Blue of the warmest colour

BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR. (La Vie d'Adele - Chapitres 1 et 2). Starring: Adele Exarchopoulos, and Lea Seydoux. Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche. Rated R 18+ . Restricted. (High impact sex scenes). 173 min.

This French, subtitled film won the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and the prize was awarded simultaneously to the Tunisian director of the movie (Kechiche) and its two lead French actresses (Exarchopoulos and Seydoux). The film is based on a 2010 novel of the same name by Julie Maroh, and is a sexually explicit film of a graphic work.

The film depicts controversially the rites of passage of a young teenage girl, Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos), across a time period of several years in which she grows from a teenager into a young, adult woman. Adele is uncertain of her sexual identity and falls instantly in love with a young woman, Emma (Lea Seydoux) with blue in her hair who she sees on the street. They meet again "not by chance" in a gay-lesbian bar, where Emma rescues Adele from unwanted attention by others. They form a relationship. They become friends, but after spending time with each other, their relationship becomes intensely physical.

Emma is an artist and her friends are trendy. Adele works as a dedicated teacher in a primary school and feels increasingly ill at ease with Emma's friends. She is less ambitious about social class than Emma, and less artistically inclined. Emotional complexities start to affect their relationship and Adele becomes increasingly confused. Frustrated by Emma's wandering attention to other women and signs of coolness, she sleeps with a male colleague, and Emma abruptly terminates their relationship when she finds out. Adele is distraught, and looks for satisfaction elsewhere which she struggles to find. Both meet up again, forgive each other, and agree to go their separate ways. Adele has asserted the lesbian identity she chose, lost its object when Emma rejected her, and now has to search to find other ways of finding herself and the meaning of "something missing".

This is a story told with extraordinary intimacy, and it is a film that captures compellingly the shifting nuances of adolescent desire and longing. Kechiche uses the colour blue to signify his perception of warmth and happiness, and the colour fades as the relationship between Emma and Adele deteriorates. The film also explores social acceptance. Adele is rejected by those around her, including her friends and family; total acceptance for her has only ever been through her attachment to Emma.

The film is preoccupied with sexuality and eating. In the film, eating is a metaphor for sexuality. Both are appetites that are secondary to other things, and, as an appetite, sexuality is not necessarily accompanied by love and commitment. For Adele they are, and for Emma they are not. Emma's appetite for sexuality rages, but she doesn't need the love of Emma to ultimately sustain it.

Many will feel the sex scenes in this movie are gratuitous and too explicit. One intensely physical scene lasts a full ten minutes.The classification of the film gives fair warning, and no one should attempt to view this film without considering carefully its implications. The movie is a compelling character study, however, about two people in a relationship that fails.

The acting in this movie is astounding. Adele Exarchopoulos brings complete expressiveness to her role as a woman struggling with her sexual identity, and she is directed in character by Kechiche. The film aims for tenderness as well as passion. We are just as moved by Adele's painful hurt when her relationship with Emma breaks down, as we are by Adele's physical and emotional longing for Emma.

This is a provocative film that offers serious comment on lesbian attachment. The fact that it is directed by a male heterosexual Director opens Kechiche up to a judgement made by Julie Maroh that the film is a straight person's fantasy about gay love. Whatever is the truth of her objection, and the implied criticism it carries that the movie is voyeuristic, the movie captures forcibly the urgency of two people's intense passion for each other. In total naturalistic style, the film also makes us feel that a camera is never watching.

There is a hint at the end of the movie (a chapitre 3, perhaps) that Adele and Emma might come together again. With the social and educational gulf between Adele and Emma that has occurred, and with the fading of the colour blue, one suspects that is unlikely. One woman is in love, the other has fallen out of it, and life has changed them both too much.

Peter W Sheehan is associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.

Transmission Films.

Released February 6th 2014

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