Release Date: October 25th, 2013 (US limited); November 22nd, 2013 (UK)
Genre: Drama; Romance
Starring: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux
Adèle ambles hurriedly along a busy high street. The sun gleams on her fidgety demeanour as the apprehensive student makes her way to meet up with a guy. They don’t have much in common, if anything at all, but he appears nice enough. Do you believe it? Not really. As she crosses the road, Adèle’s anxious glance catches a calmer, more assured one. We don’t know it yet, but the recipient is Emma and the pair seem to share an instant, intriguing connection. Do you believe that? Absolutely.
Blue is the Warmest Colour has been shrouded in controversy since release, partly brought on by a selective reaction to certain scenes, and partly accentuated in a row between director and actor in regards to their working environment. Forget all that for a moment. Not because those concerns are invalid, rather it seems unfair that a film so honest and captivating should be tainted in any way. Regardless of any hostility, actors Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux are utterly entrancing in director Abdellatif Kechiche’s simple story that flourishes in its beautiful depiction of love, maturity, desire and emotion.
In her late-teens, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is someone who looks and acts uninspired. She drifts through classes at school, ones she possesses a passion for but can’t get into because the teacher isn’t right. Even hanging out with friends is awkward and confused. When it doesn’t work out with a boyfriend, her love for food leads to a comfort eating embrace. It’s at a crossroads in her life, literally and metaphorically, when sparks begin to ignite. As Emma (Léa Seydoux), blue hair and all, glimpses wonderingly back towards Adèle — sun prodding the direction of her vision — the film’s engines begin to rev. With the exception of one or two charming exchanges, all that preceded becomes inconsequential. Adèle rhymes, “No words? No melody? It’s not my thing.” Well the melody has just kicked in.
One of the prevailing successes of Blue is the Warmest Colour is how unassuming it is. Indeed, we want to know more about Adèle and Emma’s relationship, but the film never becomes abrasive towards its characters and scenes are allowed to play out fully and eloquently. Of course in doing so the three-hour runtime becomes essential rather than optional. Normally I’d groan at anything north of two hours, and in all honesty the prospect of watching this felt tiresome. However: the fluid nature of the dialogue; the immersive delivery from both Adèle and Léa; the contrasting elements of each character; the way that the cinematography ensures a sense of immediacy — much in the same vein as Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy does — all combines to shun that three-hour hurdle into non-existence. You could spend a lot longer with these people and not become bored.
And it is all about the people. Adèle delves in literature, delighting in French and English and adores children as much as she detests shellfish and strawberry milkshakes. On the other hand, Emma carries a greater intellectual air about her, studying Fine Arts as a student (she’s a little older than Adèle) and mingling with similarly cultivated friends. In fact, the film in general has a European art-house underbelly going on: there’s street music with odd instruments; rallies supporting sexuality and protests over cuts; philosophical discussions entailing Picasso. Yet it still maintains a breath of commonality. You don’t mind the artsiness because it’s their artsiness, and its appeal actually starts to beckon after a short time. Having said that, the film does slightly teeter on the edge when it’s not Adèle and Emma swapping these conversations — they’re sometimes replaced by other characters who we don’t know well enough and as a result come across a tad overbearingly.
Inevitably the discussion over how necessary the extended scenes of intimacy between Adèle and Emma will arise. One sequence, which clocks in at around eight minutes, is far too long. Is it controversial? Maybe. But from a viewing perspective, its innate longevity actually removes the viewer from the genuine, heartfelt love-story which both pre and succeeds it. Thereafter said scenes are shorter, but probably still linger unnecessarily. It’s a shame because the film is so much better than some of the backlash those eleven or 12 minutes have generated, made even more annoying as the source of much of the controversy isn’t really a narrative necessity anyway.
The film is speckled with truly emotional moments throughout: from an upset Adèle being exposed to uncertainty in the midst of her classroom, a place of refuge, to a tale of two family dinners, one outgoing and the other conservative. As their existence together progresses, jealousy sets in and differences clash: this notion of fulfilment in life takes hold as Emma encourages Adèle to enter the world of writing, whereas Adèle sees happiness in continuity. There’s an inherently tragic undertone at times, and in a way the narrative mirrors that of Romeo and Juliet — in a bar, their second meeting and first magnetic interaction shares a whole host of similarities with how Romeo and Juliet first encounter each another.
Both actors are phenomenal in their depictions. Adèle Exarchopoulos, a relative newcomer to French cinema, shines in particular as Adèle. It’d be a shame for her not to pick up an Oscar nomination because there’s nobody in the past year who has delivered a more eclectic performance, beginning succinctly before unravelling a diverse range of emotions along the way. Her on-screen partner, BAFTA Rising Star nominee Léa Seydoux — who you might have seen in Inglorious Basterds or Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol recently — is also tremendous in her occasionally mysterious and always binding portrayal, as her character often acts as the anchor for Adèle’s insecurities.
Sometimes words aren’t enough, not unless they’re being exchanged between Adèle and Emma. It’s not an entirely groundbreaking narrative drama, but it is honestly and wonderfully executed. Blue most certainly is the warmest colour, however, if there’s any justice in the world, this film’s future will rain Academy gold.