Blue is the Warmest Color (2013)
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
Screenplay by Abdellatif Kechiche & Ghalia Lacroix
Adapted from the comic book ‘Blue is the Warmest Color’ by Julie Maroh
As a jaded New Yorker, I typically don’t drool over well-reviewed movies on principle. I’m skeptical of ‘buzz’ and ‘hype’ of any kind, and this overhyped movie in particular seemed to be generating some intriguingly divisive opinions. Between the overwhelming amount of reviewers (largely male) heralding it as “breathtaking,” and the author of the original graphic novel, Julie Maroh, calling it a flat-out straight mens’ porno fantasy, I found myself reading articles about the controversy before I even knew it was a movie slated to come out.
Now call me biased, but I’m going to trust the lesbian author over the male French director when it comes to who really “gets” lesbian love and sex. And as such, I did what any dismissive, self-respecting woman would do and wrote it off as something to miss. But eventually, the whole fantastic vs. awful rhetoric—plus some light peer pressuring from a coworker—finally got me off my ass and into the theater to give it a fair shot. Hey, we already know I’m down to make myself miserable when it comes to movies, so why not?
I was surprised to find myself pretty split about it. On the one hand, you have a pretty well told story about self discovery, first love, and then the loss of said love. And it never feels like a three-hour movie, which is certainly impressive for any three-hour movie. It is genuinely, wonderfully shot—full of close ups that give it a real raw and stripped-down quality– and it’s also refreshingly, if not surprisingly, well-acted—these girls were not hired for their looks alone.
Over the course of the film, we follow Adèle through her normal home and high school routines, feeling insecure and waiting around for other people to give her life meaning, as teenagers often do. Actress Adèle Exarchopoulos perfectly embodies the character of Adèle, making her recognizable as somebody you once knew, or even somebody you once were. Her journey of self-discovery as an individual, and her devastation over her encounter with heartbreak, is universally relatable. Her infatuation with the artistic and blue-haired Emma is made very believable by Léa Seydoux’s charm and mystery. Adèle’s love is a naive one, whereas Emma’s is largely selfish—and they realistically depict that classic doomed-yet-passionate relationship model. We are fully engaged as we follow Adèle’s emotional growth, and the journey is skillfully shown—by the end of the movie, you leave the theater feeling fairly punched in the gut.
But on the other hand, you have laughably explicit and all around pointless sex scenes. They go on so long that you will find yourself actually looking at your watch. Honestly, it wasn’t even the explicitness of these sex scenes that got to me, it was the hollowness of them. By the time these scenes show up, the movie has already established a raw, ‘life as art’ sort of tone, so the appearance of borderline if not flat-out pornographic scenes really does not shock you per se. They do, however, stick out as fluff—explicitness for explicitness’ sake.
After the first sex scene between Adele and Emma, suddenly it feels like every emotional scene with Emma is a sex scene. And each one of these goes on for such a boringly long time that eventually you feel like the director is just ticking boxes on some master list of lesbian sex positions, hoping to God the audience will confuse the continuous sound of over-the-top orgasms for actual feelings and meaning. Their entire relationship and chemistry gets lost in a sea of loud groaning, not to mention camera angles that I believe can most accurately be classified as ‘way the hell all up in dat.’
I have to agree with Julie Maroh—there’s an overwhelming amount of Male Gaze in this movie which minimizes the real emotion. (Never mind the fact that lesbian sex, as directed by a straight man, starring two straight girls, is arguably questionable to begin with.) But while you’re watching the movie, you do get a sort of Stockholm syndrome about it—the sex scenes are boring, but you start to feel like perhaps they’re trying to tell you something more. But thinking back on the movie a couple days after seeing it, it’s quite obvious that these scenes really have no deeper meaning, and actually just undercut what the rest of the movie was doing.
At its best, Blue is the Warmest Color is a depressingly realistic coming of age story—what it dresses up with good-looking actresses and steamy sex scenes, it does successfully break down with brutal honesty about heartbreak. At its worst, it comes across as director Abdellatif Kechiche trying to disguise his hard-ons as beautiful and meaningful. I enjoyed the movie, but the more I think about how long and boring those sex scenes were, the more my negative feelings overtake my entire opinion of it. As a friend of mine said, by the fourth sex scene, they could have at least had the decency of giving you a Seventh-Inning Stretch, a la, The Room.