Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ is a coming of age French drama film that explores the romantic relationship between a young college student named Adele (played by Adele Exarchopoulos) and an openly gay university student by the name of Emma (played by Lea Seydoux).
The film, which is partially adapted from Julie Maroh’s graphic novel, poignantly won the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and was awarded for the first ever time to the lead actresses as well as the director, who also wrote and produced the French epic. Read on for my review of the film but please be warned that there are spoilers.
Between gossiping with her boy-obsessed friends, relishing literature classes and aspiring to be a teacher, it would seem that 17-year-old student Adele leads a fairly standard life. That is until she passes a girl with blue hair in the street and exchanges the kind of look that she’s been reading about in romance novels. Is it love at first sight? It’s hard to tell at first, but it soon becomes apparent that the girl has transformed her. She feels an instantly deep attraction that she can’t seem to fathom and is impacted enough to vividly fantasise about having sex with her. After trying to enjoy sex with a boy called Thomas that is openly fond of her, Adele feels dissatisfied, empty and begins to grow confused about her sexuality. She shares a kiss with one of her friends and continues to fantasise about the girl with blue hair. She yearns to find herself sexually, and so ventures out to a gay bar where she bumps into the girl that we assume is going to help her to do this – the girl with blue hair.
As the girl approaches Adele and introduces herself as Emma, the two are predominantly presented as binary opposites. Emma is a bold tom-boy, in her fourth year of a Fine Arts degree and openly gay, whilst Adele is a timid girly-girl who is still at college and as Emma defines ‘straight but curious’. Aside from their creative interests and visibly mutual attraction, they actually have little in common. Nevertheless, Adele ditches her friends to spend time with Emma and somewhere between deep, philosophical discussions and making each other laugh, the pair begin to grow extremely close.
Adele eventually loses her friends due to their nasty, narrow-minded approaches to her sexuality, but Emma is enough to distract her as they consummate their love affair and incredibly graphic sex scenes illustrate the intensity of its development. They begin to publicly display affection but whilst Emma’s parents openly welcome Adele as her girlfriend, Adele tells hers that Emma is her philosophy tutor. Again they are presented as binaries as Emma is open and honest whilst Adele chooses to mask the truth. Similarly Emma embraces her creative flair by painting stunning images of Adele in the nude, whilst Adele refuses to acknowledge her own talent for literature.
As Emma’s art career progresses and she becomes an established artist, she begins to outgrow Adele and their differences are made even more apparent. Emma is not only better-educated but also more socially dominant and essentially everything else that Adele is not. Emma’s fading blue hair dye works as an allegory for their love also fading over the course of the film and their relationship. After lying to her family and friends about her sexuality, Adele conceals the truth from her work colleagues and ultimately begins a sexual relationship with a male teacher. On discovery of her betrayal, Emma grapples with Adele in an incredibly gripping and compelling scene that sharply contrasts with the affectionate sex scenes that have come before. The scene works to ferociously conclude their relationship and finalise the fading of their love.
Everything about ‘Blue is The Warmest Colour’ is intensely passionate from the initial attraction between Adele and Emma, their consequential sexual relationship and powerful bond, to the brutal break up and heartbreak that follows. The naturalism within the film is integral to portraying intensity as for example there are no boundaries in terms of explicit sex scenes which powerfully connote romantic passion, and no efforts are made to conceal mascara stained, snot ridden faces during the break up scene which works to illustrate emotional pain. The portrayals of lesbian sex are both frequent and extreme as with the length of the film in totalling three hours. Additionally, Adele endures the most agonising heartbreak I have ever seen portrayed onscreen. Overcome with sadness, she can only find comfort in places that she has shared memories with Emma and finds it very painful to learn that she has a new girlfriend.
‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ concludes with Adele visiting Emma’s art exhibition, poignantly dressed in blue. She observes Emma’s latest paintings of her new girlfriend and is presented with the harsh reality that she has been replaced. Other reviews I have read argue that Adele’s future fate is ambiguous but I personally disagree. I feel that her friend chasing after her and not being able to reach her allegorises her inaccessibility, particularly in that nobody ever will reach her in the way that Emma did. Adele will always carry the burden of her heartbreak no matter what she achieves. She may have progressed and become a teacher as she aspired to, but she is significantly without the person that she wants to be with. Although Emma has moved on she too admits that she doesn’t have the same spark with her new girlfriend. It is therefore suggested that neither of them will find a relationship as passionate again. In that sense, just like the novels Adele studied at school, their love story concludes as a tragedy; a tale of loss that is inherently sad.
The film focuses heavily on Adele’s erotic development, as verified by its French title ‘La Vie d’Adèle Chapitres 1 et 2’ which literally translates as ‘The Life of Adele, Chapters 1 and 2’. In Chapter 1, Adele is an innocent school girl and in Chapter 2, an experienced teacher. The transition between innocence and experience is fuelled by Emma who enables Adele to find herself through the medium of affection, pleasure, sorrow and unforgettable love. Their relationship is powerfully documented through naturalistic displays of human emotion during occurrences of romantic love, explicit sex and extreme heartbreak. This is clearly connoted in repetitive close-ups particularly of Adele’s face but also of Emma’s throughout the film. Directed extraordinarily by Abdellatif Kechiche and boasting exceptional acting talents from lead actresses Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, I personally feel that ‘Blue is The Warmest Colour’ completely and utterly deserved its Palme d’Or win at Cannes Film Festival last year. With outstanding production and a compelling storyline, it furthermore ought to be considered one of the best films of 2013. Let’s see what this year’s festival has to offer…