The Culture Column: Blue Is The Warmest Colour

Blue is the Warmest Colour. You could quite easily be forgiven for never having heard of this French film which won the Palme d’Or at last year's Cannes film festival. However, the English subtitled version of the film has now found its way onto, student favourite, Netflix, and subsequently onto the screens of a new audience.

The film, titled "La vie d’Adèle" (Life of Adele) in French, is both epic and erotic in equal measures. It encapsulates such dramatically delivered passion that Steven Spielberg himself insisted that not only the director, Abidellatif Kachiche, but also its two young stars, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos collect the prestigious award back at Cannes in 2013.

As the native title suggests, the plot follows the early life of awkward teenager Adèle as she struggles to work out who she is and who she wants to be. As viewers, we share a small snapshot of high-school life with her, in which we see the smouldering beginnings of a straight relationship before sharing a kiss with a female classmate. Yet the real inciting incident is when Adèle (played by Exarchopoulos) meets Emma (Seydoux)- a confident, blue haired extrovert. The initial magnetism between them erupts to an explosive relationship as vibrant as Emma’s sense of style. 

The successes of the film, of which there are many, have been a little overshadowed by the graphic lesbian sex scenes, of which there are also many, the longest clocking in at twelve minutes minutes in length. You may have imagined that Kachiche has been praised for the apparent realism that other films makers may have shied away from, particularly when focusing on two gay protagonists. Although, some could quite easily describe a twelve-minute sex scene as awkward, whilst others may even claim to find it boring, but the criticisms go far deeper than that… Even the writer of the original graphic novel, Julie Maroh, has branded the adaptation as “a straight person’s fantasy of gay love” and the co-stars themselves have since slated Kachiche’s filming methods as oppressive and forceful- understandable having spent ten long days shooting the extended scene in question.

It is a huge shame that the shadow these criticisms have cast is such a large one, especially with all the positives to be found in the three and a half hour running time. To judge the entire film on its ‘love scenes’ seems entirely unfair, particularly when they are no less authentic than the equivalent in any rom-com. The emotion is raw, real and constant. Even when only Adèle is on screen, her thoughts of Emma are almost visible and like her, you can’t get her lover off your mind. Exarchopoulos plays Adèle so well and projects the roller-coaster change in character with consistent strength throughout. She’s a visibly different person by the end of the film.

Rather more literal is Seydoux’s visible change- losing the blue hair the first sign that this relationship may not be as eternal as you begin to hope it would be. Brilliantly conveyed by Seydoux is Emma’s drastically different height on the social scale, particularly as she begins to find success as an artist, where by contrast Adèle appears to failing. Emma, better educated and far more ambitious, is going places. You can see what this is doing to Adèle, and as a result, you don’t want to like it.

The resulting events are uncomfortably upsetting, although for more commendable reasons than the aforementioned scenes. Adèle’s insecurities manifest to an apparent point of no return. This is real love and you can’t help but feel that things will never be this good for either of them ever again. It hurts both of them, and the viewer alike.

It’s a brilliant film. In fact, it is nothing short of amazing, whichever way you look at it. How could a film surrounded by such controversy be anything but? The writing and performances put modern British and American cinema to shame and I can’t think of anything else I’ve watched that hits quite this hard.