Blue Is the Warmest Color

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Blue Is the Warmest Color
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) is a high school student in the throws of sexual awareness. Her tryst with a handsome classmate leaves her unfulfilled until she locks eyes with blue-haired art student Emma (Lea Seydoux). The love affair between the two young women will be bring bothe pleasure and heartbreak to them in “Blue Is the Warmest Color.”

Robin's review will be published on opening day, 10/25/2013.

15 year-old Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos, "I Used to Be Darker") is being courted by a senior who has all her girlfriends swooning, but when she spies an older woman on the street she is shaken to her core.  Sensing something's missing, Adèle breaks off with Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte) and accompanies a buddy to a gay club, but it's just an excuse to cruise the lesbian bar next door for the woman with the brightly hued hair in "Blue Is the Warmest Color."

Since winning the Palme d'Or along with his actresses at Cannes, Writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche ("The Secret of the Grain") has come under all kinds of scrutiny, accused of being a pervert (or at least supplanting his lead's point of view with his own) by feminist critics and even the source graphic novel's author.  More recently, there have been words from star Léa Seydoux ("Farewell, My Queen," "Sister") which have caused Kechiche to go on the defensive.  The film is rated NC-17 for several graphic scenes of lesbian sex, one of which is 7 full minutes and yes, that extended scenes goes on for so long it begins to repeat itself, becoming harsh and hard in its portrayal of lovemaking, making one wonder just how many takes Kechiche felt the need to shoot. (It is also of note that all of the film's male characters appear to be Arabic, but that's been the case in other of his films as well.) But the director also clearly establishes the female form as art, the appetites of his protagonist as voracious and Adèle and Emma's (Seydoux) love affair as all consuming.  Themes of art, literature, teachers, first love, food and social justice have been present in his work before and they continue here.

The opening scene of "Blue Is the Warmest Color" is, in fact, very reminiscent of "The Game of Love and Chance," a high school class again studying Marivaux (here 'La Vie de Marianne') and the concept of love at first sight.  At home, Adèle eats her dad's (Aurélien Recoing, "Time Out") famous bolognese with gusto, an orange ring around her mouth.  When she meets Thomas for the first time, he suggests stopping for a crepe, but she wants a gyro, something heartier.  But after having sex with Thomas it's not his lovemaking which envelops her dreams, it's the stranger with the blue hair.

When Adèle and Emma lock eyes the second time, you can feel the electrical current between them. Emma's amused, flattered and indulges the young girl with talk of art and philosophy (Adèle counters Satre with Bob Marley).  Soon Emma's 2 year relationship is in the rear view mirror and Adèle's meeting Emma's mother and stepdad.  And it is here, at the beginning, that we begin to see the end.

Emma is an artist from a Bohemian home which favors seafood and white wine (amusingly, Adèle claims to hate shellfish, but ends up loving oysters) whereas Adèle is from a bourgeois upbringing where red wine and pasta are king.  When Adèle expresses her desire to become a teacher, Emma's family wonders if she's found her true path yet.  When Emma eventually meets Adèle's, the women's true relationship is withheld and Emma's art indulged because of the 'husband' who can 'pay the bills.'  Their preordained paths already diverge.

Kechiche seems to jump forward in increments of about three years.  Suddenly it's Adèle's 18th birthday, Emma not present.  Then it's a celebration for Adèle's Beaux Arts show, Emma acting the part of the wife, serving guests (bolognese and champagne, the women's families married), listening to conversation about the mysteries of the female orgasm.  As a domestic couple (we never learn how this affects Adèle's family), the pull of career puts each in the orbit of admiring others, misunderstandings, distractions and temptations weighing down the purity of what once was. Three years later, things have changed again, Adèle having received an education in life.

Kechiche found a ripe peach in Exarchopoulos, whose unabashed sensuality doesn't merely unfold, it blossoms and cascades.  Her Adèle gives and takes with equal measure, embracing what she loves whole heartedly, bereft (blubbering, Emma might say) in its absence.  Over the course of three hours, Exarchopoulos's initially unformed Adèle grows up in front of our eyes.  Seydoux's Emma, on the other hand, already knows who she is.  She's a confident yet gentle mentor as well as lover who gets sucked into Adèle's all encompassing passion.  In a late cafe scene, Seydoux is mesmerizing as she struggles to keep her bearing against Adèle's sexual vortex.

Kechiche and his cinematographer Sofian El Fani keep their camera intimate, using close-ups of the actresses faces to register emotion, occasionally drawing back to parallel their forms with the artworks they admire.  The color blue gradually disappears from Emma's hair, but it is used as a beacon throughout.

For three full hours, "Blue is the Warmest Color" pulls us into a celebration of first love in all its glory and pain. It's thoroughly engrossing and Exarchopoulos and Seydoux couldn't be truer.

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