Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Culture Editor RIVKAH BROWN thinks this film shines not for its portrayal of homosexuality, but frustrated, desperate, human sexuality.

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One of the most striking things about this French film, and something an English audience only realises at its end, is the massive disparity between the film’s French title, and its English one. What is in English ‘Blue Is The Warmest Colour’ is in French ‘La vie d’Adèle’ (The Life of Adèle), the latter’s emphasis being manifestly on the coming of age of its title character. Indeed, while this film has been hyped as the story of a lesbian love affair, it is really the story of one woman’s fragile, frustrated and ultimately self-destructive path through life and love. While director Abdellatif Kechiche’s sensual and frank portrayal of lesbian sexuality is certainly important (not to mention long overdue), it is his depiction of the sheer desperation of human desire that truly impresses.

The story is hardly a revolutionary one: a teenage girl (Adèle Exarchopoulos) dabbles unsatisfyingly in heterosexual sex, stumbles upon Lille’s gay scene, is blown away by a girl with blue hair with whom she instantly strikes up a relationship, blah blah blah. Léa Seydoux as said blue-haired temptress is, if slightly stock, magnetically sexy all the same. While the plot dictates that we know how their flirtation will end, Kechiche’s skill is in making every twist and turn of Adèle’s journey through her sexuality wholly credible. It is hard not to be drawn in by the ease and sexual permissiveness of Emma (Seydoux) and her lesbian pals, compared to the awkward fumblings Adèle shares with a classmate (cute as Jérémie Laheurte undeniably is).

Emma and Adèle share a flirtatious look in a lesbian bar.

Emma and Adèle share a flirtatious look in a lesbian bar

Sofian El Fani’s cinematography is simply astounding: never has the physicality of everyday existence been so accurately portrayed. Spaghetti slurping, snot running, sweat dripping, open-mouthed chewing, sticky-lipped kissing are the fabric and texture of this film, so much so in fact as to occasionally border on the grotesque. It certainly doesn’t scrimp on the sex scenes, either: the movie pivots on a central, 10-minute-long, unflinching sex scene. It’s great, it’s liberating, it’s also a bit much when the guy sitting next to you is breathing very heavily. It did also strike me as somewhat strange that, for all its brutal aesthetic realism elsewhere, this particular scene was almost glowingly ethereal, Seydoux and Exarchopoulos’s bodies perfectly-shaped and entirely clean-shaven.

The drama of this film may be understated, but its tragedy is all the more comprehensible for it. There is nothing grand about the film’s ending, no climax to which the action builds up to: it is instead structured around a series of romantic misadventures, of affairs and breakups and longing and rejection, whose logic is so self-evident as to seem almost anti-dramatic. And yet the film’s very mundaneness, its refusal to make anything extraordinary of its characters’ lives, is itself moving. Love sucks, life goes on, and that is all.