“I feel like I’m faking, faking everything,” Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos)
A young woman just misses her bus to high school. Adèle has a wide-eyed, almost spaced out look to her, that actually belies her intelligence and quick wit. We don’t get to see that side of her yet. In her favourite class, French literature, they are studying LA VIE DE MARIANNE (The Life of Marianne), the unfinished novel of Pierre Marivaux (1688-1763). It appears director Abdellatif Kechiche has a fascination with this dramatist and novelist. His earlier film L'ESQUIVE (2003) concerns a school production of Marivaux’s play LE JEU DE L'AMOUR ET DU HAZARD (The Game of Love and Chance). As the teacher guides the discussion of MARIANNE, the theme of romantic regret emerges from the class analysis. The idea of which will haunt you after BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR concludes. The alternative title to the film is LA VIE D’ADÈLE – CHAPTERS 1 AND 2. There is talk of novelistic work in the television medium, namely THE WIRE, but cinema struggles to compete with its literary cousin. However, with BLUE, we may have a contender.
For 179 minutes the filmmakers make a bold and innovative choice to keep the camera close on Exarchopoulos’s Adèle. At first the rarity of medium shots, and the almost total absence of the wide scene-setter, leads to claustrophobia. The uncomfortable confinement reflects the lead’s own initial unease. We meet Adèle at 15 and follow her life for over a decade. An only child with parents that care; yet she has no one to really confide in. Her friendship circle encourages her to date peer Thomas who has big eyes for her. Thomas, like her parents, is kind, though Adèle is unengaged. Social conventions make her want to be. It is passing on the street the striking Emma (Léa Seydoux), with her dyed blue hair and tomboyish beauty, that turns Adèle’s head and invades her fantasies. The latter’s bedroom is decorated in blue wallpaper and blue bedding – becoming the colour of yearning. A motif that doesn’t leave the film.
The audience has already been primed through the Marivaux lesson and the talk of love at first sight. Out clubbing with a classmate, Adèle splits off and follows a group of lesbian women to a bar, and there finally spies Emma, who had also noticed her previously. Emma’s confident swagger doesn’t disappoint Adèle, and in turn brings to the fore how bright the lead’s observations are and the sharpness of her sense of humour. A flirtatious friendship begins. When Emma meets Adèle after school, the homophobic reaction from her peers suggest the film will primarily be about overcoming prejudice. Actually, that is just a small part of it. The feeling of concern for Adèle’s wellbeing never leaves however. There is always the sense her happiness is on a knife-edge. That tension adds to the compelling telling of a person’s romantic life.
“Love has no gender,” clubber to Adèle
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR shifts and becomes about the relationship between Adèle and Emma over years. Adèle’s life is laid bare on multiple planes. The film is so intimate and so detailed that the Hollywood-esque conventional concept of one person dominating your existence is given so much substance we cannot help but be drawn in. Exarchopoulos’s performance is extraordinary and subtle. A new talent has burst onto cinema. She is ably supported by Seydoux, eating up the screen, as is her habit. The latter is used more as a cypher, representing the love that always seems slightly out of reach.
Bravo team BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOUR.