presence judders in our system just as much as it does our heroine’s.
In contrast, the pair’s blossoming relationship evolves at the speed of light. Small talk in a bar grows into long, meaningful walks through the park, which explode into a series of intensely graphic sex scenes, the likes of which have never been seen before in mainstream cinema. The nature of these sequences means some viewers are going to dismiss this film as pornography, but to do so would be as great an injustice as comparing Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus with the centrefolds in Playboy magazine. Porn is ugly, disposable; two strangers slapping against each other on command, like the paws of a clapping seal.
The same cannot be said of the scenes in Blue. While they do perhaps go on for longer than is truly necessary, even this chimes with Kechice luxuriating in the film’s running time. Nothing feels gratuitous or hurried, in Tommy Wiseau fashion, to get the actresses’ pants off. Instead, because the director and his two superb lead performers (I’m convinced that if Exarchopoulos had been American she’d be walking away with Best Actress next year) have taken the time and painstaking care to build a naturalistic relationship from scratch, sex is depicted as just another room in the overall architecture of Adèle and Emma’s relationship; a physical expression of their attraction and love. Not since Richard Linklater’s Before… trilogy has cinematic love been so beautifully, and brutally realistic.
It is this attention to detail, and warm coloring in of its characters and their romance that takes up the first half of Blue. However, the film really begins to gain momentum during its later chapters, as it skips through time and chronicles the domesticity of the couple’s relationship. Surprisingly, for a film that features such vivid scenes of lesbian sex, Blue seems quite unconcerned with ‘sexuality’. Other coming of age stories that feature homosexuality tend to render their characters’ ‘coming out’ as emotionally charged, snot filled set pieces but Kechice, refreshingly, skips over this episode entirely. Just as in Brokeback Mountain, another love story forever tattooed as a ‘gay film’, the classifying nature of sexuality plays second fiddle to the breathless, mighty, and consuming force of love.
Like Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, Rick Blaine and Ilsa Lund, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist before them, Adèle and Emma are meant to be, and like the stories those characters of old find themselves in, Blue Is The Warmest Colour joins the ranks of the greatest love stories ever told.
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