For some time now I have heard about this “amazing” French movie, Blue Is the Warmest Color, about the relationship between two lesbian lovers. The film was an unanimous choice for the Palme d’Or from the official jury of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and critics raved about the performances, and yet it was largely overshadowed by the hype over the explicit sex scenes, and later, the controversy over the complaints against director Abdellatif Kechiche made by the film’s two stars, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux. And so I checked out the film with a healthy mix of curiosity and scepticism, though I never expected to end up being blown away by the experience. For once, they were right: Blue Is the Warmest Color is an amazing film, one of the best love stories ever depicted on screen.
For starters, let’s not tiptoe around the lesbian theme — some people might be uncomfortable with it for whatever reason (and indeed I had my own reservations about it, believing that it could have just been a gimmick or exploitative) — but honestly, I was so emotionally invested in the characters and their relationship that by the end their sexual orientation became completely irrelevant. The emotions and heartbreak were so agonisingly real that I almost forgot I was watching a film, and I couldn’t believe it when both my wife and I uncontrollably teared up. (What is this salty discharge?)
Based on a graphic novel of the same name, Blue is the Warmest Color begins with high school student Adele being a normal adolescent trying to fit in with the crowd while discovering her sexuality. Two chance meetings — the first of which was just a glance on the street — with blue-haired artist Emma (Lea) changes her life as the two start a love affair which we follow over the course of several years.
It’s not the typical fairytale or whirlwind romance we’re accustomed to seeing in Hollywood films. It’s sometimes passionate, sometimes emotional, sometimes painful and sometimes banal — like real life. And it’s all very raw. But it’s precisely because of that the relationship comes across as genuine and believable, and before you know it you are sucked into their world and into their hearts. The fact that it’s a lesbian relationship does provide some additional friction — such as meeting parents and dealing with the attitudes of bigots — but it’s really no different to other relationship challenges experienced by other couples, gay or otherwise.
It’s a 3-hour film that doesn’t feel like one, an impressive feat given that it’s not action packed or a Lord of the Rings-esque epic. Every long conversation, every longing glance had my full attention, and I was almost sad when the credits started rolling. The length is important because the film does a particularly fantastic job of depicting how feelings can change over time, and the vulnerability, isolation and loneliness people can sometimes feel even when they are supposedly in a loving relationship.
The performances have been lauded and rightfully so. Both actresses are phenomenal and it’s not surprise that they received the Palme d’Or along with the director. Newcomer Adele, as the younger of the two, gets to express more emotion and delivers a powerhouse performance that should have earned recognition from the Academy this year. Lea, who was in Inglourious Basterds and stole Owen Wilson’s (and my) heart in Midnight in Paris, is more mature and reserved, but she’s equally good as the ying to Adele’s yang. Both are straight in real life but you could have fooled me into believing otherwise after seeing the emotions in their eyes in a few of the film’s key scenes.
The sex scenes have received a lot of attention for their graphic nature (apparently it’s aided by “prosthetics” and “effects”) and criticised for being unrealistic and too long. I understand the need to exhibit their passion, but I do agree that they are a bit “too much” and unnecessarily long. Seriously, outside of porn, is there a need for a single sex scene longer than 10 minutes? I mean, I found it educational and all (I was like, “so that’s how they do it”), but I highly doubt shortening the scenes and toning them down a little would have much of an effect on the emotional impact of the film overall. So yeah, I found it gratuitous. As for unrealistic? Heck, how would I know? All I know is that the same could easily be said for most straight Hollywood sex scenes.
Notwithstanding that one minor complaint, Blue is the Warmest Color is an outstanding film, a seductive, beautiful and breathtaking coming-of-age story about not just the discovery of sexuality but about finding out who you are and what you want in life. If you’ve ever fallen in love or had your heart broken then you need to see this film. It might crush your soul in the process but it’s a powerful experience that’s well worth the cost. One of the best films of the year and the best romance I’ve seen. Period.
4.5 stars out of 5