First love – in all its loose, messy, tear-stained and snotty-nosed glory – has long been a central subject of cinema. And why wouldn’t it be? When you’re under its spell, absolutely everything feels cinematic – from a brief glance that turns your stomach to a sideways touch, these emotions tint everything with a brighter colour, a deeper shade, some kind of obscured meaning behind the mundane. And this very filmic flush of first love and despair is what Franco-Tunisian director Abdellatif Kechiche captures in his three-hour epic love story Blue Is The Warmest Color.
Loosely based on the French graphic novel 'Le Bleu Est Une Couleur Chaude' by Julie Maroh, the film spans a decade in the life of Adele (19-year-old Adele Exarchopoulous), a young woman who leaves high school and sets out on her course through life. But it’s really about one of those relationships that marks you deeply, whether they be five weeks or five years, and this one spans a decade.
Adele is a passionate high school student who loves to read, even if she cloaks this under an air of adolescent disinterest. She vaguely pursues a relationship with a handsome fellow student named Thomas (Jeremie Laheurte). But a sudden meeting in the street with an arty, older elfin woman (Léa Seydoux) with cropped bright blue hair changes everything, and suddenly she’s embarking on a full-blown relationship that will transform her life. This sprawling love affair, similar in its epic tone and time span to Xavier Dolan’s Laurence Anyways (2012), and in its dizzying sadness to Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine (2010), is also very unique.
Blue premiered at Cannes earlier this year, only days after France legalized gay marriage. It received both praise and controversy, landing director and stars Seydoux and Exarchopoulos the Palme d’Or. That makes Seydoux and Exarchopoulos the second and third women in the history of Cannes to win such a prize – Jane Campion was the first. Oh yeah, and it happens to be a film about a lesbian relationship that eschews the traditionally LGBT narrative of coming-out hardship, or the heteronormative model of conventional marriage (à la The Kids Are All Right).
Many will be quick to jump on the reductionist bandwagon of seeing this as an oh-so French lesbian romp fest, although some very frank sex scenes won’t dissuade this opinion. One sex scene in particular, which spans over ten minutes of an almost uninterrupted take of slaps, spanks and a helluva lot of rimming, is also kind of incredible. Whether you find these scenes the kind of French blue cinema that only a man could film for titillation, or their frankness and unabashed eroticism highly exciting (I must say I fall right in between the two), the sex will certainly cement Blue as a film to remember. And yet as voracious as these scenes are, they are no less ‘obscene’ as those involving eating – the two are inextricably intertwined. In fact, Blue strikes me as being more about consumption – whether it be food, sex, art or conversation – than anything else.
When we first meet Adele, we see her gorging sadly on cheap chocolate, speeding her way through large novels, slurping spaghetti off her plate at the family dinner table. Once she meets Emma’s parents, they knowingly present her with oysters (yes, really), a sharp contrast to Adele’s parents, who think they’re dining with their daughter’s philosophy tutor (as opposed to her girlfriend), and serve up a huge bowl of spaghetti. Eating in the film is as much a comment on class as it is on sexuality; Adele’s working-class background is pitted against Emma’s liberal arts middle-class one, and food becomes our way into how these women’s backgrounds are shaped by it.
But once audiences have moved away from the shock and titillation, what remains is a fascinating and oh-so-true-to-life take on the waxing and waning of a long-term relationship. And clocking in at over three hours, the film rarely feels over-long. Kechiche prepares us for this, in a conversation between boyfriend and Adele over Pierre de Marivaux’s over 600-word 'La Vie De Marianne', whose structure and female voice the film also bases itself on. Even a clumsy and self-indulgent last half-hour that finishes abruptly remains true to life. There is no ending really.
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