Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux, Catherine Salée, Aurélien Recoing, Anne Loiret, Benoît Pilot, Sandor Funtek, Alma Jodorowsky, Salim Kechiouche, Jérémie Laheurte, Mona Walravens, Benjamin Siksou, Aurelie Lemanceau, Fanny Maurin, Maelys Cabezon and Stéphane Mercoyrol
Blue is the Warmest Color or "La Vie d'Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2" is the 2013 French coming of age drama directed by Abdellatif Kechiche and is based on the French graphic novel by Julie Maroh. It unanimously won the prestigious Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival last year which was also awarded to the two actresses of the film, a rare but deserving move. With the rapturous response that this film and its actresses received by nearly everyone at Cannes, there was bound to be backlash. First the extended sex scene caused a stir then the harsh conditions film crew were subjected to was debated. The latter I can't really talk about in my review since it has nothing to do with the actual movie. Now the former backlash was mostly voiced by the female critics who saw the film at the festival criticizing the male gaze aspect of the infamous scene. I will never deny the male gaze, it's there and it will be there. But a film is made and viewed by millions subjectively, influence is always going to be there. Singling out something just because a person himself doesn't feel is 'right' in art is highly debatable. This so-called controversy was further fulled by some particular people who thought it didn't actually portray lesbian sex in the right way that it was basically porn. Sex like behavior, personality and interest, differs in people. Sometimes it is fuelled by intense passion and attraction. Personal issues with films aside but fuelling pointless controversies just because something gains critical acclaim or mass acceptance is quiet the phenomenon these days. I like to point these things out because by the time I review films, they have become a part of the 'narrative'. A film is premiered at a festival, creates positive/negative buzz, we watch it and then sometimes its hard to ignore or forget what has already been 'established' of it. Personally, I never let these things get to me and its best to always decide for yourself.
When I finally got the chance to watch Blue is the Warmest Color this year, all the good or bad buzz could not have prepared me for the sweeping, grand and heartbreaking stab in the heart it turned out to be. A film that in its true sense has coming of age, romance, love, passion, art, sensuality, longing, sadness, food, music, intensity and so on. This is a film which clocks at almost 3 hours yet I felt like watching more of it, I wanted to experience more. Steven Spielberg presided the jury at Cannes and his statement about the decision to award the filmmaker and the actresses together was so true. They all created something so honest and deep, there was nothing to hold them back, a labour of love and intense human passion to ignite or senses and deeper feelings. There was a scene in this film which made me realize I was watching something special. The main character of this film Adèle (Exarchopoulos) talking to a boy from her school in the bus. What is most significant about that moment is that it resonates, recalls and captures the feeling perfectly. A simple conversation between two young people who goes to the same school and find each other interesting. But that was just the beginning. So, Adèle is your regular high school student, young and very curious about the things she has yet to experience. Her classmates are very regular as well, they talk in groups and their conversations begins and ends with boys. Adèle tries to fit in but her attempts are awkward. She even dates a boy, the same I talked about but that doesn't go well either. Their love-making lacks the spark, even remote excitement or intensity considering their age. The attempts Adèle makes to talk about books and art aren't much stimulating either. As any other teenager, she tries to fit in rather than exploring her true potential and experiencing life as it comes. So a long way to go for her before she realizes who she is and then accepting herself and living life to the fullest.
While crossing a road one day, Adèle passes by a beautiful woman with blue hair. She can't take her eyes away from her, smitten and taken over by a strange desire. It is a beautiful moment as any in the film, an indication of the change in the air, Adèle will never be the same again. She starts questioning her sexuality when she can't take her mind away from the blue-haired girl. Things become more clearer when one of the girls at her school flirts with her. A random eye-lock, a fleeting moment in the street seems to have changed Adèle's life and brought forth what she never thought was there in the first place. During Adèle's visit to a lesbian bar, she spots the blue -haired woman and they actually meet for the first time. Her name is Emma (Seydoux) and she is a graduating art student. Their interaction is very interesting in the bar, Emma seems to be taking interest in Adèle as well. Both girls starts spending more time together, slowly getting to know each other. Adèle now can stand up for herself in front of her friends, a heated confrontation at school turns into an aggressive fight but she doesn't care what her friends think of her spending so much time with a lesbian woman. Adèle has fallen for Emma, their serene and quiet conversations in the park, the sweet and playful gestures have now made way for a confession, a kiss and more. They begin an intimate relationship with each other and meet each other's families. Emma's family is more contemporary and open-minded not only about their child's sexuality but generally as well, evident by their love for art and living standards. That is opposite to Adèle's more conservative, upper middle-class family where they don't act openly, introducing each other as just friends and Emma 'helping out' Adèle in studies. The class difference is clear representative of how it affects or rather directly influences children as they grow up with a particular sense of disconnect or the opposite with not only society as a whole but themselves as well. Internal exploration is very important in our life, there isn't any particular way to live. This world and the people who inhibit is diverse and the diversity is what makes it all so beautiful. Each of us differ even though we somehow live 'together' in this entangled web that is life. Nobody should pre-determine anything because it ends up being just a waste and doesn't last much specially now when our current generation is much more open and aware of the possibilities and potentials of life and everything else.
Abdellatif Kechiche places his camera like a voyeur, capturing the growth of Adèle. Adèle sleeps, wakes up, brushes, eats breakfast, walks to the bus stop, studies and so on. Every intimate moment in her life, every minor detail carefully observed. Not obsessively but rather with a desire to fully explore the titular character. This is her film, her story and it needs to be painted with the same passion that her life is made from. Through several colors and strokes. This is the kind of film that we long for and something rarely made these days. Storytelling and characterization in its fullest, exploration and experience first and foremost. Not rushed or anything, no need to just lazily string some overdone dramatic moments to lackluster effect and finish the film and present it to the target audience who are going to eat it up. This is what cinema is where you not only live, live with but see characters grow and burst out of the screen. Kechiche's own passion for his characters is devoid of any limits thus such an extended running time that is fully earned and leaves you wanting more. The storytelling in "Blue" is at times painfully real and heartbreaking and others, so subtle and earnest. Kechiche captures and explores, pushes and stands back. There wasn't a rough moment, nothing felt half-baked or inconsistent. The screenplay is so wonderfully written, from what is spoken to what is hidden, every ounce of it packs a lingering emotional resonance. The bravery of this film is not limited to that one sex scene, the intensity and passion is not limited to bedroom, it bursts out in everything. From stares to eating spaghetti, painting to dancing, being together to being apart. There is no limit to these characters and no limit to the film. No limit to what the filmmaker and the actors were aspiring to bring forth and the agony they had to go through to achieve it.
The sex scene of course is a rarity, something I haven't seen ever, let alone between characters of same-sex. I recently watched a French film by Leos Carx titled "Pola X" which has an unsimulated sex scene but portrayed for different reasons (incest!) shot mostly in the dark. In this film it is the epitome of the love and passion that these characters has for each other. The wholly encompassing, singularly devouring and completely drowning power of love of the heart, body and mind. It goes on and on forever, to some an issue, to me it's not. That moment never plays to our fantasies and doesn't involve us. It represents these two people and represents them alone. There were actually more erotic and highly sensual moments in the film outside of the bedroom. As the film goes on, life changes for Adèle. Emotional complexities take over their life and life is messy. The bridges that we inadvertently create between ourselves happen to them, which happens mostly because of the lack of communication and confrontation. The second act of this film presents Adèle as an actual grown up, much more mature and confident. Her separation is devastating, the mistakes she makes are real and her longing is felt very deeply. A scene in a restaurant multiplies the emotional bonding of these two characters, releasing floods of tears and outbursts of their feelings for each other. That was the standout moment for me in the entire film, so painfully real that it hurt. In the film, apart from the story and its presentation as well as the impact, the one thing that shines brightly is the performances given by the two actors. Léa Seydoux is so great in the film, the blue-haired beauty attracts not only Adéle but the viewers as well. Emma is somebody Adéle is drawn to because somehow, she is a complete figure. Everything that Adéle wants to be like or with. Emma is life, a self-assured and realized figure who knows what she wants. Seydoux is in command of her character throughout the film. In the most fragile moments she acts confidently, during the most intense ones, she bursts out of the frame. An honest, very mature and sensible performance that only Seydoux could have given. It is hard to imagine anyone else playing Emma with the same vitality that she did, giving the character the body, face and emotions she so beautifully conveyed and explored in her own ways.
But as great as her co-star was, Adèle Exarchopoulos is the actual revelation in this film. A breakthrough in the utmost sense, a path-breaking performance in its true beauty, the leading example of strong performance and headstrong dive into the character for many actors of her age. There is a reason why Kechiche couldn't take his camera off her, how he uses her face in the many close-ups to fill up his frame with the colorful emotions she seemed to portray through her eyes and expressions. One of the strongest most resonating performances ever given. The emotional peaks to the intense lows, subtle shifts to strong and rough transitions, change in mood to destruction of mind and soul, Exarchopoulos never loses the rhythm or stumbles under the immense pressure. "Blue" is an intense ride but it couldn't have been this much fun or soul-crushing, emotionally devastating journey if it wasn't for the two actors specially Exarchopoulos. Good lord she is excellent, what a masterful performance. Adèle is a very strongly written character who isn't clearly defined by a particular cliche that usually comes with characters of her age usually portrayed on-screen. She starts from a tiny dot which continues to grow bigger and more complex, she is pushed through so much, making her experience the many difficulties that love and connection brings. Kechiche exquisitely captures every tear that Adèle drops for her heartbreaks. Adèle cries out her first breakup over chocolate when she is younger all the way through much later in life when she misses Emma and breaks down when her class where she teaches is over. An overwhelming sadness follows her everywhere, a sense of deep loss that nothing but the blue-haired girl could fill up. Their relationship was complex because it was much more than just sex or sweet crush. Their life wasn't complicated by the lack of acceptance or issues from other people. Both Adèle and Emma were the only people in the picture and the two that mattered. Their love and physical passion was raw. The illuminating and almost blinding light that it released filled up their life. But happiness never lasts long, life seems strange when not faced with complications. What happens between the two characters towards the end is as painfully real as life itself, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that questions what they had together and the honesty of it but further proving the impact it had on both.
Blue is the Warmest Color looks and feels bathed in color blue, indeed the warmest color. The lovely conversations, parties and clubs, love-making, eating food. From Adèle painfully realizing life to dancing carefree along the tunes of "I Follow Rivers". From a chance encounter with a beautiful woman to accepting that her life will revolve around her irrespective of her direct presence, Adèle just grows, expands, and learns. This portrait of a young French woman is mighty strong, emotionally bruising and intimately portrayed. An epic love story and coming of age film, dramatically strong, joyous in its exploration, vibrant in its scope and effect. A masterpiece and one of the best films of 2013.