There are several episodes of Seinfeld where the characters are watching a French movie called Rochelle, Rochelle, an epic detailing a girl’s erotic journey. It’s about as French as it gets, and pretty insufferable were it not for the intense, hypnotic sex scenes. What the Seinfeld writers probably had in mind was the classic Emmanuelle (1974)… but after watching the Palme d’Or winner Blue Is the Warmest Color I can’t help but think of it as sort of a Rochelle, Rochelle remake. I’m teasing, obviously. It is a good movie, but one that deserves some criticism.
Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is 15 years old and not quite as obsessed with boys as her classmates. Everything changes the day she spots another girl, an older one with blue hair; not long after, Adèle finds herself masturbating to a fantasy of having sex with a girl. After visiting a gay bar with a male friend one night, she leaves and enters a lesbian bar… and meets the blue-haired woman. Her name is Emma (Léa Seydoux) and she’s an art student. They become friends and it doesn’t take long for them to begin an intense romantic relationship. As Adèle struggles with her emotions, and nasty classmates, she decides to introduce Emma to her conservative blue-collar parents as a friend, nothing more…
Never feels like it’s three hours long
You might think a romance that takes this predictable path doesn’t need three hours of our time, and the reasonable part of me agrees. Nothing of what happens during Adèle and Emma’s relationship will surprise you. On the other hand, there’s the emotional part of you that might say (and I agree even more with that) – hey, this movie celebrates a young romance in a very natural, realistic way and feels totally convincing in the way love is portrayed. The immense attraction, heartbreak, jealousy, everything. That’s worth a lot, and the film never quite feels like it’s three hours long. Director Abdellatif Kechiche developed a reputation after this film, especially thanks to testimony from his actors, for being difficult, living up to the classic image of the traditional male filmmaker who will do anything, including tormenting his cast, to achieve his goals. He was also criticized for having a typically male, heterosexual eye for lesbian sex. First of all, he’s done a great job directing the film, staying true to his themes and visual symbolism in terms of colors and pleasure, not just when it comes to sex, but other basic needs like food. Secondly, his detractors have a point. I am convinced that most critics would not have hailed this film as a masterpiece if the couple had been straight, and the sex scenes had been toned down. It’s the oldest trick in the book – make something look more exciting by giving the audience not porn, but “legitimate” eroticism, and throw in some titillating gay sex (preferably young, attractive women) to start a buzz. Does this film address and care much about gay issues? Not really. Whenever the issue is raised, not much happens and the story moves on.
However. Exarchopoulos is tremendously good in the lead, capturing her character’s every insecurity. And many scenes are incredibly well staged and powerful. That includes some of the sex, but also the gut punches of the emotional rollercoaster that is Adèle and Emma’s romance.
Blue Is the Warmest Color 2013-France-Belgium-Spain. 180 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Brahim Chioua, Abdellatif Kechiche, Vincent Maraval. Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Screenplay: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix. Graphic Novel: Julie Maroh (“Blue Angel”). Cast: Léa Seydoux (Emma), Adèle Exarchopoulos (Adèle), Salim Kechiouche (Samir), Aurélien Recoing, Catherine Salée, Benjamin Siksou.
Trivia: Original title: La vie d’Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2.
Cannes: Palme d’Or.
Last word: “I thought I was going to tell more about Emma’s artistic ambitions, and also more about the emotional relationships between Emma and other characters. During the shoot, I ended up changing directions a little bit more to talk more about the discovery of freedom of a woman [Adèle] from the working class.” (Kechiche, The Dissolve)