It’s nearly an hour into the film when Adèle is properly introduced to Emma (Léa Seydoux), the mysterious lady in blue. Emma, sensing exactly what motivates Adèle’s uncertainty, slowly presents herself to Adèle in the kindest, most open way possible. What develops is a passionate affair initially based on carnal desire, that slowly morphs into true love. That love that nags and picks at you. That love that finds absence maddening, and presence life affirming.
Because of the film’s length, I should feel safe telling you where love takes Adèle and Emma. I should be able to explain more of the story, without fear of spoiling anything essential. But here’s my dilemma: everything in Blue is the Warmest Color is essential. I found the film’s uniqueness so refreshing that to ruin any more here would be a violation. So instead, I’ll harp on why this film, and its unapologetic approach, is exactly the kind of film we need at this exact time.
Most obvious to the film’s success is its two stars, who give truly fearless and nuanced performances. I was so fascinated by Adèle’s motivations – at times urging her to take a leap of faith, and other times infuriated by her irresponsibility. Seydoux’s confidence proves to be the perfect counter to Exarchopoulos’ tormented confusion. Emma is strong, but never afraid to let her humility seep through. Collectively, these women deliver two of the most mesmerizing performances I’ve seen in quite some time. You simply can’t take your eyes off them.
Vital to the strength of Blue is the Warmest Color are the many dangerous decisions Kechiche made to tell this tale his own way. For one, most all of the film is shot in very tight close-up, which consistently produces a claustrophobic effect. There are no master shots to set the scene, no breaks in the extended narrative to allow us to catch our breath. Kechiche immerses us in a world of hope and pain, and never pretends to look away. The technique will be off-putting to some, but it makes for a startling reveal when, on occasion, Kechiche opts to literally step back. For example, I never knew just how effective a shot of a girl sitting alone on a bench could be until I saw this movie. Most all of Adèle’s scenes take place with just her face on the screen, but when the film stood back momentarily, it revealed a full understanding of the isolation that often accompanies love.
Another time the camera stands back is during the film’s extended and graphic sex scenes. Much of these scenes do indeed take place with just Exarchopoulos and Seydoux’s faces in frame, but occasionally, Kechiche’s camera positions itself on the other side of the room. Because of this, feminists have blasted Kechiche’s style as misogynistic and reductive. I personally felt that those scenes helped convey what Kechiche was trying to convey throughout: love at its most raw.
In fact, too much has been made about those scenes in the press. Since the film won top honors at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, its frank deception of sex, along with Kechiche’s controlling directing style, has dominated the media. That’s a shame. Sex is just one part of the anguished notion of love. A notion Kechiche realized in his film beautifully. I do sympathize with the film’s stars, who claim that Kechiche all but tortured them to get the performances he wanted, but I hope it’s some consolation that their efforts have not gone unnoticed. Together, everyone involved with Blue is the Warmest Color made an exceptional and hypnotic film. One that I suspect will remain entrenched in my mind for as long as I’ll allow it. And probably a good long while after that too. A