THE STORYLINE OF “Blue is the Warmest Colour” follows a very formal structure that suggests its meta-narrative: Scenes of eating and drinking (suggesting a sensuous satisfying of desire, a sense of ‘appetite’ needing both physical as much as emotional fulfillment), song, dance and partying (as expressions of joy, rebellion, passion) sex (full on, beautiful, voyeuristic) and lots and lots of talk (after all it’s a French film, so the chatter veers from a discussion of Sartre’s essence and existence dialectic to a discussion of the relative merits of Klimt over Schiele). As the story unfolds and darkens, the quartet of food, song, sex and talk is shifted and tears replace song.
Director Adbdellatif Keriche’s self imposed structure allows his story to unfold slowly and naturalistically while offering his audience a map of the deeper, more symbolic dimensions of the tale.
The story is essentially that of the young, innocent Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos, who really does deliver an engagingly unaffected, honest portrayal of ‘young love’) whose tentative forays into love and sexual identity lead her into the arms of Emma (Lea Seydoux) a girl with blue hair, with whom she falls instantly in love. Her fall for Emma is all-consuming; and it is with Emma that she discovers or at least releases a depth of passion and sexual desire that cannot be constrained and that, in the end, kills their relationship. As Emma’s hair evolves away from its artificial blue to its more natural auburn, so too does the warmth of the (artificial?) relationship cool.
The philosophical hub of the story lies in one of the ‘talky’ discussions of Sartre’s existential essence/existence hypotheses. Adele is, in narrative terms, all “essence”. She is pure, innocent, animal lust and passion. Despite the taunts of her class-mates as they try to define her (accurately as it turns out) as a “pussy eater”, Adele herself eludes a simple definition. If anything, it’s her love for Emma that defines her. There is no Adele beyond Emma and sex. She is, in her immaturity, unable to emerge from the cocoon of her essence into an existence in the social world. And Emma seeks to fill this vacuum by trying to shape the kind of Adele she desires: intellectual, artistic, Bohemian. But this is a false – artificial – ideal; and it is only through hurt and a valley of tears (Exarchopolous ‘does’ tears well), in other words, growing up, that Adele can grasp a sense of who she really is (she can eventually define herself as a teacher, a job or which she is well suited).
We know that she has reached a point of self-realization when, at the end, she has the will to wander away from one of Emma’s arty ‘scenes’ and is wearing a blue dress. Da dum! That’s why blue is the warmest colour. Keriche’s hit you over the head signifier makes this quite clear.
This movie recently won the prestigious Palme d’Or, the coveted prize from the 2013 Cannes Film festival. And it has certainly been garlanded with a bouquet of five star ratings. So I guess it must be great.
Most of the reviews revel in the honesty of the portrayals and the unabashed emotional and physical vulnerability of the two actors and in particular of the lead actor, Adele Exarchopolous. They were certainly spellbinding performances, and director Keriche’s voyeuristic camera keep us unnervingly close to Adele as she swoons with love, shudders with orgasmic bliss and simpers with snot-filled anguish.
My concern with the movie was twofold.
Firstly, I found the (delightful, gorgeous, erotic, semi-pornographic) love scenes intrusive and bordering on a sort of arty, auteur-director protected rape. When Cameron shot “The Titanic” the artist/model scene when Leo paints the naked Kate Winslet, brilliantly balanced titillation with taste. There is a similar artist/model scene in “Blue…” but here, the camera’s eye leers, slowly, longingly, on her nakedness; it ogles her naked legs, pauses and reluctantly passes her shaven vagina until it alights and exults in the full glistening nubile delights of the director’s prize. No wonder the two actors felt violated by him (a violation that I guess has been tempered by the resulting adulation and praise). There is a lot of hot, sweaty, deeply intimate, extended scenes of male-fantasy copulation. But, no animals were injured in the production: they used prosthetic vaginas.
Maybe my reservation about it all is just a matter of taste. One blogger’s judgment v the praised judgment of a celebrated director. Take your pick.
What’s not a matter of taste is that of the complexity and depth of the story.
There isn’t any.
Despite the interesting structural format of his storytelling and the annoying, pseudo-erudition of his “talk” chapters (the script feels as though it had been written before Woody Allen savaged the kind of overt intellectual clap-trap his characters mouth, seemingly without irony), there’s really no “there”, there.
Mind you, this wasn’t an unpleasant way to spend three hours. But Palme d’Or? You gotta be kidding me!