Stars: Adele Exarchopoulos, Lea Seydoux, Salim Kechioche, Mona Walravens, Jeremie Laheurte, Alma Jodorowsky, Catherine Salee, Fanny Maurin and Benjamin Siksou.
Writers: Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix; based upon the graphic novel by Julie Maroh.
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche.
Providing one of the most heart-breaking and fulfilling protagonist arcs in international cinema for some time, Adele Exarchopoulos proves to be an actress of interior strength, aching vulnerability and searing sensuality as the central figure in Abdellatif Kechiche’s self-discovery classic, Blue is the Warmest Colour.
The director’s deceptively straightforward naturalism with camera and dialogue results in an incisive honesty, ensuring Kechiche’s love story never lulls over its three hour running time. His chronicle of a young woman’s journey of personal definition from sexually confused teen to emotionally scarred adult features Exarchopoulos in almost every frame; although she often exhibits the doe-eyed/pouty-lipped exterior of many French ingénues, hers is a performance that could never be defined by physicality alone, however striking. Every furtive glance, intimate personal moment or awkward social interaction reveals just a little bit extra about the tenderness and confusion inherent to her realisation regarding her sexual leanings.
After an unfulfilling encounter with the school hunk that leaves her cold, Adele’s same-sex longings take on a stronger focus when a school friend playfully kisses her. Having indulged in some self-love to the image of a striking blue-haired woman whom she encountered on the street, she tentatively enters a lesbian bar for the first time, where she meets the object of her infatuation – the experienced, artistic Emma, played with a fearless self-assuredness by Lea Seydoux. Emma proves the defining influence in Adele’s personal growth, their burgeoning friendship leading to a forthright and chemistry-rich sexuality that is central of their relationship.
The portrayal of homosexual love is as forthright and unflinching as every other human sensation and emotion in Blue is the Warmest Colour, which is crucial to justifying their presence. Though the graphic couplings are instantly shocking, they ultimately defy the visual component and emerge as specifically elemental, as impactful as every other moment in the early stages of Adele and Emma’s love story. There is no denying, however, that the actresses and their director (who have since had a very public spat over the shooting of the scenes) captured the most explicit love scenes that mainstream cinema has seen in some time.
Those scenes aside, there is a certain conventionality to the love story that posits it as a non-gender specific study of a relationship. Jealousy, infidelity and insecurity erode the initial attraction and connection, negative traits in both hetero- and homosexual romances. Detractors have suggested that the casting of two beautiful actresses and the frankness of their Sapphic scenes borders on the exploitative, but deep involvement in every feeling is the film’s raison d’etre. Unashamedly, Blue is the Warmest Colour is an emotional exercise rather than an overtly intellectual one (referencing Jean-Paul Satre and Pierre de Marivaux’s work The Life of Marianne are Kechiche’s more precise nods to philosophical context, but they represent the film’s least convincing moments).
A third-act encounter between Adele and Emma in a diner lasts a relative short while in the overall running time, but captures a range of emotions so raw as to be breathtaking from second to second. Kechiche’s film ends on a hopeful note that suggests from the ruins of one romance a stronger individual will grow. Adele’s journey both soars and plummets, the joy and heartache reflected in Adele Exarchopoulos’ soulful rendering of a decade in the life of a developing young woman in a film rich with humanity and understanding.