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.