Review: Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche
Written by: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix
Starring: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche, Aurélien Recoing, Catherine Salée
Released: February 13, 2014
Grade: B+

Blue Is The Warmest Colour
It’s Valentine’s Day this week and here in Australia there are a few “romantic” options being offered in cinemas. I’ve been won over by my fair share of romantic comedies/dramas because of quality casting but that said, it’s hard to think of another genre that so often falls back on overused clichés and predictable plot points (well, aside from horror films).

Some films pair a nice girl with a bad boy (or vice-versa) and prove that opposites attract. Others have two people who don’t realise they’re in love (despite the fact it’s painfully obvious to everyone else in the movie… and in the cinema). Perhaps the one that frustrates me most is where the two characters fall in love, have a stupid misunderstanding, and then end up back together.

I make this reference so as to highlight that Blue Is The Warmest Colour is something different. If you were to describe it in a single sentence, you’d say it’s a French coming-of-age tale that centres on a 17-year-old high school student named Adele who falls in love for the first time. Such a simple explanation wouldn’t do the film justice, however. This is an intriguing, three-hour character study that requires you to observe and analyse.

In the same way that I admired Michelle Williams in Take This Waltz (released back in 2011), I was drawn to Adele’s character because of her insecure, emotional disposition. She’s a smart young woman. No doubt about that. She loves to read and hopes to be a teacher one day. On the flip side though, Adele is shy, unsure of herself. She’s quiet, she’s constantly fiddles with her hair, and she’s seemingly unaware of her own beauty.

Confused as to what she’s looking for romantically, Adele finds the answer with a “love at first sight” kind of encounter on a busy street. The object of her affection is an older woman named Emma (Seydoux) who stands out from the crowd with her distinctive blue hair. It’s not long before the pair become inseparable.

Rather than lead us by the hand to a predetermined destination, this is a film that asks us to stand back and observe. What do you think of this couple? Do they belong together? With next-to-no experience when it comes to relationships, has Adele attached herself too strongly? What of Emma? Is she attracted solely to Adele because she’s young and good looking… or is there something deeper?

Blue Is The Warmest Colour has taken an up and down journey since it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last May. The Festival jury (which included Steven Spielberg, Ang Lee, Nicole Kidman and Christoph Waltz) and the International Federation of Film Critics both gave the film their top prize. It was just the start of the acclaim. Critics in New York and Los Angeles named it the year’s best foreign language film and it’s nominated in the upcoming BAFTAs in the same category.

Despite the critical acclaim, the film has shrouded in controversy because of the actions of director Abdellatif Kechiche. Crew members claim they were subject to harassment and were not adequately paid for their work. Stars Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux stated that Kechiche didn’t meet any lesbians or do any research prior to the shoot. New York Times critic Manohla Dargis expressed concerns about the film’s ten-minute sex scene which she noted “feels far more about Mr Kechiche’s desires than anything else.”

If nothing else, the film will provide some good conversation starters. Filmmakers are often pandering to audiences with nice, happy, feel-good moments – as unrealistic as they may be. I’ve seen plenty of romantic comedies where I can’t believe the couple end up together in the end. To come back to this movie… is the inclusion of a lengthy, gratuitous sex scene between two women any different? Is it exploitive? Or is it just another way to shock/titillate audiences?

While three hours is a little too long to be investing in this story, Blue Is The Warmest Colour is film I won’t be forgetting any time soon.