(Léa Seydoux) and Adele (Adèle
2013 WILD BUNCH, QUAT’SOUS FILMS, FRANCE 2 CINEMA, SCOPE PICTURES, VERTIGO
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR (LA VIE D'ADÈLE)
2013, 179 minutes
Rated NC-17 for explicit sexual content
Review by Joshua Handler
This film is such a knockout, such a revelation, such a gut punch that it was hard to believe I was simply watching a movie. Director Abdellatif Kechiche shot this film in a cinéma vérité style, which makes everything look natural. All cinematic touches have been eliminated and what's left is a raw, realistic look at a tragic romance.
Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a high school student who finds her relationship with her boyfriend unsatisfactory. One day, Adèle passes a young, blue-haired woman, Emma (Léa Seydoux) in the street and is transfixed. Soon after, Adèle’s friend takes her to a gay bar. Upon leaving the gay bar and following the blue-haired girl to another bar, Adèle finally meets Emma. This marks the beginning of a passionate, but doomed relationship that the film follows from the beginning to the end.
Ever since premiering at Cannes in May and winning the Palme d'Or, Blue is the Warmest Color has been stirring up controversy with its seven minute-long sex scene and its actresses speaking out against Kechiche's working habits. Do yourself a favor a put all of that aside for three hours because this movie is so much more than a few graphic sex scenes.
Blue is the Warmest Color finds its greatest strength in the performances of Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux who, for the first time in history, were awarded the Palme d'Or along with the director. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux's chemistry is beyond believable. It is frightening to think that they were not actually in love with one another.
Watching Blue was like reliving first love all over again. The most effective moments in Blue are those small human moments that exist in the context of longer scenes. At 179 minutes, this movie is long, but the length is justified because Kechiche finds the small moments of human beauty in the midst of his extended scenes. Take, for example, a scene early in the relationship in which Adèle and Emma are enjoying a day lying on the grass in the park. They talk, but it is the quiet moments, not the talk, that matter. Each loving glance shows Adèle or Emma desperately wanting to know everything about the other and simply live inside the other to know what exactly the other is thinking at any given moment. The epic lust for knowledge about the other person that exists during the honeymoon period of any relationship is seen in the eyes of these characters and Kechiche captures it perfectly without any self-awareness.
This approach works for this film because it makes the beauty feel natural. The average film finds the moments of beauty in each scene and cuts out everything else to create a world of beauty, of heightened reality. Reality isn’t heightened in Kechiche’s world – it is restored. Blue is the Warmest Color looks so realistic that it feels like a documentary.
For all of the pleasure and love portrayed in the film, there is quite a bit of pain, particularly during the wrenching third hour. Everything is wonderful until the inevitable downturn in the relationship. These scenes sting. I felt the pain of the young women as they suffered, which made the movie that much more emotional. The first two hours of Blue are very good, but it is the final hour that brings everything home and makes the film the heartbreaking masterwork that it is.
Kechiche, by shooting this film vérité style, allows scenes to run long. These scenes unfold like life. Kechiche doesn't always use these scenes so much to develop the actual plot as to develop the emotional arc of Adèle Adèle wishes to be a teacher and in the latter part of the film, she is. There are many scenes of Adèle teaching. These scenes don't always move the plot forward, but they always show of Adèle's emotional state. Kechiche doesn't seem to respect or disrespect his characters. He allows his actors to make us care and respect them.
Much of the reason Blue is such a towering success is because of the performances of its actresses, Exarchopoulos in particular. They give performances that defy description. Their performances go beyond acting and are, without exaggeration, two of the greatest performances in the history of cinema. Exarchopoulos is Adèle. Never once during the duration of the film’s 179-minute running time did her performance ever feel forced. I cannot do her performance justice by writing about it – just see the movie and you’ll know what I mean.
Léa Seydoux is the perfect match for Exarchopoulos. She is sexy, alluring, and passionate. In her scenes with Exarchopoulos, sparks fly and she lights up the screen. As with Exarchopoulos, words cannot do her performance justice.
Overall, Blue is the Warmest Color is a journey through love unlike any other. By the end of the film, I felt as if I lived with Adèle and Emma through their years-long relationship. Blue is (literally and figurately) a naked exploration of passion and love and one of the most beautiful romances I’ve ever seen. Kechiche and his actors have created a completely pure love story that will touch everyone who has experienced first love. Blue will especially speak to those in the process of coming out. It could be a cathartic and liberating experience to view this film. It celebrates the ups and downs of life and love in a straightforward, honest manner and through this film and its honesty, we see ourselves and learn. Blue is the Warmest Color epitomizes what makes cinema great.