Blue is the Warmest Colour was the most anticipated film at the Mumbai Film Festival. It is directed by Abdellatif Kachiche and won the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. What was notable about the prize was that it was awarded to the director as well the two leading ladies: Lea Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos. It is based on the graphic novel Blue is the Warmest Colour by Julie Maroh and having seen the film and read the book; I have to say the book is better.
Blue is the Warmest Colour is not just a coming-of-age story. It is also a passionate love story between Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Lea Seydoux). There are two themes that the audience is introduced to fairly early in the film; those of love at first sight and tragedy. And these echo in the film as if the characters are fated to fall into these traps. It is about the beginning, middle and end of a very passionate love affair.
Adele is a seventeen-year old school student. By all outward appearances she seems to be doing quite well for herself, she’s a good student, has a nice group of friends and even has a boy who really seems to like her. She seems to be living pretty much every teenager’s dream. But something inside her is missing. She thinks that perhaps sleeping with her boyfriend might help alleviate this feeling, but it doesn’t. After the act, she’s unresponsive and miserable. Then, she meets Emma (Lea Seydoux) at a gay bar and they hit it off. They start going out and Adele is happiest when she’s with Emma. Emma is the one person she can be truly open and honest with and not be judged. They move in together and are very happy. But there is a sense of malaise that sets in as Emma grows more distant and Adele is still unable to be open about their relationship. In a particularly vicious confrontation, things come to a head when Adele finally confesses that she cheated on Emma with a guy. That’s the last straw and Emma breaks up with her and throws her out of her house. This just crushes Adele and she falls apart, barely able to function.
Blue is the Warmest Colour is a beautifully shot film; the filmmaker makes excellent use of natural light and uses a lot of sun flares. This also draws a contrast between the two halves of the film: the first half, when they meet and then fall in love, is bright with a lot of outdoor shots. It looks bright and sunny like a string of perfect, beautiful days. The second half, on the other hand, when their relationship starts faltering and then finally falls apart, is darker in tone with a lot of indoor shots and takes place at night. They also make excellent use of the colour blue. It is a recurring colour in the first half of the film. Like the lighting, the colour also helps chart their relationship. As the film progresses, just as the blue colour fades from Emma’s hair, it also fades away from the frame. It’s almost like a premonition of what’s to come.
The film is well directed and yet there is nothing extraordinary about it. This was definitely an actor’s film; it belonged to the two lead actresses. Their performances were real and engaging. Adele Exarchopoulos was excellent as the protagonist, Adele, who is constantly conflicted between who she really is and worried about what the people will think were they to find out. But she is especially engaging in the beginning as the wide-eyed seventeen year old who is still learning about herself. She beautifully and with minimal dialogue conveys the confusion and the lost feeling of her character. (But this was one thing that the graphic novel definitely handled better) Lea Seydoux was perfect as the older and self-assured Emma who is infinitely more comfortable in her own skin and at ease with her own sexuality than Adele. Looking at her, it’s easy to see why Adele would fall for her, there is an air of confidence around her that draws Adele to her like a moth to a flame. But there was a sense of vulnerability that was missing where Emma was concerned. In the film, you don’t see the depth of her love for Adele to the extent where you find yourself questioning if Emma even loved Adele.
Now, for the main problem I had with the film and that was with the sex scenes. To say that they were explicit would be a massive understatement. They were explicit and then some. And after reading the book, they seem even more excessive. There are sex scenes in the graphic novel but they were about two people making love to each other, in the film, the scene was about lust and merely about the physical act. It gave you no sense that they were in love with each other.
The scenes look almost exploitative and this comes across because of the camera especially if you look at the places where the camera lingers and what it focuses on. There is no aesthetic value in these scenes. I agree that it was important to have a sex scene between Adele and Emma, if for no other reason than to show how much more alive Adele was in this encounter, I disagree with the level of explicitness and the amount of time given to them. Adele was blatantly objectified especially in the scenes where she was asleep. There were tight close-ups of her mouth and her butt. Whatever Kachiche meant to convey with these scenes could have been conveyed by a shorter scene. While watching the film, you get the distinct feeling that it was the one time men had a window into this world that they would never otherwise have had access to and it was milked for all it was worth. I felt like I was watching a teenage boy’s wet dream.
I honestly think that a female director or even a gay director for that matter would have handled these scenes differently. Blue is directed by a man and is very obviously told from a man’s point of view even though the narrative follows Adele.
Kachiche also made some very big and integral changes to the story from the graphic novel. Alterations that completely changed the tone of the film. And the last scene of the film made me question what he was implying. The book’s conclusion was a lot more satisfying and fulfilling.
Having said that, Blue is a perfectly good film if a little self-indulgent on the director’s part. At three hours long, it is engaging throughout and definitely worth watching for the amazing performances and a great story.