Blue Is the Warmest Color

Blue Is the Warmest Color photo starrating-4stars.jpgAdèle is a girl in secondary school. She yearns for romance, but her desires are complicated by conflicting feelings. Egged on by the inane chatter of her high school friends, Adèle goes out with a good looking schoolboy who is attracted to her. On the way to their date, she spies a young mysterious blue haired woman with her arms around another girl. They lock glances. Adèle and Thomas date briefly and although he is taken with her, she breaks up with him. Adèle later meets Emma, the woman she spied earlier. They embark on a relationship.

Blue Is the Warmest Color was originally titled The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 & 2. Somehow that seems more appropriate.  At 3 hours, the movie is like two halves: the original movie and then its sequel pushed together to form two episodes in the life. The first half is what causes two people to fall in love. The second, is what drives them apart. Throughout it all, emotions run the gamut from joy and excitement to melancholia and pain. The drama is such a fully realized portrait, that even after the extreme length, you still might be curious what’s next for Adèle. What happens to her in Chapter 3?

At the film’s heart are two stunning performances. Léa Seydoux is Emma. The French actress is recognized for both French (Farewell, My Queen) and American (Inglorious Basterds, Robin Hood, Midnight in Paris) productions alike. Adèle is played with uncompromising credibility by newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos. As the star, she anchors the drama with her work. Since she shares the same name as her character and this is her first major role, I am impulsively tempted to conclude she is merely playing herself. Yet even that would require the skills of a great thespian given what she does here. She presents a teenager that is nearly flawless in its honesty. The achievement never translates as acting. She just is.

Director Abdellatif Kechiche allows scenarios to play far beyond a normal duration. In most cases, this is a good thing because it heightens the experience that this is reality. The interactions drift and percolate like authentic dialogue. They deceptively feel improvised because of their utter veracity. Yet the script is too focused to truly believe that. They highlight the process of learning about someone and slowly getting to understand them. As a whole the picture attempts to portray every facet of a relationship. The film has most famously drawn publicity for its lovemaking scenes. A sequence in and of itself can shock sensibilities. Their desire culminates in extended scenes of intimacy that do push accepted boundaries. This is an unedited, unembarrassed and sensual expression. Admittedly, the director does a disservice at making them so graphic. Their explicitness tends to overshadow the sensitivity of the rest of the narrative which depicts their association with a much tender approach.

Blue Is the Warmest Color was awarded the Palme d’Or at Cannes, its highest honor. For the first time ever the prize was also officially bestowed to two actors as well: Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. That just shows how intrinsic they are to the success of the picture. It presents a relationship in unexpurgated detail – an unbridled 3 hours. Normally that would be a barrier in engaging the attention, but the plot never seems dull. Director Abdellatif Kechiche lets a scene gradually unfold. The script has a natural rhythm. The conversations take their time in the way genuine people would interact with long pauses and the awkwardness of dialogue that isn’t perfected. That permits a candor that is determined in being explicit with feeling. This has courted controversy for its sexual depictions. It could be argued that they are a physical manifestation of the intimacy we’ve already seen on an intellectual level. The director has nevertheless made a dubious choice which is ultimately a misstep. Evaluated as an overall account, however, those minutes constitute a very small part. Most of the story has a delicate beauty of real life and raw emotion that has rarely been presented so honestly.

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23 Responses to “Blue Is the Warmest Color”

  1. Léa Seydoux…somehow I don’t recognize that name, and I’ve seen both Inglourious Basterds AND Midnight in Paris.

    I’ll definitely be seeing La Vie d’Adèle. It’s near the top of my Christmas wish list, and mr general watch list. I feel like it means something that it’s in the Criterion Collection already…

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    >

  2. Fantastic review here. I have had to let those certain scenes sit for awhile and I still can’t determine whether or not it was all entirely necessary, but the way you put it here is probably where my senses gravitate the most. They come dangerously close to outweighing the intelligent, provocative non-sexual scenes but fortunately there’s enough here to make them fleeting moments. This was an incredible picture, when it’s all said and done.

    • My friend Adam Gentry who is also a movie critic put it best so I am going to quote him:

      “… there’s a scene in which the two women have sex in Adele’s house and try to keep quiet so that her parents don’t realize that they’re a couple. It’s tender, caring, and so, so sweet. What makes this scene work isn’t an overabundance of graphic sex. It’s the loving interaction between Adele and Emma.”

  3. Nice review. I’ve been eager to catch this since it won Cannes. It started to play in a theater near me, just need to find the time to watch it.

  4. Good review. It was a beautiful romance movie, that just so happened to be about two lesbians. That said, those NC-17 sex scenes were something else, am I right? Not to sound pervy or anything, but still. It shocked me with how graphic they were.

  5. Excellent review. Unfortunately, I found Blue is the Warmest Color to be very disappointing. I couldn’t connect with any of it. For a film that ran over three hours, I was surprised by how underdeveloped their relationship was.

    Seydoux and Exarchopoulos were both excellent though.

    • I can understand why someone wouldn’t enjoy this movie, but if you found those actresses excellent, it seems that would make the movie excellent since they were essentially the entire film. We saw every stage of their relationship from beginning to end.

  6. Fantastic review, Mark. Very curious about this one. Lea was great in Ghost Protocol, as well.

  7. Again, I mostly agree, though I graded the film a bit less highly. I think this one a bit overlong and conflict devoid. But, like you, I value the performances and the way it makes Emma and Adele’s relationship feel real.

  8. 3 hour movie ugh! That’s what I thought it was gonna be like, but I was so wrong. I was so glued to the story from the start. Very good love story and drama. Acting by both women was superb. 4 stars

    • I was pretty captivated throughout the entire running time too. I might’ve appreciated a cocktail intermission with light bites halfway through however. That would’ve been nice.

  9. I still haven’t seen it but I’m glad you mentioned the idea that Adele was simply playing herself. I read somewhere that the director filmed her during her every-day routines, capturing Adele just being herself. Including this in the film, with a heavy emphasis on adlibbing, I believe, is what makes the film so appealing. For me, it’s just something I don’t think I have the patience for in a theater but I will definitely be looking for it as soon as it hits DVD.

    • To be honest, the experience was pleasant. The movie captivated me for the entire 3 hours, much to my surprise. However, I agree that watching this over 2 nights is still preferable all things considered.

  10. Really love the first half of this movie. If only my father hadn’t gotten worried about me watching a movie “about lesbianism” (it seemed to me like a movie about love, with lesbians in the lead, though) and found me watching during that huge sex scene near the middle.

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