By Muhammad Muzammal
Less concerned with storytelling than with dramatic set pieces, director Abdellatif Kechiche's "Blue Is the Warmest Color" follows its flawed protagonist, Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) through a six-year period, where her relationship with her partner Emma (Lea Seydoux) is stretched to its limits.
The film begins with an overview of Adele's life as a high school junior. She has girlfriends who gossip and are curious about boys. They push her to date Thomas, who constantly eyes her. But he isn't her first love. After Adele's breakup with Thomas she meets Emma, a believer in existentialism, the idea that a person is the sole controller of their life.
Emma’s passionate views on the existential philosopher Sartre impress and mesmerize Adele. Hailing from a conservative middle-class lifestyle, Adele wants to be a teacher, while Emma strives to be a painter and receives support from her artistic parents, a high-class bunch. Both ladies connect through their differences and fall in love. One of the ways Kechiche shows their passion for one another is through intimate sex scenes.
The largest controversy surrounding "Blue Is the Warmest Color" has been about its explicit sex scenes, which have been deemed pornographic and far too long. I will say that the scenes are unique in the sense that we don't feel the characters' love, but their erotic pleasure. The sequences are purposely structured to show the viewer each character's youth. They are young, clueless kids who combine love with pleasure. Adele and Emma's love is emotional, but even more so it is physical.
The film deepens into Adele and Emma's lives, jumping six years ahead of their first encounter. Both characters have become what they wanted to be. Emma uses Adele as a nude model for her paintings, while Adele is a teacher, alone because of Emma's busy career. Adele feels unloved and isolated. She pleads to have sex with Emma. No feelings between them can measure to their sexual attraction. This is what leads to their downfall.
Emma realizes she cannot trust Adele, who has sex with another individual. When Emma tells Adele she doesn't love her, Adele painfully replies, "I have no control," contradicting Emma's earlier study on existentialism. Adele and Emma cannot erase the past or go back – they have no control over what has happened. They both mature at this moment, realizing that there are some things in life they cannot force to their own liking.
As Emma fades away, the film's focus is on a lost character in Adele. In a symbolic scene Adele swims into the crystal clear blue ocean and the camera films her from above. The reflection of her wet hair underneath the bright sun paint an Adele with blue hair and pale skin, physical characteristics of Emma. Adele wants to be with Emma and has lost her mind so much that she wants to resemble her long-lost love. Instead, she has no one but herself.
The film is reminiscent of Bernardo Bertolucci's “Last Tango in Paris” and “The Dreamers,” French movies that focused on the sex between their characters. Like “Last Tango in Paris,” "Blue Is the Warmest Color" has its sexually-driven protagonists argue because of emotional distress. "Last Tango in Paris" included a woman who wouldn't publicly be seen with her older, unattractive sex partner. In "Blue Is the Warmest Color," Adele never tells any friend about her homosexual relationship. "The Dreamers" also displays a wealth of youthful liberation, an idiosyncrasy of Adele and Emma's personalities.
"Blue Is the Warmest Color" will either tantalize or shock audiences. It's a controversial movie, especially built on audience voyeurism and the sexual exhibitionism of the two main leads. But, if you look past everything, you will experience a glorious and moving film, one that reflects the pain of losing a first love.