First, "Blue is the Warmest Color" is an intense, moving love story. Though much has been written about the raw, very human, very physical and graphic connection between the two stars, Adele Exarchopoulos as Adele, and Lea Seydoux portraying Emma, this is not, ultimately, a film about a lesbian love affair.
Rather, it is a startlingly lovely and demanding and discomfiting narrative, astonishingly well-acted, about the perils of coming-of-age and its attendant loneliness and isolation. As well, it explores the intensity and need that are revealed as we reach out to fill that universal void that is embedded in the human heart. The writers are, in a sense, cartographers of the human condition.
Initially, "Blue" focuses on 16-year-old Adele, a high school student who is just now experiencing a continuum of emotions regarding her sexual identity and her personhood. Inherent in adolescence is a rite of passage, a necessary journey toward self-understanding, and an unrelenting need to understand ones impulses and desires. It can be simultaneously confusing and exhilarating, and, above all, layered with emotions that are in conflict with one another.
French with subtitles
Exarchopoulos — with every expression, with every toss of her luxurious hair, her large, brown eyes welling with tears of sadness or delight, her full lips poised in protest or acceptance of the emotions she feels and then must deny — is perfect, stunningly perfect.
Though Adele has a brief affair with a classmate (she is a junior, he is a senior), a charming boy who is sensitive and attractive, she remains uncertain about her own physicality and wakes in the night, touching herself, while fantasizing about a young, blue-haired woman she saw on the street one afternoon, her arm wrapped around another woman.
And it is when she meets this woman, Emma, in a gay bar into which she wandered out of curiosity, that she begins to experience an attraction that is seismic and compelling and from which she cannot turn away. Though Emma is older, a fine arts student, she also is far more experienced as a seductress, and Emma falls into an abyss of love and carnality unlike anything she could ever have imagined, certainly nothing like she experienced with that first boy.
It is at this point in the film that director Abdellatif Kechiche, through a series of set pieces, demonstrates the depth of the connection that Adele feels for Emma, her soul-searing need and lust and ultimately a consuming love. At no time do these scenes feel gratuitous or blatantly prurient. They are so boldly integrated into the story that they are essential to understanding fully the relationship between these two women, and the relationship arc that is so clearly recognizable from the thrall of infatuation to the devastation of rejection. From the moment Adele meets Emma, in every set piece, she is intensely alive, her emotions vibrating like an overly taut violin string, her desire all-consuming.
Considering the title: I would argue that blue is not the warmest color, but is a color that while deeply embedded in life is one among many. Adele's life, and by far the majority of the film, is made up of moments far from the bed shared by the two women. There are engaging, even delightful, scenes at dinner tables, moments in restaurants and bars and on the street, even Adele simply teaching a class of kindergartners (she becomes an elementary school teacher) stand alone and add balance and a distinct verisimilitude. All involve conversation, interaction that is quietly interesting and mundane and so very human. If they were to be given a color, a shade, then certainly they wouldn't be blue — perhaps yellow and red and green and even brown. But they are life. And it is life that defines this startlingly honest and rare film.
One last word about the portrayal by Exarchopoulos: she is sublime. She inhabits the character of Adele to the point that any semblance of giving a performance is lost, and it is impossible not to invest completely in her happiness and to feel her wrenching grief. This is film as art. And, as an aside, it was the winner of the Palme d'Or for the director and the two actresses at Cannes.