Although it has been mainly known for its very frank depiction of sex scenes since its premiere at the Cannes Film festival in this May, “Blue is the Warmest Color” is a lot more than that. This is a close, intimate observation of one romantic relationship, and its long running time is packed with many small and big details glimpsed during the initiation, elongation, and termination steps of this relationship. This is surely a big, vivid chunk of life, and we cannot help but be involved in a long but emotional journey unfolded on the screen as feeling the passage of the time around them.
The story is mainly viewed through Adèle(Adèle Exarchopoulos), a young teenager girl who has just awakened to her sexuality. She tries a date with some hunky male student at first, but she slowly discovers her lesbian side especially after encountering Emma(Léa Seydoux), an artist girl she came across once and then encounters again later at a lesbian bar. It was apparently love at first sight from the beginning, so they are quickly drawn to each other, and then they meet each other again and again.
The first half of the story focuses how Adèle’s life is changed by her relationship with Emma, and Adèle experiences almost everything which can happen to a girl who has a homosexual relationship for the first time. While most of her friends including her gay friend see no problem with her being a lesbian, one of her friends shows outright disgust for a petty reason. While Emma’s sexuality is no secret to her sophisticated parents who kindly welcome Adèle at their dinner, Adèle hides her relationship with Emma from her parents. When Emma comes to her house, she introduces Emma to her parents as a very close friend helping her philosophy study, and Emma does not seem to mind about that deception at all.
They are happy to be with each other, and every moment with Emma is precious to Adèle, who is certainly exalted by the first serious romantic relationship in her life. Because the movie closely captures their private moments through handheld camera, its wide screen is usually filled by the frequent close-up shots of its two lead actresses, and they ably respond to their challenging condition with a engaging duo performance fully packed with their plain but strong presence to hold our attention for around 3 hours. Whatever they do, they are constantly interesting to watch, and we accordingly follows their life drama to be progressed.
The movie received the Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Festival, and, for the first time, the award was given to not only the director/co-adapter Abdellatif Kechiche but also its two lead actresses, who indubitably deserved such an exceptional decision for carrying the movie with their performances under Kechiche’s dry, austere direction. While Léa Seydoux, who previously impressed us with “Sister”(2012) and “Farewell, My Queen”(2012), is flawlessly immersed into her role, it must be said that Adèle Exarchopoulos gives a fantastic breakthrough performance here as the emotional center of the film. Like Seydoux, Exarchopoulos always draws our attention even when she is doing mundane things on the screen, and her performance feels so uncannily naked at times that it is simply hard to regard it as a mere acting even when she just looks sleeping in front of the camera.
Speaking of being naked, the movie has gained lots of publicity thanks to the explicit nudity in its several sex scenes, and all I can say about those scenes is that they feel as serious and naked as the copulation scenes in “Lust, Caution”(2007). The sex scenes are handled with the serious attitude to the emotional ecstasy of characters fully enjoying mutual carnal pleasure, and Exarchopoulos and Seydoux go all the way with their body parts for showing various sex acts in front the camera while barely avoiding the area of pornography.
It goes without saying that these scenes inherently have an uncomfortable voyeuristic aspect, but the movie has a voyeuristic intention as closely observing Adèle’s life from the start. As reflected in its original French, “La vie d’Adèle”(The Life of Adèle), the movie is intended to be an intimate window to her life, and Abdellatif Kechiche, who wrote the adapted screenplay with Ghalia Lacroix based on Juli Maroh’s comic book “Le Bleu est une couleur chaude”, has his handheld camera closely but coolly following or watching his two characters throughout the film, and he also pays lots of attention to the other things in Adèle’s life besides her relationship with Emma especially during the second half of the story.
The second half of the story takes a less bright turn like many consummated love stories in their aftermath, and the movie keeps its unflinching attitude as the problems begin to arise between Adèle and Emma after they start to live together as a couple in Emma’s house. While working as a school teacher, Adèle feels increasingly abandoned as Emma mostly occupies herself with her paintings to be drawn and exhibited(well, who said the life with an artist is easy?), and her loneliness is ironically(and painfully) shown to us when she is busy with serving Emma’s dinner party guests.
What eventually happens between them and the following aftermath are also handled with the same steady pace in its inevitable course, and Exarchopoulos and Seydoux go through several difficult scenes well while never striking a false note in their performances. Its ending feels anti-climatic compared to what we saw for more than 2 hours and 50 minutes, but the movie is a rare emotional experience to be seen and absorbed, and, as I was watching the ending, one of few French expressions I know came to my mind: C’est la vie.