Since winning the Cannes Film Festival last May, Blue is the Warmest Color has gained a streak of notoriety due to its content and graphic sex scenes. Yet for what its worth, Blue is the Warmest Color is not about sex, but first love. It’s a tragic romance that’s about first love. While initially I wasn’t enamored as most people about the picture, I initially found myself warming up to the film to the point of great admiration, though still weary about the complete subtext.
The French title, La Vie d’Adèle—Chapitres 1 & 2, or The Life of Adèle—Chapters 1 & 2, is a more suitable name for Blue is the Warmest Color. The picture is about French teenager Adèle (Adèle Exarchopolous). She and her friends gossip about boys at school, which eventually leads to her dating one of her classmates. Adèle though abruptly dumps her boyfriend (though not before consummating the relationship) after finding the experience wholly unsatisfying. But soon Adèle falls in love with a blue-haired art student named Emma (Léa Seydoux). The two quickly get together and embark on a long and steamy romance, discussing their innermost thoughts and wonders of love and culture on park benches, art exhibits, and exquisite restaurants.
Director Abdellatif Kechiche uses primarily close-ups and handheld shots, which add a feeling of tenderness to the characters, from the glistening of Adèle’s eyes to the pained visible sadness on her face. It’s a technique that is quite stirring and really emphasizes the passion between Adèle and Emma. Kechiche’s use of time is also very intriguing as the span between the beginning and end of the movie takes place for over a few years, which took me by surprise when Adèle quickly graduates school to live with Emma.
The performances by Exarchopolous and Seydoux help add to the raw emotional feel. It’s clear that Kechiche asked for much from his two lead actresses and they certainly push any conventional boundaries to such an extent it’s hard to believe they have only a few other pictures under their belt. Exarchopolous really makes the tortured longing of Adèle seem real and brutal. Seydoux also is courageous in her role as Emma; while not as emotional as Exarchopolous’s performance, Seydoux adds to the scholarly edge and bluntness to her characters.
Despite this, there are flaws in Blue is the Warmest Color, with the major issue is the running time. The picture is 179 minutes, but I felt that the picture could have worked better if an hour was taken out. In particular, many of the sex scenes felt a bit unnecessary and while they reveal much of the intimacy between Adèle and Emma with the provocative nature, they also go on for quite for longer they they should (though truth be told, The Wolf of Wall Street has just as hard, if not harder, content as Blue is the Warmest Color, but in less supply). If briefer, the emotional impact of Blue is the Warmest Color would be stronger and more focused.
Overall, Blue is the Warmest Color takes a while to digest and I’m still pondering on the ambiguous and suggestive ending, which hints that The Life of Adèle—Chapter 3 may be beyond the horizon. Whatever the case, Blue is the Warmest Color is an attentive and provocative examination on teenage love that deserves more recognition for its heart rather than its content.