Discourse surrounding Tunisian-French director Abdellatif Kechiche’s adaptation of Julie Maroh’s eponymous graphic novel Blue Is the Warmest Colour quickly shifted from festival sensation to media sensationalism. Chided for exploring lesbian sexuality through masculine subjectivity to fastidious critics questioning Kechiche’s ‘demanding’ directorial approach, Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013) has become one of the most talked about of Palme d’Or winners. Divided into two chapters, the film tracks the capricious nature of young love, from the ecstasy of adolescent infatuation to the inevitable waning of corporeal desires and inescapable heartbreak.
Adèle (played with aplomb by débutante Adèle Exarchopoulos) is the film’s empathetic hub. We witness her develop from a naïve schoolgirl into a teacher, experiencing the world through her eyes as she develops emotionally and sexually. Adèle has dalliances with boys, yet finds no satisfaction in these encounters, unfulfilled both sexually and mentally. One day she catches sight of an enchanting blue-haired girl named Emma (Léa Seydoux), a free-spirited artist who takes Adèle under her wing and exposes her to the tragedy of desire. There’s a great deal to admire throughout Blue Is the Warmest Colour and amongst all the hyperbole and derision, it’s easy to forget that this is a consummately envisioned female love story.
There’s no denying that Kechiche has crafted a film that captures the emotional rollercoaster and euphoric lustre of young lust, immersing us in Adèle’s turbulent world and by filming her predominantly in close-up. Indeed, Kechiche’s intimate representation of longing and yearning is universal, and it’s impossible not to become caught up in this maelstrom of rampant hormones and intensified emotion. The film’s notoriously protracted sex scene, arriving at the zenith of Adèle and Emma’s relationship, has become the its most controversial passage. Discarding the extreme proximity which precedes it in favour of an absurd, almost clinically objective vantage point, Kechiche has run into widespread criticism from cultural commentators – with John Berger’s quote, “Men look at women, women watch themselves being looked at,” a mainstay of many detractor’s arguments.
Adèle’s role as Emma’s muse could also lead audiences to read Blue Is the Warmest Colour as a study of the representation of women in art and the inhibited insecurity of a gender repeatedly objectified and made to feel uncomfortable in their own skin. By becoming immersed in Adèle’s world, we’re allowed to delve inside the picture, into the consciousness of the coveted. Here, Adèle is a creature built and shaped by desire, with her insatiable appetite constructed by an image-conscious world comfortable with suppressing women through images of flawlessness and impossible aspirations. Regardless of your own interpretation of Kechiche’s methods, Blue Is the Warmest Colour is a film about femininity that, whilst not made intently for women, remains an ornate and enthralling portrait of the paralysing effects of infatuation.
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