Gossip hit the airwaves when the jury of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival awarded the prized Palme d’Or to director Abdellatif Kechiche and actresses Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos for “Blue Is the Warmest Color.” Controversial for its ten-minute, un-choreographed sex scene and rumored mistreatment of crewmembers, this film had both feminists and small town conservatives in outrage. Prepared to watch this three-hour French romance, I saw something quite different than what many referred to as pornographic and exploitative.
“Blue Is the Warmest Color,” based on the graphic novel by Julie Maroh, is a story of self-discovery and cultural-exploration. Caught up in the drama of high school, Adèle, a teenager from the city of Lille, uncovers her sexuality, leading to an intense relationship with Emma, a trained painter at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Emma becomes the center of Adèle’s life, and Adèle, Emma’s muse.
As a fly on a wall, we watch the relationship unfold. Kechiche delves deep into the relationship. Close-ups on the body–raw lips, the intertwining of arms and legs, the intense clutching of one being onto another–seem like pornographic ideals of the male gaze, however, it is impossible to avoid feeling the romantic anguish that overcomes these two women.
The strong connection between the viewer and the character is unlike any other. In many ways, Adèle is an extension of our lives, in that we grow and suffer with her. Allowed to experiment under the loose confines of the narrative, Exarchopoulos’ profound acting becomes our reality. Consumed by her struggles with sexuality, social class, and independence, one forgets that Adèle is fictional. The heart breaks as we watch her face these tormenting decisions in solace.
This film is challenging, what makes it spectacular also hinders its potential of becoming a masterpiece. What I love about this film is that the audience is immersed into details of a love story that are usually left untouched by the filmmaker. While I appreciate Kechiche’s efforts to convey Adèle’s reality, he ultimately enters into another level of voyeurism, turning the relationship into a spectacle rather than a sincere understanding.
Though Kechiche’s cinematic choices are questionable, his impeccably developed characters and beautiful narrative did not fail to grasp my attention. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux embodied these women on a level unlike any other; their methodical take on portraying these complex beings blurring the line between performance and reality. While it will be forever tainted by the harsh critiques of the film’s exceedingly pornographic nature, “Blue Is the Warmest Color” will remain renowned for its unconventional take on a love story driven by the breakthrough performances of two extraordinary actresses.