Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a great film about love and confusion and is sometimes good in communicating themes about taking that next, important step in your life.
It begins on Adele in her junior year of high school, age 16 or 17. In walking to her bus stop, she has to use her hand to pull up her pants because they’re too big for her – she hasn’t grown into them yet – and at home, her parents are always drinking and uptight, but provide her with warmth in the form of a shelter and plentiful homemade food. If you’ve seen The Secret Of The Grain (also titled Couscous) you know how sumptuous Abdellatif Kechiche can make food look. Don’t see this movie on an empty stomach. (Especially if you love spaghetti which I do.)
This sumptuousness visually translates into and all but becomes Abdellatif Kechiche’s misc-en-scene. The sex scenes, which is what a lot of the film is getting attention for, which is inevitable for any NC-17 rated film, are also compelling in that same way.
One can call the images beautiful or pornographic – like everything, it is subjective and up to the viewer to decide – but I personally felt the acting in those scenes was perfect – both Adele Exarchopolous and Lea Seydoux were evoking a higher level of openness in their love – so what is performed is truly compelling on an emotional level. It is also adds interest to the character development as the actresses add layers to their characters when they are together and uninhibited. It’s comparable to, but not quite like Don’t Look Now. However, on another hand I felt there was a superficiality to the sex scenes in how they were composed visually, which is not at all present in the Nicolas Roeg’s film or those sex scenes.
For this film, Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color, I noticed how different the lighting between this scene and any other in the film – especially the preceding one. Before Adele and Emma explore each other’s naked bodies they are together outside smoking under a tree on a sunny Parisian day. They kiss and they’re happy. They’re breathing in fresh air and it is so natural. One is a little dulcet-minded and the other a little pragmatic – we’re seeing how they play off each other as they’re only now becoming more and more acquainted. They haven’t really spent too much time together or even kissed much, that we’ve seen. Then, they’re naked and candles light them from behind — which would softly and romantically illuminate them — but what primarily lights the scene is a bright, additional light source that comes from behind the camera and (softly) shines onto them. Both sex scenes have this exact same lighting scheme. Not only that, they have the same establishing shot and utilize a very plain, almost complacent camera angle — which wouldn’t be bad but they revert to it a few times and one time again — that observes both women, their naked bodies and all their splendor. It even feels like it was shot in one day is how similar those sequences look. That strikes me as artificial, perhaps even a little devoid of artistry, which can be said for much of the film if these key sequences are not fully developed or explored a little more creatively within that time. Not in how it is edited or anything – on the contrary, it is cut together as marvelously as any sex scene(s) could be and without exploitation – but its look is a distraction. The passion is adamantly shown on Exarchopolous and Seydoux’s strewn faces, the acting of its open and intuitive stars. That is its greatest strength. However, I do feel the director provided them with great artistry and it not very compassionate, so it lacks a cinematic element — it’s like the book equivalent of a film — so for as dedicated as I’m sure they all were, it can feel like an emulsion of individual efforts and not a graceful mix of them.
On top of this, there is no foreplay. Okay, I get it if you think it’s typically soft and artistic to show two young women situated beneath a tree playfully growing on each other in their own maturing ways, but then to have them stark naked in one of their empty apartments without the grace of showing them undress each other or maybe do something else is kind of ignorant. They don’t even show them light the candles. I mean that within the context for as much sex as is shown there is not much but two people really projecting their hormones onto each other. There is definite passion, sure, and some softness later on, but nothing that reaches the magnitude of these sex scenes.
In my opinion, the acting is actually more thoughtful than how their characters were written. For the most part – the character-heavy writing is certainly good enough to invent and create enough interesting situations and circumstances for three hours to feel like two and a few minutes, so the writing is not without purpose and structure (unlike something like Shame which could have gone different ways depending on who directed it; implying incest for one, implying absolute hopelessness for another), so this isn’t so much a director’s piece as it is a vitally vivid realization of a good, solid script with some superb and bare performances.
For the first forty-five minutes or so, maybe an hour, Adele (Adele Exarchopolous) has an emotional arc that I felt a lot of empathy for and some sympathy. The film is also called Adele: Chapters I and II and opens on Adele beginning a day and walking toward a bus for school. figuring herself out with some growing to do (pedantically symbolized in her having to pull up her jeans time and time again), but not knowing exactly who she is. At school, the clique of girls around her project her interest in a boy named Thomas and outspokenly support his in her. At some point, she has a realization about herself sexually–and when she does, she wonders it is worth embracing. Where it loses me is when it first explores the dynamic of Thomas being with Adele. In the story, it is understandable that she goes with it because of peer pressure and her own inner feelings of sort of friendly sympathy toward the nice boy in her school, but she has sex with him and it could have been her first time. The film isn’t explicit enough to explain that side of her, at least I don’t remember it so, but if so, the subtitles didn’t allude to her being a virgin. They are young and it hasn’t been implied that Adele has had sex, so if it was, it kind of ignorantly passes over the entire emotional arc going on inside of her during that first experience – one that she rolled with despite her true feelings, which are observed and compelling, sure, but there could be a lot more going on there. If she had lost her virginity in the past, I wonder what she feels about that, especially now. She knows she likes this Emma women, even if she only knows her by her blue hair on the street corner. Is the director making a commentary on how easily sexual young adults/teenagers are (in Paris/France)? That seems somewhat disparaging to say the least, but there is heavy rumination within Adele Exarchopolous’ face during every moment and subsequent moment in those sex and post-sex scenes that are laden with feeling and give off honest energy.
I could really feel sad for her and want to help her, listen to her and counsel her, if I could, but there’s no way I could. I just had to watch her suffer and then, struggle with her isolation in grappling with her sexual confusion and frustration (having sexual thoughts about someone she may never see again, plus it’s a woman), so I did feel sad – but when hope came (in the form of Lea Seydoux) I felt happy – she would be relieved. I could relate to loving Kubrick and Scorsese, loving it all but “hard rock” and eating my scabs too when I was an adolescent. I can still relate to the former.
Adele Exarchopolous is so good in this film that the movie’s simply a meditation on Adele. It’s almost entirely her story and she makes you feel for this docile creature – if Lea Seydoux didn’t do so well at capturing the determined artist that is the blue-haired twenty-year old Emma it would have. To Emma, Adele is ambrosial and the essence of her flowering sexuality; the feelings are mutual for her love.
But in that formulaic kind of way. There’s seldom any tension or tumultuous between the two characters; it was a very agreeable and soft relationship, nice and simple, like two peas in a pod or two tacos in a combo box. No, the three hours warrants it in a way because why does it not? A film is a film – whether it be 70 minutes or 640 minutes, you take it for what it is. But for three hours, I’ve seen many more complicated scenarios depicted and this one takes its time to resolve it in a very “every day” sort of way, sort of like the Dardenne brothers do, but less powerfully. The writing/scripting of this film leaves a lot to be desired and in a way, it feels like an hour was missing.
This might be because not much happens to her after she and Emma first become intimate. Adele is a solitary character – we never see how she deals with high school and society after being “outed” (or does it all just disappear? or does she stay those girls’ friends?) nor do we see her relationship with her parents evolve or dissipate. There might be a lot more of this character to know within the time frame of this movie that is completely ignored, so for three hours they didn’t do much more than cover the basics of adolescent Adele, her hormones and ambiguous confusion as to what to do with herself in life after making a regrettable “mistake”.
You see, in the film Emma leaves Adele – forces her out of the house she lives in with her. It is more than that she is an ingenue or likes sex, she is crazy about Emma; her emotions and sex drive are absolutely integrated into that woman and she knows it. To Adele, it feels she is as her as she can be in Emma’s midst’s – naked or not – but when she loses her, it’s like she doesn’t know where to go. This is where a lot of heartbroken individuals will be able to relate to the story, but it doesn’t really go anywhere from there. It doesn’t, for example, hit you so deeply the way Blue Valentine does – or at least not to me, anyway – but the acting is a whirlwind and forcefully leaves an impression on you.
I wondered why Emma castigated Adele and pushed her away from her as I didn’t find that side of Emma or their relationship thoughtfully explored one bit. Okay, I get it, she is an artist and passionately communicates her anger and distrust to the woman that cheated on her, she is outspoken and bursts at the seams when betrayed, but Emma might have done the same thing; she might have slept with another woman while they were together and there is never any clarity on that. Although it was never spoken of as a possibility that was a big part of the reason Adele went out and actually spent time with the male co-worker she sleeps with (Benjamin Siksou) . She felt lonely and abandoned. Adele is left to resent herself with no sameness, compassion or lightness present – no one to say “It’s okay” and only one love who degrades her and maybe forgives her. Though her nature is changing to function within society the way her parents do – work to be stable – it feels like Kechiche left her to twist in the wind with the open-ended doubt Adele harbors and absconds with at the end of the film. That is, as she walks away from us.
There is also this flaw in the direction. Time lapses are a problem – there is a lack of sentimentality in how the film communicates the time spans between from one moment to the next, so sometimes Adele’s state of emotion has little or no sense of context; we simply see her as a woman in some distress and there is sometimes a vague idea behind it, but mostly these are ten second shots of her tear-strewn face and it’s well-acted, but repetitive and yields her emotional arc for awhile, while generating lackluster drama for most of the second/third hour. A lot of drama not plundered leaves the film ultimately light and similar throughout for the two hours after the first and to little poetic reward. Now that isn’t Kechiche’s fault, but there is no elegance. There is no music or cross-fades. No love shown in the face of great sorrow — Adele has to escape the biting judgment of her classmates after being outed, she has to run away from Emma when she wants her out and she has to run away from the party when she is a success. This is beauty. This is love, is it not? But you do not show her love. Why? Director, you could have extended a tissue to her from behind the camera it would have meant something, but you chose to ignore her. It’s pretty sad, man.
For example the film skates over Adele’s rendez-vous with her co-worker from the school where they teach. Apparently they slept together on three occasions, but we never see one of them. We see them passionately dance once and kiss twice, once before Adele is dropped off at Emma’s so it looks like it’s just a kiss goodbye from a night out or something, but in a film with some rather long and graphic sex scenes – not to mention being three hours long – this part of the plot is completely dismissed. It makes for a somewhat disenchanting scene when Emma confronts her about it. When she accuses Adele of sleeping with him, I was thinking “No? Why are you being so mad about this, don’t you love her?”
Adele, her guilt, desperation and the inception of her romantic confusion, or at least how she deals with loneliness and the feeling of abandonment are all avoided, so when that confrontation arises it lacks the thoughtfulness, pathos and the overall acknowledgment needed to help realize where she is in life – at that juncture – as the first part does so well in amalgamating. It seems the more the story progressed the less inclined the director seemed to create a whole, flowing picture; it is as if he was focused on Adele the helpless ingenue and didn’t allow her to grow with time; it’s as if he knows what he wants to passionately explore, does so and leaves the details — the small, human incongruities — for the audience to think about, neglecting to think deeply himself.
Latter parts feel anticlimactic whereas the opening act has a flow; the film is so long, though, that the lack of climax in any particular spots and jarring, popping bits work as a kind of kinetic energy for the film. This may be because she is earnestly an ingenue in that time of her life, but does not grow later on in the film, so when things happen to her, when she is sad and all of a sudden she is no longer 16 but 20, you think, wow. That is the same technique imposed on the other feature of his I have seen, The Secret Of The Grain, although without the time lapses. This style works in a documentary kind of way in that it is inoffensive to the eyes and ears, it appears as if we are watching life as it is, so we can happily follow it as long as it is professionally observed. It is.
If it’s any testament to the two actresses who forefront the film, it is that I have something to say about the romance and romantic love they displayed. They, Adele and Emma, both had their problems – Adele was still precocious and innocent, growing into a big change and learning to be herself in the world around her and Emma was fixed in her self-deprecating and hedonistic ways. Though I would have liked to have known why she ended things with her previous partner of two years before meeting Emma – I thought that perhaps the flame between she and Adele burnt so strong that her undeniable attraction separated them, but a little more elaboration on others matters like those would’ve added texture to the whole picture.
This is a film about young people discovering and accepting themselves while growing up in the city – or if not, it mostly works when it focuses on the world around it – so for it to encompass more subplots and supporting stories would’ve been a good thing. Some of the best scenes are when Adele is in high school with her somewhat openly gay friend Valentin (Sandor Funtek), who she can be open with and who takes her out to the “gay social scene” district where she first meets Emma. These are all very good sequences, and so are the dinner scenes with Emma’s parents and then, Adele’s. They’re not the most emotional of scenes, but each piece adds a different and helps invest us in the worlds of these characters. That’s why I felt most cheated that the movie spans a year or two here or an uncertain amount of time (but probably another two years) there without any indication – I felt cheated of a lot of this journey because for as much as the two women clearly mean to each other, there is no real understanding between them. Whatever the reason, it feels spurious to span that much time and not have some, or at least some closure and hope for Adele. What are her days like? What are they now – is there any focus? If so, why? If not, okay… because of Emma? Wow. This doesn’t feel like Adele: Chapter 1 and 2. It feels like Adele: Chapter 1 – a very long chapter, but one nonetheless.
There is clearly a lot more story than what is depicted in La vie d’Adele’s three hours. For me, it is a base-level observation of a relationship that probably intertwined much more deeply and dwelt on a lot more feeling, the pain and the profound love, than shown in the movie. This film is mostly about passion and confusion. Adele’s curious passion for Emma, her identifiable passion for life (she loves kids, she loves food), Emma’s passion for art and her work, and her passion for Adele’s youthful openness and body. It works as a simple prose on those feelings – passion, romance and confusion – especially as they often play into each other, but they are different rewards that are taken from the story other than the profoundly beautiful sides it has to offer – like the dynamic shift in personalities the main characters undergo from before their relationship begins to well after. They have changed each other and it is for the better, but there is no way Adele sees that. That’s why I think Adele was more than some unforgettable person with whom Emma sexually bonded, if anyone thinks otherwise. They facilitate each other’s growths in a personal way – I think for Emma it was a big way, it made her feel more safe and want to have a family, whereas in high school that’s something Adele would’ve wanted, but now she only wants love. That right there is universal, but so is the pain of rejection and having to find yourself. There is great reward in finding yourself and for how much destitution Adele feels – from the beginning of “chapter one” to the ending of “chapter two” – she ultimately feels bad about herself and uncomfortable.
It’s a great relationship movie. However, very little of it is elaborated on within the film’s text. The writing is very conversational, but there will be stretches of no dialogue, so there is an honest flow, but a lot more could have been explored. It’s pretty stripped down and stretched out.