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Blue is the Warmest Colour - Film Review

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by Richard Leathem (subscribe)
Freelance writer. Melbourne based cinephile. Fond of food.
Published February 7th 2014
Love, lust and spaghetti
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche Black Venus, The Secret of the Grain, Games of Love and Chance)
Cast: Lea Seydoux, Adele Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche

So what is all the fuss about Blue is the Warmest Colour? It's been winning awards, creating controversy and a considerable amount of money throughout Europe and America. Not bad for a very long foreign language film.

blue is the warmest colour
Poker faced Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) and g.f. Emma (Lea Seydoux)

The film is basically three hours of extreme close-ups of a French lesbian eating spaghetti with her mouth open. Okay, it's a bit more than that, but really, why did the director find the need to show his subject eating so much? I counted eight scenes of Adele eating various forms of food (spaghetti in three scenes), always with her mouth open. When she's not eating, she's crying, usually with a very runny nose that she refuses to wipe, even if her nasal juices are flowing into her mouth - which they often do.

Most of the talk about the film though is reserved for the rather lengthy and graphic sex scenes between the two female protagonists. Are the scenes pornographic? Is it all in the name of art? Would we be having this conversation if it were a straight couple?

One scene in particular leaves nothing to the imagination. For the first few minutes I was thinking about how the two actresses had publicly vocalised their mistreatment by the director, a 53 year old straight man, saying he exploited them and cajoled them into doing things they didn't want to do. Knowing this lends an uncomfortable sense of voyeurism. After the scene went on for a few more minutes I started thinking about what I was going to buy for dinner that night. I know sex is an important part of a story about a sexual relationship, but I felt director Kechiche, had pretty much said all he needed to say in the first few minutes of the scene.

blue is the warmest colour lea seydoux
Lea Seydoux as Emma is a major asset to the film

In its favour, the film is actually pretty involving for the first hour or so. High school student Adele is living the typical life of a French teen, she has her fair share of ups and downs, but nothing out of the ordinary. Lately one of the guys in her class has been showing her a lot of attention. Thomas is an absolute babe - he's hip, he's sexy, and he's persistent. Things quickly get physical between them but Adele feels no real emotion towards Thomas. Eventually she gives him the shove but is vaguely concerned that she can't get enthused about a guy who has everything going for him.

A brief hook up with one of her female class mates snaps her out of her ennui and suddenly her curiosity is piqued. She goes to a gay bar with her gay male bestie and there she meets the slightly older Emma, a budding artist. So begins her emotional and sexual awakening.

To this point the set up is solid enough. Adele, despite appearing as a bit of a blank page, has just enough going on behind her eyes to suggest the restlessness within her. For me, Emma is the more interesting character. She knows exactly what she wants and her attraction and affection for Adele is what ignites the screen.

Once the interminable food and sex scenes start, the pace slackens off. The use of food to signify class difference comes across as laboured and repetitive. Between this heavy symbolism there is still a fair amount of interest in the dynamics of the couple's relationship, particularly Emma's frustration at Adele's lack of ambition to express herself creatively.

It's really not enough though to sustain a three hour film. Despite Adele Exarchopoulos' charms (which don't extend to her etiquette at the dining table) her Adele is too gormless in the first part and too hysterical in the second. She's not a particularly endearing character. Lea Seydoux as the more experienced Emma easily holds the audience's attention with her casual, knowing eyes, holding up just enough of a guard to have us wondering what she's really thinking half the time.

blue is the warmest colour
Adele, her parents, and that damned spaghetti again

Despite the controversy over the unusually frank sex scenes, I don't really see what all the fuss is about with Blue is the Warmest Colour. You get some understanding of the intense vicissitudes of a first love, but Adele doesn't do enough for us to really care what happens to her. Clearly the director was smitten, ramming the camera into Adele's face at every opportunity, but it doesn't make for great cinema.

The film's original French title is The Life of Adele, Chapters 1 and 2. Perhaps Kechiche could've just given us Chapter 1. The idea that less is more really doesn't get put into practise often enough.

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