Blue is the Warmest Colour
Dir: Abdellatif Kechiche
Cert: 18 • France: 179 min • Quat’sous Films • November 22 2013
Hassan Vawda reviews
From praise to debate, criticism of its depiction of sexuality and even its production, this year’s Palm d’Or winner has so much post-viewing baggage that to see it with fresh eyes would be a lucky experience. Abdellatif Kechiche, a film-maker of real craft and artistry when it comes to intimate portraits, has ambitiously decided to adapt the personal graphic novel of a young women’s sexual awakening by Julie Maroh into a sprawling 3 hour film, a film of elegance and with a dozen layers; some bold, some blurry and not always in fluid harmony.
Firstly, it is important to look at the film without all the criticism, to put the arguments of sexual perspective and accusations of on-set intimidation aside and see it as art in process and form. The centre piece of awe in the film is Adéle Exarchopoulos, who is spectacular in the lead role of Adéle. It is her first centre-stage role in a film, a challenging one to take on for such a young actress – and my word does she deliver. The film’s perspective is constantly looming within an inch of her eyes and her discovering heart. Exarchopoulos takes this on her shoulders and really goes all out. Charting her from development from high school through to young adult, with her doe eyed naivety, her frustrations, experimentations and ‘awakenings’, her performance is faultless.
However, there is a flaw to the way her character is written that sadly puts a limitation put on her performance that is out of her control, at times making the multiple dimensions that she tries so hard to portray seem flimsy. This is the major flaw of the entire film. With the main theme of sexual awakening at the heart of the narrative, Kechiche only nods at, or shoehorns in, every other aspect of Adéle’s life and character, making sure that there is always an aftertaste of repression and naivety. Whilst it works in keeping the theme intimate, it keeps a distance from the character and ultimately weighs down the exploration, but again Exarchopoulos’ performance is so full with rough passion that even with the directors flimsy focus outside the close up she still is a gripping character.
Léa Seydoux, who plays Emma, Adéle’s more experienced lover, is equally effective – but again the same issue applies. She is given the vibes of being an artist, and someone with a philosopher’s nose, but all that is insignificant because it is sexuality that is in focus. The film is about sexual awakening and romantic passion after all, so having these in full focus is not a criticism – but it leaves the feeling that everything around this lens is artificially constructed. This construction is, moreover, something that diminishes a certain emotional weight that the film clearly wants to carry. There is a precision in the way that Kechiche takes every scene, every cut and every angle that, although gorgeous to view, creates a cold distance to the romance. This is why, although effective on the eyes, the extended and explicit sex scene does nothing to the heart. Kechiche feels more interested in presenting a vision of lust, sex and love rather than creating a feeling of one. Luckily, his performers are so intensely involved in their roles that a feeling does just about come through the waterfall of fluids gushing.
The weight of criticism that chains the film at its ankles is something hard to ignore, but it has also got out of control. The main problem seems to be that Kechiche, as a heterosexual director, has fetishised the lesbian romance and given it the ‘male gaze’ treatment so that it is nowhere near a real representation. The film may have had more authenticity if it was made by a lesbian filmmaker but, equally, there have been plenty of queer films by queer directors who fall prey to the exact same aesthetic follies that Kechiche does. Perspective is only a part of creating art. Kechiche is aware of this, and there is a scene in which people discuss whether a man can actually represent a woman in art and also great “pull the rug out” shot, where he slowly pans the camera over Adéle’s body in pure leering, exploitation glory – only to pull out, and show she is actually being looked at by Emma, who is drawing her. This is a unique look at one person’s sexual awakening, and after seeing the film twice I think Kechiche does try to make this clear.
With the lush, delicate micro-precision of Kechiche’s process, Blue is the Warmest Colour hugs you through the three hour run time, but the hug is with uneasy, unfamiliar arms. The precision of his lens both tightly grips but takes the true fully-formed love out of the frame, but the with performances that his two leads give, especially Adele – are so fiery, so raw and with heavy heart rumbling intensity that they pump the blood in to each frame, almost making the whole love and sexual awakening feel real. It’s just a shame that the directors technique doesn’t quite gel with the performance, leaving the film dipping in and out of honesty depending on whether the visual mechanics are in focus or the actresses’ spine.