Some movies are disposable entertainment, leaving nothing behind but the ticket stub. But Blue is the Warmest Colour is not one of them. It's been two weeks now since I saw it, and – no kidding – I've thought or talked about it everyday, including an intense conversation with Anthony Lane, the man who reviewed it (rapturously) for The New Yorker.
My assistant Claudine saw the film last night and we've been discussing it since she arrived this morning. It's not the 7-minute lesbian sex scene or the controversy around whether the director exploited his young female stars, it's the sheer power of its story and the depth of its humanity.
Interestingly Claudine and I are slightly opposed in our response to the three-hour opus. I was so touched by the story of the young gauche rather docile Adele Exarchopoulos who falls in love with a worldly lesbian artist, Emma (Lea Seydoux). Life, art, love is a mystery to Adele when we first encounter her soft, round face (the whole thing is filmed in intense close-ups). She wants to grow up to teach children, cook good food, to love and be loved. Claudine empathised more with Emma especially when infidelity rears its ugly head. But, I countered, Adele was responding to Emma's perceived pulling away – and the results seemed to suit Emma's purposes. Back and forth we went as if we were talking about real-life friends rather than invented characters in a French art-house movie. Watching the film, we felt sad when they were sad, smiled when they were happy, felt their pain when their hearts were broken. Once the lights went up, we kept the faith, not wanting to lose touch with these beautiful, flawed, intriguing women.
Blue is the Warmest Colour is a rich, gluttonous exploration of human relationships. It explores a young woman's journey through adolescent naiveté, while navigating the trials of first love and loss. There is something almost grotesque about the visceral nature of the close-up camera shots, so intimate that the viewer is forced to confront the young protagonist's vulnerability. The camera work is shockingly bodily; it's this physical closeness which blurs the lines between the material and the emotional, forcefully inviting the viewer to swim in the intimate depths of Adele and Emma's relationship. Throughout the film, greasy, tangled hair sticks to Adele's parched lips, tomato sauce clings to her mouth and strings of saliva mingle with snot and tears - the screen is simply dripping with her.
Adele's round, childish face, and often parted lips give her a child-like look which belies her age, while Emma is the older, wiser, more experienced artist. In a ridiculous Titanic-esque scene, she paints Adele in the nude, confirming her status as voyeur – she is very much in control. And yet, I couldn't help but sympathise with Emma's struggle - the burden of Adele's youth, and the maternal strait she had unwittingly fallen into. When their love begins to crumble, Adele is woefully left to clasp at the fragments left in its wake.
Emma unconsciously withdraws, as we see in the scene following a dinner party where Adele is made to feel intellectually out of her depth, and her pleading nuzzling in bed is spurned. Adele learns the eternal lesson of conditional love. With the passing of time, the camera-shots pan out as Adele's word-view expands. In the denouement of the story, she is told the old cliché that 'travel broadens the mind', and we see that her horizons have indeed been broadened by the emotional journey she has undertaken. And we were fortunate enough to be invited along for the ride.