Words: Emmett Barlow
BLUE SONGS ARE LIKE TATTOOS
Never before has the Palme d’Or been simultaneously awarded to a single film’s director and lead actors. Led by Steven Spielberg, the jury at last year’s Cannes Film Festival saw it fit to award the coveted prize to director, Abdellatif Kechiche, and his committed lead actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, for their equal hands in creating the transformative relationship at the centre of the blisteringly luminous Blue is the Warmest Colour.
Beginning with school girl Adèle’s (Exarchopoulos) tumultuous years of lectures, family dinners and awkward initial (hetero)sexual experiences, before progressing to her developing infatuation for older blue haired art student Emma (Seydoux). Over several years we experience the couple’s growth, feel their difficulties and adjust to their resolve.
Although the English title is evocative, the French title La Vie d’Adele — Chapitres 1 et 2, (The Life of Adèle – Chapters One & Two) provides a deeper understanding of the film; a two-part dichotomy of a narrative that accentuates the broad isthmus of the central relationship between sections. The first half of the film deals with innocence and the journey of finding an identity through adolescence. While the second, far more dramatic, and ultimately more conventional half, explores the intense infatuation exhibited – showing how the couple fragment and become distanced as Emma’s status as an artist gains traction and Adèle becomes an outsider.
The majority of the press surrounding the film’s initial release concerned the explicit and extended sex scenes – and the internal dissent that came when filming them. Many, including Julie Maroh – whose graphic novel formed a loose base for the film – discredited the film, calling it “pornographic” and inauthentic. Others commented that the film doesn’t concern itself with sexual politics, but rather resorts to viewing its depiction of female homosexuality through a ‘male gaze’ (although there is a ‘light’ brush with socially conscious satire in the contrasting dinner scenes, as Emma’s liberal and Adèle’s conservative parents display conflicting approaches to homosexuality). But the scenes in question are no more erotically explorative than any others of the same ilk that have preceded Blue is the Warmest Colour. However, there is some credit, not wholly I may add, to Maroh’s argument when the veneer of misogyny does rear its head in a scene where Emma draws Adèle.Yet Kechiche leaves nowhere near the lasting exploitative taste when compared to pictures such as François Ozon’s Jeune & Jolie – at least in Blue is the Warmest Colour we see under the skin as well as under the clothes.
The irony is that even without the extended sexual content or the gratuitous shot in the aforementioned scene, the film remains emotive and visceral, breathing life into to those slight glances and the explosion in ecstasy of that first touch. Blue is the Warmest Colour is quite simply a genuinely tender and progressive piece of cinema.