Thursday, 5 December 2013

Blue is the Warmest Colour

Sacre' Bleu!

Given the revelations of the appalling treatment of cast and crew from director Abdellatif Kechiche, it is surprising to find how tender a film Blue is the Warmest Colour is. Since the film was awarded the Palme d’Or at last spring’s Cannes film festival, lead actresses Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux have spoken of the cruel treatment they received from Kechiche, who among other things did not allow them to simulate the blows they exchange in a gruelling one hour take of a fight scene, while the French Audiovisual and Cinematographic Union has condemned the onset working conditions. 

If, however, you can divorce the moral conundrums of how this film came into existence from the actual film itself, you will enjoy an absorbing and emotionally draining work of great merit. The story concerns Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a relatable, ordinary teenage girl, with a familiar routine of school lessons, socialising with friends, and eating with her parents in the evening. Her gossipy classmates encourage her to go out with the good-looking Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte), but only when she first lays eyes on the blue haired Emma (Léa Seydoux) does she experience for the first time the genuine passion of love. 

The French title ‘La Vie d'Adèle – Chapitres 1 & 2’ (‘The Life of Adèle – Chapters 1 & 2’) is perhaps more apt title than the oblique ‘Blue is the Warmest Colour’, in that it indicates how the film is utterly absorbed in its lead character, and her love for Emma. Rarely is a film quite this intimate, as not only does Adele feature at the centre of every scene, but is generally shot in close-up, her every reaction and emotion captured by the camera. There is something of Ingmar Bergman in Kechiche’s obsessive detailing of the human face, only combined with a tone of naturalism opposed to the Swede’s melodrama. 

In the same way the camera shuts out much of the wider world in order to focus on the characters’ faces, the film isn’t as interested in society’s homophobia as it is in its lead character’s personal coming of age experience. Given the scarcity of films documenting lesbian relationships, the very fact Blue is the Warmest Colour takes this as its subject matter is enough to make it subversive; but it handles its subject matter in a very matter of fact way, treating the protagonists’ romance in much the same way a conventional heterosexual love story would play out, with only occasional hints towards the fear and secrecy of their taboo relationship, as well as the threat of ostracisation. 

The only moment the film does provoke through its subject matter is in a lengthy sex scene, which caused controversy when Julie Maroh, author of the graphic novel the film is based on, deemed it pornographic. However, the uncompromising fashion in which the scene is shot is in keeping with the naturalism of film and, given the importance of the scene in both of the characters’ lives, is as essential to the story as the prolonged scenes in which the lovers meet and talk for the first time. More troubling, again, is the revelations of the director’s treatment of the actresses in this shoot, but in the context of the film the scene is crucial in its depiction of the characters’ passion. 

“Thank God we won the Palme d’Or, because [the experience of shooting] it was horrible”, said Léa Seydoux sometime after the film was rewarded at Cannes, and one can hope that the actresses’ pride for their performances outweigh their traumatic experiences. Among the film’s many virtues, their honest and intense performances are the highlight of the film, with teenage newcomer Adèle Exarchopoulos looking set to be a future star. Rarely has a love story been so evocatively brought to life by two performers, and rarely has a love story felt more potent and real.   


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