Young love is a familiar subject in film, but Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color is unique and rare. It captures the delicious intensity of first love, the spontaneity, the uninhibited giving, the rawness, and, yes, the eroticism. It also encapsulates the devastating effects of love lost, and the poignant pain that can plague memory and emotion later in life.
You’ve probably heard a lot of things about this movie: that its depictions of the underage sexual relationship between two female lovers are far too explicit, for example. The most important thing to know about this film, however, is that it’s not about the sex—which is passionate— it’s about the emotional bond between two young women coming of age in an acutely divided France.
The film features prominent French actress Lea Seydoux as the blue-haired Emma, but the storyline actually revolves around her lover, Adele, played by silver screen newbie Adele Exarchopoulos. Her eponymously named character is in high school when we first meet her—a disheveled-looking teen, who, despite the constraints of unforgiving adolescent social structures, is a vivid, interesting, and somewhat rebellious protagonist.
On screen, Exarchopoulos is fascinating to watch: her emotions flit across her face with no filter. In one take, her face crinkles in delight, in the next her eyes and nose stream in hurt or confusion. “I was never very good at controlling my emotions,” her character tells Emma in one scene, years later, after they’ve gone their separate ways. It’s true- though by this point the two Adele’s seem to have morphed, and it’s impossible to tell if she’s referring to her character or to herself.
At 179 minutes, the film covers immense ground. We accompany Adele as she transitions from a curious teen to a confused 20-something professional, all while navigating various circles of inclusivity- like Emma’s progressive family and gay bars- and exclusivity- like her more conservative family and friends. Though the complex characters of Adele and Emma are beautifully fleshed out in the three hour film, there’s room to tighten up the protracted takes of the women walking, thinking, and eating.
Length aside, Blue is the Warmest Color is a vibrant, compelling watch, and a film that will linger in your thoughts for days. Yes, the film is about two lesbian lovers, but it’s the way that story is presented that makes their tale entirely relatable across cultures and positions on non-traditional sexualities.
And for that, the movie is a bounding success.