Mark Reviews Movies

Blue Is the Warmest Color


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Abdellatif Kechiche

Cast: Adèle Exarchopoulos, Léa Seydoux, Salim Kechiouche, Aurélien Recoing, Catherine Salée, Benjamin Siksou, Mona Walravens, Jérémie Laheurte, Alma Jodorowsky, Sandor Funtek

MPAA Rating: NC-17 (for explicit sexual content)

Running Time: 2:59

Release Date: 10/25/13 (limited); 11/1/13 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 1, 2013

Her face doesn't reveal much, and we see a lot of Adèle's (Adèle Exarchopoulos) face over the course of the nearly three hours of Blue Is the Warmest Color (originally titled La vie d'Adèle – Chapitre 1 & 2 in its native France). It's not what we see in her face but what we don't see.

There's something vacant about her countenance. There's something missing in her eyes—the glow of life, a goal, or even just awareness of herself and her surroundings. Her mouth is often agape. She appears lost, not only in her thoughts—whatever they may be—but in the world, and it's the sort of lost in which we wonder if she would even have an idea of where or how to start searching.

It's more than the character's most obvious trait, which is first confusion and then embarrassment about her sexuality. Sex is important here (The film's few, graphic scenes of her experiencing it with two people—a man and a woman—at different times in her growing awareness make that clear), but it's not the defining element of her life (or the film, for that matter). That critical thing is a little more difficult to get at when it comes to Adèle, who may or may not even be able to identify what it is herself.

The young woman, who ages about five years over the course of the story, is a mystery to everyone, and there's an obvious appeal to that. She is pretty but doesn't realize it. She is intelligent but, without even knowing it, only says enough to entice the listener.

At first, we're close to feeling pity for Adèle. She's shy and doesn't seem capable or willing to break out of her shell, but then we slowly start to understand—at least on a surface level—why. We start to sympathize with her loneliness. What's intriguing about the screenplay by director Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix ("loosely adapted" from the comic book of the same name by Julie Maroh)—intentionally or not—is not the character's emotional range, which is rather static, but how, in that stasis, we must become more actively aware of our own emotional reactions to her developments or regressions. As an audience, we are essentially projecting our own experiences to Adèle's as a way to understand the character.

Oddly enough, this creates a gap between us and Adèle's story. She is simply too much of a cypher to really become involved in her journey toward something resembling emotional and psychological maturation (or, the film suggests, only the outward appearance thereof) on its own merits. We have to project because there's so little the character actually reveals.

At the start, she is 17, quiet, and noticing—through her gossipy friends—that a guy named Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte) is watching her in the cafeteria. The two eventually begin dating and, because of her friends' constant talk about the subject, having sex (That blank stare is never more obvious than in her post-coital reaction), but Adèle has her mind on a mysterious young woman with short, blue hair whom she passed on the street. The two—the blue-haired girl was with her girlfriend—turned to look at each other as they pass, and Adèle, reflexively moving her hands to ecstasy, dreams of the mystery woman on top of her that night.

The woman, Adèle later learns after another chance meeting at a bar, is Emma (Léa Seydoux), an art student with plenty of talent, and the rest of the film follows their relationship from the awkward phase of Adèle figuring out if she really wants to take the next step to the passionate escapades in the bedroom (The actual relating of that passion—a genuine connection between these characters—is undermined by how staged the scenes appear; they're merely a sequence of poses highlighted by heavy breathing and moaning) to a comfortable domestic life. Along the way, the screenplay juxtaposes a few obvious situations, like how the couple is treated at dinner by the parents of each woman (Adèle tells her folks that Emma is only her tutor, while Emma's parents toast to their love and serve a suggestive dinner of oysters) and the reactions of friends (Adèle's dismiss her based solely on inference; Emma's create something of an extended family for the two).

Some of these scenes are clunky in how precisely they reflect the conflict within Adèle—a conflict that, despite the film's patience in allowing time to pass with a degree of theatrical realism, rather suddenly extends to the central relationship. Jealousy rears its ugly head (not on Adèle's face but projected through a movie showing on a screen behind her at a party); the building resentment of a partner's apparent shame and reliance on the other to be the primary means of support for the relationship becomes something that can no longer remain unspoken.

The final act of Blue Is the Warmest Color is the film's strongest and most painfully honest, putting everything that has come before it in a pragmatic light. In it, the passage of time is at its most necessary. Characters change (or at least try to), but emotions linger. There's a scene between the two main characters that somehow exists in both the present and the past—a juggling act of trying to respect and savor what has passed while acknowledging that it has passed. It's simultaneously beautiful and agonizing, and if that isn't love, then what is?

Copyright © 2013 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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