I just saw Blue is the Warmest Color at my local movie theater after nearly six months of anticipation. It won the Palme d’Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and finally hit St. Louis theaters this weekend. Six months is a lot of time for expectations to build, but I don’t think that’s why this film ultimately disappointed me.
This was intended as more of a reflection but quickly transformed into a recap + reflection, so be forewarned.
LOTS OF SPOILERS AHEAD.
Adèle (Adèle Exarcopoulos) is a junior in high school with a robust love of literature and food. She has cherub cheeks and full lips. She’s always running to catch the bus and her hair always seems to be in her face. She catches the eye of Thomas, a senior, and she’s egged on by her horrible group of friends to pursue him. After talking to him on the bus, it’s clear they have nothing in common. He studies science and claims to have read only one book, start to finish, in his entire life. She, on the other hand, loves French literature and just finished a 600-page tome. Still, she agrees to go out with him because, why not? He’s an attractive boy who likes her.
On the way to meet Thomas for their first date, Adèle catches her first glimpse of the blue-haired Emma (Léa Seydoux). Emma’s with another woman, and Adèle is literally stopped in her tracks by the sight of them. I totally and completely identified with Adèle at that moment. If you’re a straight person, you probably can’t remember the first time you saw a man and woman kiss. (Hint: It was probably your parents.) If you’re gay, you can probably tell me when and where you saw a gay kiss. I first saw two women kissing at a Rilo Kiley concert in 2004. Ha!
Back to the the film now. Thomas and Adèle are in a movie theater, and Thomas kisses her. Adèle’s face says, “Hmm. This is happening. I heard it was supposed to be good? I guess I’ll keep letting him do it.”
At school the next day, her gaggle of horrible friends asks how it went. “Did you fuck?” “You smell like it.” Adèle denies it, because it didn’t happen. Yet. Fast-forward to her first time with Thomas. We see an erect penis, the first of several unnecessary cameos by genitalia. When it’s over, Adèle looks unmoved. ”Was it not good?” Thomas asks.
Adèle ends the relationship soon after.
Blue is Taking a While to Get Gay
Adèle is upset that she wasn’t happy in that seemingly ideal relationship, but her attention soon turns to another classmate. While smoking at school — because people do that in France — one of her female friends casually tells Adèle that she’s cute, that she’s one of the prettiest girls in their grade. Then she kisses Adèle and walks away. WHOA. (And hot.)
Later, Adèle wants more. She follows the girl into the bathroom and tries to kiss her. The girl responds as graciously as she can in that situation. She says it was a one-time thing, that she was sorry and that she wouldn’t tell their horrible group of friends about it.
Adèle is left crying, but now she has a mission — one that every gay person embarks upon: FIND MORE GAY PEOPLE.
Luckily, she has one non-horrible friend to turn to: Valentin, a gay boy at her school. She asks him to take her to a gay club. It’s loud and dark and dancey, and she doesn’t seem to be loving it. But WAIT. She spots a group of lesbians outside. She nonchalantly leaves the bar and secretly follows them to a lesbian bar.
This lesbian bar is the lesbian bar of DREAMS. As Adèle walks past the bar, attractive couples are kissing left and right. Those who aren’t kissing someone else are checking her out. Rawr. Adèle is uncomfortable, but saddles up to the bar with a beer. A very pretty femme woman starts to chat her up when voilà! Blue-haired Emma appears. We learn she’s an art student. She chats with Adèle for a bit before her friends call her away. Before leaving, she asks not for Adèle’s phone number but for the name of her high school(?). There seem to be easier ways to track someone down, but before we know it, Emma is there waiting for Adèle to get out of class.
Adèle is shocked and delighted to see Emma, but instead of saying goodbye to all her horrible friends, she ignores them even as they call out her name. Bad move, Adèle. Emma and Adèle chat and get to know each other. Emma reveals she has a girlfriend of two years and, since she’s an artist, she does a quick sketch of Adèle. (It’s not good, by the way. I wish the camera never showed us what it looked like.) Still, the act of sketching felt intimate. We see Emma looking closely at Adèle’s face, and we see Adèle being looked at. The subject of Adèle’s sexuality doesn’t quite come up, but it’s implied. Another great scene that I felt echoed true life! For a young person, labeling one’s sexuality often isn’t conducive to discovering it.
Back at school, Adèle’s horrible friends call her out about leaving with the dykey blue-haired girl. They hatefully call her a lesbian, prompting Adèle to declare she isn’t one.
Even so, Adèle goes with Emma to the park again. They talk some more. When they go to part ways, there is a pause. There is beautiful tension, the best in the entire movie. And then, Emma kisses her… on the cheek. DAMMIT.
Then, a third meeting at the park. They are lying on blankets. Adèle turns to Emma and finally kisses her. She laughs.
And then, BAM. SEX. (Not at the park, but in a bed.) Has this director heard of foreplay?
For the next seven minutes, I squinted in disbelief. Mouths and nipples and butts and (prosthetic) vaginas. I turned to my girlfriend at one point during the sex scene and asked, “Have you ever done that?” She said, “No.”
Julie Maroh, the author of the graphic novel upon which the movie is based, publicly criticized the sex scene going as far as to say, “[m]issing on the set: lesbians.” After finally seeing it, I’m inclined to agree. What I saw was ca-razy and, without a doubt, reminded me of porn. It was raw and aggressive and, though I believed in their mutual attraction, I didn’t believe in their love.
Blue is the Crappiest Relationship
Blue is the Warmest Color needed to sell me on love at that point in the film, because from there, we’re transported to several years in the future. Adèle and Emma are now full-fledged couple, presumably in love and living together. (Did they U-Haul? We’re not told.) Adèle is a kindergarten teacher and Emma is working as a painter. Adèle is very much Emma’s muse, and she often poses nude for her.
Emma is finding success in the art world and lands a show. To celebrate, Emma and Adèle throw a party at their house. We see Adèle cooking spaghetti (Adèle slurps down spaghetti over and over again in this film) and some savory pastries. She puts out champagne and is clearly concerned with every possible detail.
Adèle is an excellent host, if not a comfortable one. She doesn’t jive that well with these art people. She doesn’t know the work of Egon Schiele, for instance, though I didn’t find her art naivete all that convincing. She can only name one modern artist (Picasso), yet she routinely devours sophisticated literature (Pierre de Marivaux’s La Vie de Marianne)? I think not. When everyone finally goes home, she washes a staggering mountain of dishes. (I made a mental note during this scene to thank god for my dishwasher.)
At night, when Adèle climbs into bed — naked, of course — next to an also naked Emma, they recap the night’s events, the people, the conversations. This is especially necessary since Emma spent ZERO time with Adèle at the party. They return to one conversation in particular, and Emma prods Adèle to try writing. Though Adèle doesn’t dislike teaching, Emma wants her to try something that makes her happy. Adèle tells Emma to lay off, that she doesn’t want to write and that it’s Emma — not her job — who makes her happy. It’s a small spat with big implications. Adèle then tries to initiate sex (“I want you”), but Emma makes an excuse (“I’m on my period”), the validity of which is very questionable.
There may have been an hour remaining at this point, but the movie essentially ended here for me. When they eventually break up, I’m unmoved. I shed no tears. (That’s huge, considering I once started bawling while telling someone how Gran Torino ends.)
I never felt invested in Emma and Adèle’s relationship, although I was very invested in Adèle. I felt for her when, months after the breakup, she cries over loneliness. I felt for her when she meets Emma in a cafe and tries to get back together with her. I wanted to be there in the moment with Adèle as she cried and cried over Emma and the final realization that they were done forever, but my empathy was tested to the limit by the copious amount of snot pouring out of Adèle’s nose. It was a Blair Witch Project callback of sorts. Ultimately, I just wanted her to wipe her damn nose. After several agonizing minutes, she did. This was the real climax and resolution.
Blue is the Longest Color
Blue is the Warmest Color was way too long. I was disappointed in the sex scene. I was disappointed in the portrayal of the relationship. But if this is a movie meant to focus solely on Adèle and her journey, then it was a success.
I had read on Twitter and Facebook that Blue is the Warmest Color had a “sad” ending. “Sad” feels like an exaggeration to me. This film told the story of a young woman realizing her sexuality through a passionate first relationship and experiencing that relationship’s end. The first one is the hardest. And after that, life eventually goes on. And so, I want to believe that when Adèle left that gallery and turned that corner, she began her life as a single young lesbian.