After having seen Blue is the Warmest Color at the Chicago International Film Festival, I’ve found it increasingly distressing how the some of the American Press has red tagged the film as little more than a pornographic male fantasy of sexy lesbians screwing around. The media, on the hunt for a headline with a hook, unforgivingly obscures the artistic merits of a movie, trading credibility for sensationalism. Director and writer Abdel Kechiche actually touches on this problem in his new film, albeit in an indirect way, where the characters played magnificently by Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulus stand infuriated at the commercialization of art. In fact, there isn’t much about social politics, art, and love, that Kechiche doesn’t incorporate into his tapestry of tangled desires.The characters often foster these ideas openly on screen, and lends the film a naturalism in confronting them few films can afford. Look at the blue haired Emma’s family, who represent the Intelligencia, an elite class of peoples that are the purveyors of both culture and the arts. This gives Emma a sturdier boat than most to pursue her ambitious artistic goals, one Adèle’s pragmatic family couldn’t ever give her. By having these ideas animated through the characters, the meaning behind the ideas and characters both deepen, making the film a series of tableau right out of a Jean-Luc Godard, with characters thinking about what it means to live.
We get to know these girls better than our coworkers, classmates, roommates, or best friend. These are intimate portraits cultivated with a clear sense of duty and love to their work, where honesty is paramount. At some point you have to ask yourself, is playing the voyeur to these women pleasuring one another any more intrusive than standing beside them in the trenches of their most brutal and devastating fight? Yes, this film has extremely graphic sex sequences. They are long, they are tantalizing, and they are as erotic as anything put to film. They also serve a grander purpose beyond viewers sharing the emotional whirlwind of Adèle and Emma’s relationship.
Constantly, people try to connect. Sometimes, that’s through sex, but far more often, that’s through food. More specifically, sharing a meal. In almost every moment of emotional bonding, characters are eating, like the awkward first date with a boy from school, or family dinners. Food and sex are used similarly, either bringing people together, like Adèle popping turkey slices into her mouth at the park, or driving them apart, like the dinner party with Emma’s friends. In this way, food and sex are catalysts towards revealing who does or doesn’t work with whom, or in other words, their chemistry. It’s an intelligent and subtle tool for Kechiche to use, and I applaud him for it.
While Lèa gives a tremendously layered performance, unknown actress Adèle is a revelation. She anchors a film always moving in many directions back right to her, and delivers an emotional powerhouse of a performance playing a character of extraordinary nuance. Adèle, the character, all about the wholeness of feeling, and rebels against professor’s over-intellectualizing a work. Analyzation cripples the imagination, she says, and she sustains her opposition until the credits roll. She struggles with the niceties of philosophy and giving clarity to why she loves a thing. It just isn’t who she is, and while it might be easy to call her simple minded because of it, the intricacy of her feeling overwhelms her mental competences. She can feel great works of art with complete satisfaction without ever backpedaling formulated responses for what gives a thing resonance. She’d call that, and probably this review, bullshit. She internalizes, and she even fiercely resents sharing her skillful writing with more than a diary. She makes these character traits crystal clear very early in the film, and allows no room for ambiguity. For her, these are absolutes kindred to her way of being, or her essence, and they resurface constantly, but especially whenever she has to describe a painting.The movie makes a big deal out of the dichotomy of what’s basically nature vs nurture, using the debate between the two as a core propulsion to the inner-engines of the film. That’s important to understand, because Adèle’s essence, or nature, has no tether to the world Emma hopes she’ll enter. She can’t join dinner party discourse on high art theory, and as a result feels alone. Blue is the Warmest Color is film of characters in constant debate over their ideas and convictions, even if it's so submerged in their natural behaviors and conversations they aren't even aware that's what they're doing.
Kechiche gathers universal experiences and pushes them under vicious scrutiny, and I found my own person within the turbulent turns of the story more than I'd have liked. It's with the highest compliment I can say I suspect many, probably even most, of the few hundred people sharing the theater with me Saturday night would agree. Blue is the Warmest Color is a startlingly raw depiction of modern love, and these are only a selection of the reasons why. To unpackage three hours worth of filmmaking this good, this complete, would take many multiple viewings and personal reflection, and for me, that is an absolute treasure.