Last year, it was a tale of time-tested amour which ultimately went on to pick up the Palme d’Or. This year, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013) – a tale of young love and the intensity/agony it entails – was the word-of-mouth hit that walked away with Cannes’ top prize. Based on the graphic novel by Julie Maroh, the film stars Adèle Exarchopoulos as Adèle, a young girl growing up in Lille. The first shot we see of Adèle shows her rushing down the street to catch a bus to school. Here she has to deal with the usual stuff most teenagers must face on a daily basis; boys, biology and suffocating peer pressure.
Yet, Adèle’s life appears remarkably angst-free; her friends are seen as supportive, she’s engaged in her school work, likes her teachers and has a happy home life with her family. We see our protagonist’s first sexual adventure, her first break-up, her confusion and, as she crosses the road one day, a sudden glance sparks into life that fabled ‘love at first sight’. Emma (Léa Seydoux) is a slightly older girl attending art college, complete with blue hair and a tomboyish charm. When it arrives, their courtship is tentative and unsure. A conversation on a park bench is tantalising, the audience feeling more like participants than voyeurs – so immersive is the experience and so captivating the performances.
This was a first Palme d’Or win for Kechiche, whose Black Venus unfortunately lost out to Sofia Coppola’s vapid Somewhere at Venice back in 2010. Much of the success of Blue Is the Warmest Colour is undoubtedly thanks to co-lead Exarchopoulos, who marks herself out as an intoxicating screen presence. Her Adèle is an intelligent young girl who knows her mind, is independent and involved. We see her chew her food, slurp her drinks, smoke her cigarettes and, finally, kiss. “I eat everything…” she tells Emma, “…except shellfish.” So, of course, when she visits Emma’s family for the first time they serve oysters. Not to be outdone, Adèle tries them and savours the experience – the first of many with her new partner.
Blue Is the Warmest Colour’s sex scenes are intimate, explicit and incredibly erotic. But this is a film ultimately about life, and just as we follow full conversations – from soup to nuts – such is the case with sex. The length of time use for the aforementioned scenes stresses just how important physical expression is to the growing love between the girls: how sex is an expression of that love, and life. Sexuality is a part of that; the girls go to a gay pride march, but Adèle has difficulty coming out to her family and, later, colleagues. That said, sexuality is not presented as a problem. There are no clichés, no distraught parents and very little homophobia outside a petty schoolyard argument.
In the second half of the film, we jump forward in time to see Adèle become a primary school teacher. It’s a testament to the bravura of Exarchopoulos that she’s just as convincing as a twentysomething adult as she is as a 15-year-old schoolgirl. She and Emma have settled into something like domesticity as Emma pursues and achieves success as an artist. But there’s jealousy and trouble in store. Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Colour comes as an amazing surprise: a beautiful, touching and honest portrayal of love and all its glories. One of this year’s LFF’s truly unmissable films.
The 66th Cannes Film Festival takes place from 15-27 May, 2013. For more of our Cannes 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.