The Palme D’Or will go a long way towards a film’s success, once awarded; in the case of Blue Is The Warmest Colour, director Abdellatif Kechiche has indicated that he sees the honour awarded to his picture as the only way his film can succeed at all, in the wake of damaging comments from acclaimed co-stars Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux about his demeanour with them. These comments, chiefly about the harsh conditions during filming of two pivotal scenes of rapturous sex and distraught anger between their lovers, Adele and Emma, have threatened to overshadow a fiercely interesting but deeply flawed film’s critical merits.
The film follows a young French girl, Adele, from the age of 15 to an ambiguous time in her mid-twenties, as she matures emotionally and sexually, confused and dismayed by aspects of her life. Unfulfilled by a heterosexual teenage fling, she timidly experiments with women, before falling helplessly in love with Emma, an older and infinitely more confident woman. Their relationship is the centre around which the film thenceforth rotates, and it is an enthralling one, without doubt. Their conversations feel genuine, and their foibles realistic enough. Kechiche takes an almost documentary approach to Adele’s life, especially once we skip forward to her living with Emma, and the film benefits from it in many ways – chiefly the depth of connection we feel with Adele. However, the meticulous attitude to everyday details also becomes a pitfall; the film is 2h59m long, and it feels bloated at times – for example, the third time we see Adele teaching for an extended scene, or after 5 minutes of dialogue mystifying the female orgasm in a way which the film should surely abhor.
This indulgent bloating of the runtime will be most keenly felt, though, when it comes to the scene which has drawn the most attention – the defiantly explicit 7-minute love scene which consummates the lust Adele feels for Emma. The scene is, for the first minute or two, an intense and important moment for the characters onscreen, a seismic event in the life of our protagonist. For the next five, it is an increasingly pointless, troublingly voyeuristic piece of gratuity; when a film strives for realism in its portrayal of life and love, for a first experience of gay sex to be quite so positionally inventive and loud feels somehow dissonant. Manohla Dargis’ observations in the New York Times, about derrieres in the film, are deeply thought-provoking (hint: they’re prominent), and further problematize a film which on the surface is extremely commendable for its attitude to the universality of love.
The movie is at times totally enthralling, with a scene of homophobic high-school abuse among the most affecting, a pitch-perfect portrait of a teenager attempting to rebuff bullying without betraying herself. The fight which Seydoux and Exarchopoulos also complained about filming is as distressing as their dissent suggests, with Adele’s breakdown painful to behold, in its stunning authenticity. The two central performances are wonderful, though Exarchopoulos’ stands above, in its warmth and intimacy. Indeed, Blue Is… is a very difficult film to put a rating on – my criticisms all require the acknowledgement that it provokes thought in a rare manner. However, a three hour film which totally justifies its length it a rare beast, and Kechiche’s Cannes-conquering effort does not manage to do so, and this ultimately brings it down.