Blue is the Warmest Color is an exhaustingly raw and intimate story of a high school girl’s coming of age and sexual awakening. French newcomer Adele Exarchopoulos stars and gives a stunning performance as a teen feeling her way through a new world opening up around her. This is a coming of age story that rises above with an emphasis on intimacy and the emotional tightrope that must be walked when everything is new, foreign, and a bit taboo. There are faults, to be sure, and most will lie at the feet of the director Abdellatif Kechiche, however, the two leads played by Adele and Lea Seydoux are electric and mesmerizing.
The story follows Adele and her relationship with the blue haired Emma whom she glances on a chance encounter and never quite forgets about, but is completely taken with when she sees her again on a visit to a gay bar with a friend. A relationship blossoms and we are led through their lives as they begin to intertwine. There is no plot, as much as there is no plot to everyday life. We are watching their lives and from the first moments of the film the audience must face the reality that we are standing next to them. We are there with them at their most intimate and most distressed. With a few exceptions, this tactic makes the story feel far more personal and leaves us with an emotional connection that is usually missing from films with similar subject matter. This doesn’t feel like a story about their lives. This feels like their lives.
Much has, can, and will be said about the amazing performances from Exarchopoulos and Seydoux. I can do very little but to add to the praise. They are astounding and brilliant in every breath and every moment. It is as simple as that. This film is worth watching because of them.
The film does stumble a few times due to artistic and editing choices which keep it from being the essential viewing it had the possibility to be. The film’s running time is a full three hours. Every scene between Adele and Emma is essential, but the length starts to weigh heavily around the two to two and a half hour mark. Long shots of people dancing, for example, could have been cut to tone down the length and tighten up the middle section when things start to get a bit loose. Three hour films can be fine, but when you start to check your watch you know the pacing has a bit of a problem.
Blue is the Warmest Color has made waves for the controversial decision to show explicit sex scenes in the film. The explicit nature of the scenes doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the director’s choice in how he filmed them. Nearly the entire movie is shot in close up, with an emphasis on the faces of our leads. This brings us closer to them and increases our intimacy. We feel like we are there with them and going through everything together. Our connection with them is emotional. The sex scenes, however, are shot wider. We see their bodies and all the explicitness involved with the emotional connection being exchanged for a physical one. That’s the decision that bugs me. We go from feeling like we’re there with them to feeling like we’re watching them. There is a voyeuristic tone to those scenes and it is off-putting and jarring. Personally, cutting the fifteen minutes of sex scenes would have served the movie better and also helped with the running time issue.
Sex scenes aside, there is beauty to found in Blue is the Warmest Color. The beauty is in the naturalness and comfort of Excharchopoulos and Seydoux. They are an immensely believable couple and bring every frame of this film to a level beyond that which I was expecting. The performances are stellar, which makes it all the more of a shame that Kechiche got in the way a few times and knocked down what could have been a masterpiece. Grade: B