02 August 2014

Missed Masterpieces: Blue is the Warmest Color

Infinite Tenderness

An Essay in Words and Images 
by Kevin Powers

Few movies capture what it is to be an everyday human-being like Abdellatif Kechiche's 2013 masterpiece, "Blue is the Warmest Color."

I wish to start by acknowledging the elephant in the room, so to speak, and, literally, my only critiscism of this movie. That being the over-long lesbian sex scene, occurring about a third of the way into the film, that had everyone talking after it won the Palme D'or at the Cannes Film Festival. I get it. In a film that desires, above all, to portray a truthful story about passion, desire, and love, to offer the whole years-long arc of a romantic relationship, it is fitting to delve into the details. The film's heroine, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopolous), starts out as a late-teen hoping to fulfill her sexual desires, to understand and master her confused sexual identity. The sex scenes should be there, and they should be as real as they are.

However, my stance is that this movie (at three hours) could've been just as powerful had that one sex scene been trimmed just a bit. There's no need to turn the beauty and power of sex, and the female form, into pretty-much soft-core porn. Porn is for one thing. Romantic drama for another.

Having said that, this film is simply engrossing and affecting on a level that we rarely experience as movie-goers.

Adèle is from a working-class family in France. She is insecure, and, at the start of the film, a high school junior with an identity crisis of sorts. More than anything, it is apparent that she wants and needs love. That the audience grasps this in the first five minutes of the film with no dialogue or voiceover of any kind speaks to the power that is Adèle Exarchopolous' performance (easily one of the best performances from a female lead in the last five years, at least) and the assured direction by Kechiche. 

He captures her insecurities in a genius way. A motif, if you will. Hair.

Adèle's hair is as important as anything else in this film. It is messy. She constantly plays with it, messes it up seemingly on purpose. As a way to pass time, this motif is also genius in our understanding of the characters as they age. 

Hair also plays a role in the introduction of Emma (Léa Seydoux). It is blue. Striking and well, "warm" and inviting to young Adèle.

Emma is a few years older, openly gay. When Adèle passes her on the street one afternoon, she is lovestruck. Emma is a woman of passion. A painter, she knows exactly what she wants. She is worldy, intelligent, discusses philosophy and art with a slight air of pretense, but, then again, don't all artists?

Adèle works up the nerve, finally, to explore her homosexual urges. Though she has tried sex with a young man from school named Thomas (Jeremie Lahuerte), her desires have not been fulfilled. With a gay friend from school, Adèle hits the clubs, leaving her friend behind she wonders into a nearby lesbian bar. Her youthful cuteness attracts the attention of many of the women there, but it is Emma who steps in. They chat about speaking English and American films, philosophy. Emma, in an established relationship, leaves her, but soon returns to Adèle's life, picking her up from school one afternoon. 

Kechiche allows the characters in this film to really talk, to discuss things that people of that age discuss. Hopes, dreams, desires. Adèle and Emma's relationship begins, first and foremost, sexually. Director Kechiche obviously understands this as well. When romances begin, it's the conversation and sex that drives it all. Both aspects play out in extended layers.

The stark differences between them soon appears, however. On a visit to Emma's mother's house, Adèle tries seafood for the first time. The mood in Emma's home is open and loving. Emma wishes for Adèle to seek out her artistic sensibilities, the topic of conversation at Emma's family table. At Adèle's home, they eat pasta (another motif). Her family is working-class, not at all open to homosexuality. The topic of conversation is money, security. Adèle wishes to simply become an elementary teacher. Emma wants her to write. Emma wants to succeed in art. Adèle finds that teaching is way to do what she loves and have financial security. 

Each of these dinner scenes are capped with shorter, yet equally graphic sex scenes displaying, ingeniously, the contrasts between life at Emma's home and life at Adèle's. 

Time passes.

Adèle and Emma, now living together, host a party. Adèle feels out of place among Emma's intellectual friends despite their obvious delight in meeting her, Emma's muse. 

The party scene is a tremendous achievement alone. The subtitles can barely keep up. The discussion ranges from American action movies to art and philosophy to family. Adèle cooks and serves all the food, including her family pasta recipe, which is a hit. 

Time passes.

Adèle and Emma grow further and further apart, but, like most couples, have a hard time admitting it. Emma's drive for artistic success drive Adèle away a bit. Adele begins to feel alone. She seeks solace in a coworker finally building to the film's supremely brutal and emotional, yet satisfying, climax. 

Like most first relationships, the passion and love fade, leaving the lovers to continue to figure it all out. Emma tells Adèle of the "infinite tenderness" she will always have for her in the most heartbreaking scene of the movie. I had to write that line down. I was truly awestruck. 

And more time passes.

Adèle's hair changes. It's not as messy. Her insecurities disappearing with age right in front of our eyes, yet the her desire for love ever-present.

The third act of the movie is as powerful as any movie I've ever seen. I don't want to give you any more plot, for that would take away from said power.

Throughout the three hours of "Blue is the Warmest Color," I had a smile on my face. How grand to find a film that puts the viewer in such awe. I believe my smile came mostly from how perplexing we are as humans. So many movies put everything right in your face with plot and action, suspense. This film urges us to identify with the fact that being human is messy. Life and love, just being normal, these are perplexing things. It is hard to know what Adèle wants as far as relationships go. Well, yeah, most young people have no idea. We try and fail and try again. As viewers, we feel sympathy for Adèle. And in her performance, Adèle Exarchopolous feels sympathy for us. At twenty years old, she is an actress so comfortable in front of a camera that genuine emotion is the only thing there. 

Writer/director Abdellatif Kechiche understands life. Sorry to get so deep there, but it's the one great truths of this film. Every normal, everyday person in this world is capable of being perplexing. Normality is such. We live, we work, we love, we desire, and we keep moving on, and it's never clean and easy. Adèle is like a portal through which we can view our own normal little lives. That is the reason we watch movies and read literature. And only the best of those have the ability to truly succeed in portraying the "infinite tenderness" of life, of happiness and love and sex.


  1. Beautiful review! I loved this movie so much. I reviewed this a while back and found many of the same sentiments you did. This is such a human movie...it speaks to all of us in such a profound way. It's a shame that so many can't see past the 13 minute sex scene!

    1. You are right on. This is a totally human movie. Profound and beautiful. I honestly can't remember a movie making me feel quite like this one did. If the only criticism is a perfectly-made sex scene (that's just a bit too long), that just proves, once again, that American society is still not ready for most smart, thoughtful movies. Movies that have been made in Europe and elsewhere for years.

      I really enjoy your blog. I appreciated you taking the time to read and comment here.

    2. Thanks Kevin, I appreciate that :-D

      I'm glad you stopped by the other day, because it introduced me to your blog as well. I've added you to my bloggers roll so I can stay updated on your posts. Love your writing style, so I'm looking forward to keeping up with your posts.

      Happy blogging!

      Oh, and back on subject, I completely agree with you. European film has been so far ahead of the curve for so long. They are more interested in creating films that are heartfelt and honest, and less concerned with exploding in our faces. I think it has a lot to do with the way they approach life over their. My wife and I went to Europe a few years ago, and the way of life is so much more relaxed and comfortable. They enjoy their lives and try and take in every moment. We are so busy here, so consumed with work and money that we forget to sit back and just soak everything in. I think that translates into the way that Americans in general watch movies. They want it loud and fast and get it over with.

      Maybe I'm a European at heart, but I want my movies to rest easy and take me somewhere deep, reach a part of me that I need yanked out and moved.

  2. Good review Kevin. It's less of a movie about two women falling in love, and more just about two people falling in love. And of course, all of the wonderful, beautiful and sometimes, harsh things that come along with it.

    1. No doubt. It's a fully realized and executed relationship on film, which almost never happens.