Every year, it seems there is a film that deals with more than its fair share of controversy, and Blue is the Warmest Colour was that film in 2013. A film that needs no introduction if you’ve heard any of the stories; since its Palme d’Or win back in May, it seems Blue has barely left the headlines with its director and lead actresses engaged in a bizarre self-destructive smear campaign.
Unfortunately, this means anyone who is aware of any of the controversy arrives at the film burdened with preconceived ideas and expectations. This being one of my most anticipated films for the year, I was extremely nervous, yet excited, when the time came at BIFF to see it. I needn’t have worried, because Blue is the Warmest Colour is an incredible film that’s a uniquely emotional experience.
Blue is the Warmest Colour follows Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) as she searches for herself, loses herself, and finds herself through her relationship with striking blue haired Emma (Léa Seydoux). What begins as an exercise in the mundane awkwardness of being a teenager, following Adèle’s classes and idle gossip amongst her classmates, then explodes onto the screen as Adèle falls passionately in love; the film mirrors the trajectory of its title character completely as she navigates her teenage years to life as an adult.
Director Abdellatif Kechiche has crafted a stunning portrait of a woman coming of age; the colour of the title permeates every single frame of this romantic epic and heightens every emotion on the spectrum as we follow Adèle’s emotional highs and lows. Adèle and Emma’s romance is visceral as they collide from two very different places – Adèle from the naiveté of teenage infatuation, and Emma with the wisdom of life experience. The film explores every inch of this relationship without ever becoming repetitive or mundane; it steers away from the tropes of lesbian relationships on screen and simply presents Adèle and Emma as two people in love. The 179 minutes we spend with the pair seem to pass in a flash – arguably the film’s greatest achievement.
Ultimately, the film belongs to the actresses. Adele Exarchopoulos is simply outstanding, inhabiting Adèle completely as she grows from a shy teenager into a young woman. It’s a remarkable breakthrough performance and I can only hope we see more of this stunning young actress in years to come. While ultimately given much less to do, Léa Seydoux is equally excellent as Emma; the fact that the pair were awarded the Palme d’Or along with their director – a world first – is a testament to just how revelatory their performances in the film are.
The elephant in the room that I’ve not yet addressed is the sex scenes between Adèle and Emma throughout the film. Attracting much attention for their length and explicit nature, there’s not much I can add to an already lengthy conversation. They’re well executed, but unfortunately they mean next to nothing. Abdellatif Kechiche has said that he wanted to capture the passion experienced by two people in a relationship, and in that respect they succeed. But despite occurring at turning points within the film, each of the three scenes does nothing to advance the story. You could essentially rearrange them and the film would stay the same. It’s unfortunate when the rest of the film works so well, but ultimately it didn’t hamper my enjoyment of what is a really excellent film.
With or without controversy, Blue is the Warmest Colour is undoubtedly one of the films of the year. A powerful coming of age tale about desire and first love, it’s a stunning film that I hope will outlive its controversial origins, and will be found by audiences for years to come.
Review Score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Blue is the Warmest Colour was reviewed as part of the Brisbane International Film Festival, and receives a limited cinema release in Australia on February 13, 2014.