It’s been two weeks since my last movie review, the reason being that Blue is the Warmest Color is really long (the actual French title is Adèle: Chapters 1 & 2, which I think is much more appropriate than the English). It took two sittings to finish, which is a tactic I rarely resort to.
The 2013 film is based on a 2010 graphic novel of the same name by Julie Maroh. It unanimously won the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and was considered by many critics to be the best movie of 2013. The screenplay was written by Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix, with Kechiche also serving as director.
The movie centers on Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a 17-year-old girl finishing school with ambitions to become a children’s teacher. Emma, a graduating art student, is the primary supporting character. At the outset, Adèle is single with clear intentions of meeting someone. She has a brief thing with a very nice guy from school, but she breaks up with him quickly because it’s clear something’s wrong. After a female classmate flirts with her and kisses her conspiratorially, you can see Adèle beginning to feel like she may be attracted to women. She comes back at the classmate but she brushes her off, saying that she was just playing. Soon after, in a random trip to a lesbian bar, Adèle meets Emma, a blue-haired and strong, independent person. They begin as friends and end as so much more and so much less.
First, a warning: this is the most graphic movie I’ve ever seen. They weren’t kidding when they rated it NC-17 for American audiences. It features multiple sex scenes, all of which were the longest and least melodramatic I’ve ever seen. Don’t let that define the movie, but you should know it going in. Watch only with select company. All of the scenes are very potent. They’re really trying to get you to believe and almost experience the sex along with the characters. It’s bold art, but too much for me. Maybe I’m just squeamish, but after awhile (and when things take place in public) I stop believing that things are real and instead think they’re what someone is desperately trying to convince me is real.
Now that’s been addressed I can go ahead and say that this movie is beautiful. There are so many striking locations, my favorite was a park bench underneath a full tree getting hit with afternoon light. Several scenes took place there. There’s so much green throughout, even though the time progresses at an uncertain pace you feel like it’s always late spring. The characters are beautiful too. Particularly Adèle. Her face has great youth in it and a startling innocence. It’s painful though, she seems to be searching for the one-and-only place where she can be happy and, since in the movie the place becomes another person, things get rough for her. It’s like she’s trying to withdraw somewhere and hide from the world, terrified she won’t survive engagement with it. Many of the most moving scenes are when she’s working with children in her class. The children are so perfect and ignorant of their perfection, they just live. She wants what they have, but since that awareness exists in her mind it’s already too late. If she could have it she wouldn’t know anything about it.
The toughest moments come during a fight between Emma and Adèle. Adèle has hurt Emma and doesn’t understand why she did it, because she loves Emma. Emma doesn’t really know what to do with Adèle and anger is an easy response. The only excuse Adèle can make is “I felt so alone.” Of course that is not good enough for Emma but it’s good enough to make me hurt. You can see that desperate loneliness in her eyes at every moment. She is trying to withdraw from the world, but to survive that she has to take someone with her. I’m just not sure if that’s ever possible. Even the most devoted couple will end up in the thick of it. The movie probes this. It hangs Adèle out on the ledge for us to see in all her beauty and emptiness.
There is very little music at any point. Overall the movie is most definitely in a style that’s not American. It’s cuts quickly and abruptly from location to location and character to character. Often scenes have no introduction or exposition. Time passes strangely, this fact is inside and outside our awareness. In other words, it is a movie of life. It is not a narrative with a neat beginning, middle, and end. This accentuates the visual impact and rubs your nose in silence. There’s an odd sensation that there’s something missing and incomplete, some big grand scene or powerful orchestra to tell you how to feel. But it’s complete. What’s missing isn’t just out there, it’s inside you. There’s room on Adèle’s ledge for at least one more.