Review: Blue Is The Warmest Color (2013) – Abdellatif Kechiche’s Neorealist Love Epic of Extreme Close-Ups and Delicious Spaghetti

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*Spoilers Ahoy!*
Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a quiet and mysterious schoolgirl. She loves reading, eating and sleeping. One sunny day, as she’s on her way to a date, she crosses the coolest blue haired and blue jeans wearing girl in all of France (Léa Seydoux). Their eyes meet for the shortest time and it’s: Bam! Coup de foudre. Love at first sight. That night Adèle dreams of her hot blue lady. At first she tries to fight her instincts, but then it just becomes impossible to resist. After being rejected by her girl crush in school, she decides to go out to a gay bar with her BFF (Sandor Funtek). At this point she almost gave up hope of ever meeting her blue angel again, but as fate would have it, Emma just happens to be hanging out there. In a gay bar? Who would have thought! 

Blue is the Warmest Color (original title: La vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 et 2. No, I don’t get the two chapters thing either) is based on Julie Maroh’s graphic novel by the same title (original French title: Le bleu est une couleur chaude. Literally: “the blue is a warm color” also known as Blue Angel). This is one of those rare instances where I prefer the American title to the original, not only is it much cooler, but it’s also closer to the original comic book title. Plus, the French really had it coming with some of their terrible film title translations over the years (can you believe they even needed to change Robin Hood to make it sound French?). Not having read the source material adapted by Abdellatif Kechiche yet, I will solely refer to the movie in this review.

Blue is the Warmest Color is considered a coming-of-age story, and it is in a lot of ways. However it’s also a lot more. I would almost look at it more from a philosophical point of view and call it an existentialist essay on the human condition. Even though I dismissed the French title earlier, it does help understand what this film is about. It’s a thorough exploration of Adèle’s life, to be more precise it’s about a very specific time of her life. You could say it’s the most important chunk of her existence, her formative years if you will or her “sexual awakening” (no matter how silly I think that expression sounds). No matter how you look at it the film is definitely a character piece.

What’s the most important thing with any great character piece? Why, your actors of course. In this respect the film is a prime example of casting genius. Adèle Exarchopoulos (I really wish I knew how to pronounce that) is spectacular in this film. By far one of the best performances of this past year. She gives a stellar performance. It’s nuanced and subtle and there’s so much going on beyond the words she speaks. In fact, my favorite moments of the film are the ones where she’s just quiet, hanging out, sleeping, contemplating things. Léa Seydoux is pretty amazing herself in her supporting role (how the hell did she get first billing?).

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Adèle (the character) is a seemingly simple character and therefore you’d also imagine she’d be simple to play. However there’s so much going on beneath the surface (in her head) if you pay attention to the film, that I would say it’s one of the most complex characters I’ve seen lately. The way the film shows her you could almost think that she’s complacent and not very ambitious. She doesn’t seem to care much about art, she doesn’t aspire to be an artist (like Emma) and she’s happy just being in a loving relationship. What’s wrong with that? Adèle wants a secure and stable job, so she becomes a school teacher. That’s a simplification, she also seems to genuinely love children and she’s a good and passionate teacher.

Emma, on the other hand, is an artist, a painter. She studies at the Beaux Arts (most prestigious art school in France). For her art clearly comes before anything else. She loves Adèle, but at the same time she feels that she should pursue her writing. So then Emma meets this pregnant lady, Lise (Mona Walravens), and they connect on an artistic level (but have no sexual chemistry). So who’s happier in the end? What’s more important in the end? Emma gives up her great relationship with Adèle. They have great sex, but not much to talk about afterwards. Adèle never really gets into the whole art scene. Emma’s friends seem like they come from another planet. Yes, they love her, but at the same time they kind of feel superior, just because they pursue their artsy side.

That is the beginning of the end of their relationship. They gradually grow apart. Adèle feels lonely. She cheats on Emma and that’s where their relationship ends. It seems that Adèle only needs love to be happy. She sleeps, she eats, maybe reads a little, but she doesn’t need much else. I love how the film shows all of her mundane activities (don’t worry, it’s not as extreme as ‘Jeanne Dielman’), because that’s what most of our life is about: Uneventful stuff, everyday life, routine. It makes sense. By the same token it also makes sense to have lengthy sex scenes, because that’s also an important part of life. It also works so well, because the two actresses have great chemistry together and you can totally buy into their relationship. The physical attraction, the sexual tension is there, it’s palpable.

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The way everything is edited together is a “problem” sometimes. The film jumps from one emotion to the next. It almost gives you no time to sink in to one feeling, because it’s already moving on to the next one. Which is kind of ironic considering the long takes and lingering camera. Long takes are usually associated with boring films, but let me tell you: There’s nothing boring about Blue is the Warmest Color. It could have gone on for another three hours and I would have been so in. It’s just a fascinating and immersive experience. I felt like I was watching real people at one point (the bar scene towards the end especially). It almost feels like we’re somehow allowed into the most intimate moments of these people’s lives.

Director Abdellatif Kechiche achieves this by constantly using close-ups. In fact it gets tiring for the eyes after a while and you really hope that you get to see something other than the actors beautiful, but enormous faces on the screen all the time. Sometimes the close-ups are so extreme that the camera doesn’t even capture the whole face and I’m a fan of close-ups, but no exaggeration: 90% of the film is close-ups. Sofian El Fani’s cinematography takes a very naturalistic, almost documentary-stlye approach that I would venture to all neorealist in a way. It’s like Dogme, but with better and less shaky cameras. I read that a lot of the film was improvised and you certainly can notice how sometimes the camera doesn’t know what’s going to happen next and just goes with the flow.

The film also uses light in an interesting way. There’s a lot of extremely brightly lit scenes and then some very dark scenes. One of my favorite examples is a kissing scene, between Adèle and Emma where the sunlight fills the whole screen every time they come up for air. It’s just beautiful. There’s obviously also a lot of blue, but not in an annoying way. I’d compare it to Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Blue in that regard. I’m not sure about the meaning of the color blue or what Kechiche’s intentions were, but in Kieślowski’s film it signifies liberty (taken from the French flag). I don’t know if it applies to this film, but it’s interesting how Adèle loses her liberty in a way after meeting Emma (Emma, representing blue because of the color of her hair).

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In a way her heart belongs to Emma now and she’s not free anymore. She only loves her. She only thinks of her. Her whole world revolves around Emma. She takes away her liberty (also sexually speaking). I could certainly relate to Adèle’s character, the way she obsesses over Emma, the way she relates to people, the way she keeps it all inside. She is a very real, emotional , honest and sweet character. Sometimes she just is, which is my favorite part. She just exists. Don’t we all? I’m not sure she realizes that and maybe that’s where Emma wants her to change, but does she needs to change if she’s happy that way? I like that the film raises these questions and does so in a mostly unpretentious way.

Being someone that over thinks stuff, I could certainly relate to Emma’s character too. It made me realizes how patronizing and preachy I am without even realizing (which is precisely what I hate, or so I keep saying). I have this prejudice against French cinema that I consider it to be pretentious and pandering (which was also my main concern getting into this film) but I can’t say that about ‘Blue’. It’s a mature effort in my opinion. The “jump” between Adèle in school and Adèle being a teacher could have been handled better. It’s a bit confusing to go from one point in her life to another without any visual anchor (or maybe I missed something). What I did love about Blue is the humor, which also helps not making it “too” serious or heavy of a film.

The way this film ends feels inconclusive and unresolved, which makes sense, because we only see one “chapter” (or two) of Adèle’s life. It’s probably the most important period in her life. It’s the relationship that she’ll compare anything else to. It’s a time she’ll always remember. I can’t help but wonder what this film would have looked like if directed by a woman. The comic books was written by a woman and it’s a film about two women so it would make sense to have a woman direct it, but that’s just me nitpicking, because the film is truly great. It’s already a Criterion. It won multiple awards, most notably the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, but was completely ignored by the Oscars. I hear the director is kind of a dick and terrible to work with, but I can only judge him based on his output and that is some good shit.

9 out of 10

8 comments

    • davideperretta

      Yay! I was so happy, they showed it at my favorite art house 🙂 Lots of “short haired” women, if you know what I mean 😉
      It was even better than what I expected. I totally recommend it.

  1. Pingback: Graphic Novel Review: Blue Is The Warmest Color (2010) – Differences & Similarities Between Julie Maroh’s Bande Dessinée and Abdelatif Kechiche’s Film? | black is white
  2. Pingback: My Favorite Films of 2013 | black is white

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