“Am I blue, am I blue, ain’t these tears telling you, am I blue, you’d be too”
Blue Is the Warmest Color is the Cannes Film Festival’s Palme d’Or winning story of a young woman’s first love and loss. In an unusual move, the film’s French director, Abdellatif Kechiche, accepted the award alongside it’s two female leads, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. This was more surprising given the controversy surrounding the film and the working conditions for the actors who described the experience as “horrible.” Seydoux went even further when she said that Kechiche made her feel “like a prostitute.”
Note: This review contains spoilers.
The controversy didn’t end there. In Andrew O’Hehir’s Salon.com review, he describes the reaction to the film by the author of Blue Angel, “comic-book artist Julie Maroh, author of the graphic novel on which the film is based (the screenplay is by Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix), has suggested that Kechiche turned her queer coming-of-age fable into porn and quipped that what was missing from the movie were actual lesbians. (Both actresses are heterosexual, and the director is a straight man.)”
What many film-goers talk about after leaving the theater is the 10 minute sex scene that took 10 days to film. It’s real sex, not simulated, though for this viewer it never felt gratuitous, or pornographic. This is in fact the compelling story of a working-class student, Adele’s, first passionate relationship which happens to be with a woman, Emma, a blue-blooded artist with blue hair. Yes, the blue imagery and symbolism is pervasive and will most likely be the subject of some future film student’s dissertation. Blue is everywhere: in the clothing, the scenery, the music, the paintings, and in the end answers Billie Holiday’s question,” Am I Blue?” For Adele, both first love and first loss are life-changing events, yet as most of us learn, life goes on.
The theme that intrigued me the most was the class difference between the lovers and the tension it created. As often happens in relationships it’s our differences that create the attraction and the mystery.
We seek to “unfold” each other, to discover our innermost secrets and dreams like unwrapping a gift, intimately, physically, and emotionally. This is certainly true for Adele and Emma. Just as Adele was discussing in her literature class, love can occur at first glance. It does for her when she first sees Emma with the blue hair and Adele turns Emma’s head too, both literally and figuratively. It’s as if in that moment they are destined to be lovers.
It is my personal theory that many relationships begin with this celebration of differences, yet slowly over time, we often attempt to remake the other to be more like ourselves.
This is certainly true in Blue Is the Warmest Color. We see this first in the discomfort with the differences in their family of origin dinner introductions. Emma slowly begins prodding Adele about her culinary preferences, education and career path. Once Adele becomes a teacher, moves in with Emma and fulfills the role of “supportive wife,” cooking her father’s peasant specialty, Spaghetti Bolognese, while hosting gallery owners and Emma’s academic and artist friends, Emma begins to pick at her, question her work and strongly suggest Adele should become a writer. Adele responds, “I write for myself. I enjoy teaching young children.” Later that evening Adele suspiciously observes Emma flirt with a pregnant friend. Later she asks Emma if they were once lovers.
As Emma pursues her artist’s career and secretly spends time under the guise of professional collaboration with the new object of her affection and future subject of her “red phase” of paintings, Adele, out of her loneliness and alienation from Emma, seeks the comfort of her work colleagues and has a brief affair with a man. When discovered, this becomes the reason for the end of their relationship.
Unfortunately, Blue Is the Warmest Color played in Madison at Sundance for only a week, not sufficient time to build word of mouth and get people into the theaters. This film is worth seeing. In my view it is deserving of the Palme d’Or, the international movie industry’s most prestigious award. Download it, see it in another city, or buy the film. Gather your friends for a viewing, serve Spaghetti Bolognese with a good cheap red wine or Perrier and a fresh loaf of French bread, and discuss this universal story of first love and loss, and the meanings of all the blue imagery.