blue-is-the-warmest-color

Telluride Review: Blue is the Warmest Color

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Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color is a film I wish I’d seen in my early twenties. Rarely has a film delved into human sexuality with such attention to detail. Women are not really invited to explore their sexuality here in America. We are conditioned to divide ourselves into two types – good girls and bad girls.  The European position on Sex is decidedly less repressed. Nudity is very much a part of their natural lives, affection fluidly given.

There is something inescapably alluring about this film and it isn’t the sex. Sure, the sexual scenes are every bit a tribute to how great sex really can be – especially once you find a lover who pulls you out of your self-conscious bondage and shows you the moon and the stars. It isn’t what they do to you it’s what you do together. People like that come along very rarely in one’s life. I personally can count those partners on a few fingers. And when you are touched by that kind of potent desire and sexual chemistry, if you are rejected or you pass it by without realizing – it might haunt you for the rest of your life.

A lot of easy complaints could be laid upon Blue is the Warmest Color. The director is obsessed with Adèle Exarchopoulos in every way, but most especially in the shape and movement of her ass. This is apparent at maybe the fifth ass shot of her as she’s walking away from the camera. And indeed, it is a world class ass on a beautiful, sumptuous, very young woman. And I would have advised Ms. against showing every part of her lower female anatomy — her shaved venus with both holes exposed. I know, it makes you want to rush right out and see it. And you should feel no shame in that.  Our chemical makeup puts our sexuality right up there with breathing and thirst.  But I would not, if I were a 19 year-old actress, give away such a grand and mysterious part of my anatomy. I would have left that part a mystery. Kudos to them for going for it completely – and believe me, I’m not judging – but she’s an actress with a future ahead of her. I would hate to think that she would have to be defined by everyone having already seen everything there is to see.

Manohla Dargis was right about this film and its director’s near-predatory obsession with his actress. But I think that to fully take this film in one has to abandon judgment completely. Sure, one begins to feel uncomfortable with his ever-present camera trained on this young beauty as she chews with her mouth open, sleeps with her ass posed beautifully in the air. With every lick of her luscious lips and flick of her eyes, his camera is right there to catch it. This holds our attention for most of the film but ultimately if there were no other characters involved it would seem a little creepy. But there are so many other interesting characters that we come to feel as though we are a part of Adèle’s community.

That creepiness is a big part of human sexuality in all of its lustful imaginings. The male gaze so drives our sexual culture no woman can escape it, until at some point they age out of it or become somehow less attractive. Blue is the Warmest Color is the perfect illustration of that male gaze trapped in a bottle. It is similar to Nabokov’s Lolita or Adrian Lyne’s 9 1/2 Weeks — this need to watch everything, to see everything, to upend everything — and occasionally, to destroy everything.

This is, perhaps, Blue’s highest achievement — that the director does not give her a happily-ever-after because she is an object, his object, and where can she go from there?  Blue is about male sexuality in its design. Men will likely be more drawn in (especially if they aren’t porn connoisseurs) but women, if they allow themselves, will also feel the pull towards that which cannot be explained: the magic when desire is ignited.

The film’s beautiful Adèle is the object of desire of almost everyone she meets. But she is so young she hasn’t formed a complete identity, neither sexually (she sleeps with both men and women) nor in other ways as well. She lacks insight, particularly, and isn’t much of a conversationalist. Maybe someday she will be for now, she is rendered the muse — the ripe peach that many wish to devour.  Her own desire is muted until she meets Emma, an artist with brilliant blue (played by the most exceptional Lea Seydoux). Something about Emma drives Adèle insane — awakens her sexuality in its entirety and she can’t think about anything else until the two of them cross that line and become lovers.

The film feels too long in places.  You begin to wonder why would he bother showing that one thing for so long? But what makes it great by the end are the relationships, and specifically the performances of the two leads. I don’t know if I will see a better scene this year that the scene in the coffee shop between Exarchopoulos and Seydoux. Both of them have such strong grasp of the characters they’re playing. We know them so well. We have come to love them as they are, raw and unfiltered.

As for the sexuality, America is notoriously repressed with many ideas about sex, especially sex between young people. In this film, Adèle is around 17 or maybe even 15.  She begins to grow up in the three hours we spend with her. Some male critics seemed to be embarrassed by how moved, or turned on, they were during, as if being turned on was somehow a bad thing; our sexuality in our culture is so shameful we can’t think a movie is great if it is this erotic.  And women critics were torn about it, perhaps acknowledging an uneasy sensation in this director’s attention to his star, but probably finding themselves moved by it nonetheless.

My question is, why can’t it be both? Why can’t a movie be an erotic journey AND a good film about characters and a woman’s sexual awakening? The bitter truth in all of this, and the great lament is that many women don’t discover their real sexual awakening until they’re much older, as their biological clock begins to quake. That is something no filmmaker would ever dare attempt.

But in giving young Adèle so much sexual power, in making her a sexual object for Emma, it robs her somehow of knowing who she might otherwise be. Adèle becomes so wrapped up in her relationship that she seems to stop growing. When the film came to an end I left hopeful that Adèle’s character would be all the more interesting for her experiences, wherever she lands — be it with a man or a woman.  And that as she gets better and better at sex and learns to enjoy it more — she could conquer the world.

 

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28 Comments

  1. The Pope
    August 30, 2013

    Sasha,

    Yours is one of the best, most carefully considered and confessional reviews of this brilliant film I have yet read. For me, a male (although not head of the Catholic Church), what I found most compelling about the film was the emotional intimacy and transparency of the performances. There was hardly a second when I felt they were not being honest. And it was that honesty that made the love scenes embarrassing; I felt I were intruding.

    I have said it before, but this is a landmark film.

  2. Bryce Forestieri
    August 30, 2013

    her shaved venus with both holes exposed. I know, it makes you want to rush right out and see it

    Quite the opposite!! Sweating cold when I read that. You’re review makes me believe -even more than before- that Dargis’ take on the film is 100% spot on.

    Author Julie Maroh, who happens to be a lesbian, had some sensible words about this film that make hesitate as well:

    The heteronormative laughed because they don’t understand it and find the scene ridiculous. The gay and queer people laughed because it’s not convincing, and found it ridiculous

    I think I’ll just wait for NYMPHOMANIAC –Jaime Bell is in that.

  3. khan
    August 30, 2013

    Cant wait to watch it.. Fap.. Fap.. Fap!!

  4. August 30, 2013

    But I would not, if I were a 19 year-old actress, give away such a grand and mysterious part of my anatomy. I would have left that part a mystery. Kudos to them for going for it completely – and believe me, I’m not judging – but she’s an actress with a future ahead of her.

    What’s so grand or mysterious about it? What’s she actually revealing? That she has a vulva? Quelle horreur! Again, the difference between a French opinion on nudity and an American. The film is rated 12 in France. Anyone 12 and older can see this film, with or without the presence of an adult.

    Anyway, they used moulds for the sex scenes, so she’s actually not revealing either front or back.

  5. August 30, 2013

    ‘Blue’ is my opening night film next Thursday at TIFF, and I have done a good job in staying away from spoiler heavy reviews and articles on this film. I know it’s a lesbian love story, and I know I may avert my eyes towards something else on the scene when Adele flashes her shaved vulva and two friends. But, she ain’t got nothing I ain’t got, and I know I will still enjoy this film.

  6. Color
    August 30, 2013

    Sasha, why are you using the British spelling? It’s not a British movie…

  7. Dwood1999
    August 30, 2013

    I watched Blue today in Telluride. It is a truly groundbreaking film. I’m happy to see the Puritan nature of American society choke on its display of vivid sexuality, not to mention an erect penis. I bet they will butcher the film for US release.
    It’s a raw, real film that is just awesome thanks to the two gorgeous leads!! Bravo!!

  8. August 30, 2013

    Dwood, you bring up a good point… if the girls weren’t so gorgeous and slim, would everyone still be mesmerized by this film? I ask because from the few articles/critiques I have read on Blue, they always mention how lovely the girls are.

  9. August 30, 2013

    Anyway, they used moulds for the sex scenes

    now there’s an interesting opportunity for ancillary merchandise.

  10. Color
    August 30, 2013

    I see you have duly switched it to Color. But do you have an explanation?

  11. August 30, 2013

    The title of the movie appears all over the internet with both spellings and the continental UK spelling was predominant in May when Sasha was in Cannes. For all I know, maybe the press material in Telluride or the actual print that screened today might use the British subtitle variant.

    As soon as the inconsistency was brought to my attention, voila, fixed. Sorry you’re unable to get over it. Do you think we need to call a Congressional investigation?

    “Blue is the Warmest Colour” turns up 3.5 million times in a Google search. You’re going to be a busy little bee tracking down the explanations for all those occurrences, so how about you let this horrific incident here slide and go pester somebody else.

  12. August 30, 2013

    Glad to see that you liked it Sasha. That’s really encouraging given the prior controversy.

  13. Bball_Jake
    August 30, 2013

    The first review for Prisoners is in and its a rave review saying that its an awards heavy weight! I’m so pumped:)

  14. sheyla
    August 30, 2013

    Marion Cotillard deserves more attention

  15. August 31, 2013

    Color, why are you using the English language? Are you English?

  16. Color
    August 31, 2013

    Easy, tiger. It simply doesn’t make sense to use British spelling in America for a non-British subject. And Telluride are in fact (straaangely enough) using the American spelling.

  17. Christophe
    August 31, 2013

    Might not make sense to you but British is always classier than American, in every way (not just spelling) but not as classy as French, obviously…

  18. Color
    August 31, 2013

    Well there’s a totally irrelevant opinion, Christophe. I’m British myself so I’m hardly gonna provide a counter-argument, but it doesn’t answer the question of the logic behind it.

  19. Color
    August 31, 2013

    I believe you are a little confuzzled, Paddy.

  20. August 31, 2013

    *Shrug*

    But please keep coming back to ask about this blip 3 times a day every day for the rest of the year, so by December this post will have soared past 500 comments.

  21. Christophe
    August 31, 2013

    All I know is as a non-native speaker I’m already glad if I can get my English grammar right, so I don’t really care abt UK or US pronunciation, I could use both in the same paragraph, plus colour is a bit closer to the French ‘couleur’ so that could be an explanaation.

  22. Christophe
    August 31, 2013

    spelling instead of pronunciation obvs :)

  23. Color
    August 31, 2013

    Get a hold of yourself, kid.

  24. Color
    August 31, 2013

    I really just wanted to know if it was a mistake or a conscious decision, because spelling intrigues me, and the spelling of a title is kind of more significant than a random word in a sentence.

  25. Jake
    September 1, 2013

    Marion Cotillard has to have the nomination of The Immigrant because is a masterpiece of acting and superb performance.

  26. Mike
    September 4, 2013

    My most anticipated of the fall. Seems beautiful. And I’m a gay male so I’m not going because of the lesbian sex scenes.

  27. Cora
    May 23, 2014

    I am a lesbian and seeing this film has given me a deep disgust and rejection of seeing a morbid bastard sadly reduces us to the same old thing: mere objects of male curiosity and porn. Here there is no depth, no brilliant script, no plot, no transcendent issue… nothing more than 15 minutes of ridiculous wild sex for men with the intention of selling the movie disguised as the biggest love history story ever told, but it’s only pornography. If two men have been the protagonists (or a man and a woman), the director would never have recreated in a sex scene between them like this and the movie would not have been so brightfull for critics. This movie offers nothing more than the curiosity of female homosexuality and especially the explicit images to prove it. If the couple had been heterosexual and if realistic sex had been treated in a more subtle manner, this movie never had been so praised. But of course, heterosexual critics liked it a lot and for that reason this film won Cannes. It sucks. What a shame. Sex scenes in that movie are made for heterosexual men only.
    Sorry, but I can’t admire anything in a film with a male director abusing actresses and putting his pornish fantasies all over the screen and calling it art.

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