Cinema Review: Blue Is the Warmest Colour

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DIR: Abdellatif Kechiche • WRI: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix • PRO: Abdellatif Kechiche, Vincent Maraval • DOP: Sofian El Fani • ED: Sophie Brunet, Ghalia Lacroix, Albertine Lastera, Jean-Marie Lengelle, Camille Toubkis  • CAST: Léa Seydoux, Anne Loiret, Benoît Pilot, Sandor Funtek

Blue Is the Warmest Colour was this year’s audacious winner of the Palme d’Or in Cannes. It’s a beautifully rich and lyrical romance.

When Adèle, a schoolgirl, arranges to meet the handsome Thomas on a date, she catches a glimpse of blue-haired Emma. Their fleeting exchange of smiles and glances marks the beginning of a relationship that unfolds over a number of years. Adèle struggles with coming to terms with her sexuality at school, with bullying questioning from schoolmates. Emma, a fine arts student, has much to teach her.

Tunisian-born director Abdellatif Kechiche frames most of the film in tight close-ups. The film references La Vie de Marianne, an 18th-century French novel by Pierre Marivaux that anticipated the sentimental novel. (Kechiche’s previous film, L’Esquive (2003), centred on teenagers performing Marivaux’s play Games of Love and Chance). In Blue Is the Warmest Colour, Kechiche demonstrates the psychological complexity and emotional affect that a long film can achieve. His camera scrutinises the intimacies of Adèle’s life, her hurt and anger as her friendships become fraught at school, her pleasure and happiness as she becomes intimate with Emma. His approach demands much from his leading ladies, who both described their experience of working with Kechiche as “horrible”. Such difficulties are not evident on screen.

His methods may be questionable, but his talent is not. Kechiche’s flair extends to his use of the colour blue, usually associated with coldness and detachment. The colour frequently appears in his characters’ costumes and the settings, Emma’s eyes, on varnished fingernails, scarves, seats on buses, school walls, et cetera. Kechiche has fashioned a film with as much thought for its visuals as for its emotional depth and character development.

Adèle Exarchopoulos meets her director’s challenges, transforming from an innocent schoolgirl to an emotionally mature young woman. Her messy hair and beautiful brown eyes captivate for the three hours. Kechiche omits the omniscient narration that gives novels their psychological nuance. He could have given the film a voiceover, but instead he relies on Adèle’s expressiveness. His approach allows the viewer to empathise with Adèle.

Sex scenes add to the film’s controversies. Graphic groping, moaning and groaning interrupt the film’s flow and distract from our emotional engagement. Other directors, such as Travis Mathews (I Want Your Love), succeeded in integrating such explicitness into their dramas. Here, they might seem gratuitous. Michael Winterbottom structured the sexually explicit reminiscences of romance in 9 Songs on the touching and tasting that lingered after the end of an affair, and there is an element of that in Blue Is the Warmest Colour.

Eating provides an interesting motif throughout the film. Thomas and Adèle eat out on their first date. Her loss of appetite warns her mother that something is not quite right when the audience is aware that her first kiss with a girl troubles Adèle.  Emma likens eating oysters to tasting “something else”, and shellfish features at their first dinner with Emma’s parents. Guests at a dinner party take communal delight in eating the food that Adèle has prepared for Emma’s arty friends. Over this dinner, Joachim, who runs a gallery, speaks of communal pleasure and the limits of male sexuality. A guest cracks a joke about a worm emerging from a spaghetti Bolognese, thinking it was a gangbang.

Kechiche must see the sex scenes in his film as providing his audiences with an insight into the role sex plays in Adèle’s relationship with Emma, perhaps matching their pleasure with the viewers’, while, at the same time, he questions the “mystique” that Joachim sees attaching to female orgasm; hence the apparent clumsiness in these scenes.

Such scenes are few and far between within the film, and, for the most part, it’s an elegantly composed bolstered by an extraordinary central performance. Kechiche sustains a three-hour film that focuses on an intense relationship without recourse to special effects or flashy gimmicks. It’s an impressive achievement.

John Moran

18  (See IFCO for details)

179 mins

Blue Is the Warmest Colour is released on 22nd November 2013

 

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