Of all the films released in 2013, perhaps none were shunned in as much controversy and adulation in equal measures. French romantic drama ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ has received criticism for its explicit sexual content but despite this went on to pick up the illustrious Palme d’Or award at Cannes Film Festival. It is based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh, which is evident in its interesting use of colour, and follows teenager Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) as she embarks on a journey of personal discovery and meets art student Emma (Lèa Seydoux) before coming of age. It is ambitiously shot, and the resulting outcome shares the same attributes as its protagonist; outspoken, flawed but beautiful to watch.
The film opens in muted fashion, patiently tracking Adèle on her day-to-day routine but in an unusually unflattering manner. The lens studies her, close-up and explorative, as she sleeps open mouthed, runs clumsily for the schoolbus and attacks the bowls of spaghetti bolognese served up from her mother. This style is continuous throughout and as we find out more about the character, and as she finds out more of herself, we see more of her, the camera acting in parallel with her arc. Later when Emma paints Adèle, she describes her as her inspiration and her muse and it seems the same rules apply for the director, Abdellatif Kechiche, which raises one of the topics of controversy in the way he presents the girls on screen. The sex scenes which are introduced in the second third are overlong, the longest lasting around seven minutes, but they don’t add an awful lot to the narrative and in fact make for slightly uncomfortable viewing after a while, resembling a gruelling rally of women’s tennis as the girls exchange deep, intense stares and grunt back and forth. I found their conversations away from the bedroom a lot more worthy and key to the development of the story as their relationship blossomed. In one scene, they share a tender moment which is filmed masterfully with the sun beaming in the background, and this captures a turning point for Adèle perfectly.
The colour blue features heavily and significantly throughout, even used in the English title, though the original French title is La Vie D’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2, translating as The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 & 2. I felt that the script struggled to translate, particularly the early school playground dialogue, coming across as incredibly basic. It improves vastly as the plot develops and offers some very funny one liners in the ‘meet the parents’ scenes which occur almost in turn. What never fails to translate is the use of the colour, and as Adèle’s inner battle with her sexuality builds we see a wash of blue coming across in nail art, plastic jewellery, clothing and most noticeably in Emma’s wacky hairdo. Art is consistently seen or talked about with several references made to the works of Pablo Picasso and it seems Adèle, or maybe Kechiche, goes through their own twisted interpretation of his famous ‘blue period’ replacing the depressive connotations with those of sexual awakening. The performances from both leads are as striking as the cinematography, especially from Exarchopoulos who conveys a range of emotions through subtle expressions, from wide-eyed naivety to confident assurance as she takes us through Adèle’s metamorphosis.
‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’ has achieved what independent films aspire to in that for good reasons or bad it has been discussed heavily and in its publicity has been recognised accordingly, which it fully deserves to. It tackles its subject matter head on and refuses to hold back leading to its issues in pacing but although it runs for just over three hours it represents a period of around five years, providing a solid structure and a fitting resolution. It is brave filmmaking and very visually impressive, and though it occasionally verges on becoming unrealistically Skins-y in its quest for artiness, the characters ring true, aided by the powerful portrayals, offering an unflinching depiction of young passion and sexual discovery.