Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche || Produced by: Abdellatif Kechiche, Brahim Chioua, Vincent Maraval
Screenplay by: Abdellatif Kechiche, Ghalia Lacroix || Starring: Adele Exarchopoulos, Lea Seydoux, Jeremie Laheurte, Catherine Salee, Aurelien Recoing, Sandor Funtek
Cinematography: Sofian El Fani || Editing by: Albertine Lastera, Camille Toubkis || Country: France || Language: French
Running Time: 179 minutes
The 2013 entry in the annual “artsy French-language film that every critic loves”-category is Abdellatif Kechiche’s three hour-long queer-friendly coming-of-age drama, Blue is the Warmest Color. I have a hard time believing the movie “shocked some critics with its long and graphic sex-scenes” at Cannes (according to Wikipedia), given how sexually explicit so many European films tend to be, but the picture will no doubt startle most mainstream American audiences for its depiction of lesbian love, however accurate or inaccurate it may be.
I’ve read many critics stating that to dismiss Blue is the Warmest Color (BWC) as a three-hour lesbian romance or coming-of-age film is unfair, but I’m not dismissing or belittling it when I describe it that way, I’m just summarizing as best I can in a single phrase. Whether you’ll find the portrayal of the narrative’s girl-on-girl romance “realistic” or not will depend on how you roll in the bedroom, as I’ve read plenty by queer and/or lesbian writers that state the film is merely touting hetero-normative views of lesbian sexuality. On the other hand, I’ve also been told firsthand by lesbian viewers that it’s quite accurate and those who claim otherwise are merely embarrassed about the film’s graphic depictions, and are perhaps wannabe hipsters.
I, for one, can’t tell you because I’m a straight dude, so I’ll leave that up to the lady-loving ladies of the general population to decide.
In any case, the movie itself is adept at illustrating emotional intensity and romantic flavor. The film is similar to another European-directed film, 12 Years a Slave (2013), in that it is filmed almost entirely in close-up to emphasize the rawness of its characters’ emotions. Much like Michael Haneke’s Amour (2012), BWC is all about the small things and the tiniest cues displayed in the subtlest of expressions and interactions of every character on-screen. At times, the subtlety with which Kechiche shoots the romantic intrigue, layered conversations, and evolving character growth is extremely impressive and draws you into the world of cinema like few other films. Fine details like the color of a character’s hair, a film projected in the background of a scene, and the tone of a seemingly casual conversation are important and have meaning here, demonstrating the movie’s ability to tell a story in different ways through a variety of creative techniques. However repetitive and restricting the cinematography can sometimes feel, it draws you into a passionate setting that’s rife with emotional intensity and, at times, searing drama.
Aside from Kechiche’s direction, the acting by BWC’s two leads is its next biggest strength. Both Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux do great jobs embodying characters that are interesting and fun with whom to empathize.
Where the film stumbles is in its repetitive dialogue structure. While the film draws meaning out of the little things of everyday conversation, the fact that most every exchange in the film is an ice-breaker dulls the spoken word before long. The brief instances of flirtation, gossip, and verbal assault stand out because far too many character interactions are so casual. The vast majority of the film is “merely” a series of characters introducing each other at various social gatherings. The locations change, the contexts change, but the dialogue and its flavor remain identical from one conversation to the next.
Other aspects where the film falters are in its cinema verite style. The lack of non-diegetic music feels like a missed opportunity to capitalize on such emotionally intense material, and leaves the picture feeling bland on the ears. The passage of time feels vague and makes aspects of the narrative hard to follow. These are minor complaints in a film whose camerawork does so much, but they’re important enough to mention.
In the end, the sex scenes are such a trivial aspect of Blue is the Warmest Color, despite how repetitive they become, because what really matters are the raw emotions exuded from a fascinating coming-of-age tale. Whether you call it a queer romance or a lesbian love-story or something else altogether, I recommend you check out Blue is the Warmest Color. I think its one of the few stereotypical “French” critical darlings to be worthy of all the attention it has received. Watching people meet other people over and over again can grow monotonous, but it’s worth it for all the intriguing emotional growth that comes with it.
SUMMARY & RECOMMENDATION: Kechiche’s pays attention to almost every detail and makes you do the same. Blue is the Warmest Color is modern European mise-en-scene at its most irresistible. The film’s leading ladies are two sides of a fascinating relationship.
— However… the dialogue loses steam due to its one-note style, and at times Kechiche seems too unwilling to abandon his European realism. The sex scenes rapidly grow repetitive.
? … and that makes my first NC-17 movie!