Slice-of-life films capture both the exciting and the mundane aspects of a character’s life. It’s frankly what makes them so powerful and riveting — we come to understand that, much like our own lives, these characters experience a wide variety of feelings and events, depending on the day, what they do, and the people they interact with. We as audience members are privy to one’s ups and downs, which creates an emotional connection between ourselves and the main character.
Director Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is The Warmest Color — known in France as La vie d’Adele, or literally “The Life of Adele” — follows one young woman’s (played by Adele Exarchopoulos) transformation in her early stages of adulthood, as she transitions from high school to a working life, documenting her interactions with friends, family, and colleagues as she experiences the immense excitement and extreme pain of both life and love. It’s powerful, to say the least.
Adele begins the film a junior in high school, a smart girl interested in French literature. She reads a variety of books and writes about her own life in her diary. She talks about gossip, boys, love, and sex with her friends, hanging around together at the cafeteria table, in the hallways, in the schoolyard. Adele is a typical teenage girl.
She begins seeing a boy from school, one viewed as a “catch” by her girl friends. They hang out, get lunch, go to the movies. Adele gives herself to him physically, but she finds the sex unfulfilling; she isn’t into it as much as she thinks she should be. Moreover, she finds herself drawn to the idea of a sexual encounter with a woman she passes by on the street.
By chance — or so Adele claims — she stumbles into a gay bar and sees her fantasy girl, a blue-haired woman a few years older than she. The two begin talking, their attraction instant. Adele isn’t entirely comfortable in her surroundings, but her conversation with this once-mystery woman, Emma (Lea Seydoux), an artist with a free spirit, feels natural.
What we see in Blue Is The Warmest Color is what happens to Adele’s life upon meeting Emma, how this new person changes her outlook and trajectory in many ways. Adele’s friends confront her about her new friend, calling her out about her seemingly homosexual preferences and more or less pushing her out of their circle. Adele feels like an outcast, and clings more and more to her friendship and budding relationship with Emma.
But what the film chiefly exhibits is love, particularly first love. It’s not always the best love, nor the worst, but it’s almost always prominent in shaping how we think and feel about the idea of love as we move forward in our lives. Adele’s love for Emma is no different. It is transformative. It breeds intimacy and causes intense feelings of happiness, of pleasure, of sadness, and of pain.
An exorbitant amount of the talk surrounding this NC-17 rated feature is its sexually explicit content, and for good measure; the three scenes in particular that cause the rating are highly graphic, necessary to an extent but also a bit gratuitous. One scene draws on for some ten minutes, leaving little if anything to the imagination.
Now let me interject here briefly about my theatergoing experience with this film. I went to my local art house to see the movie, a place normally filled with a bunch of respectful film lovers. In my auditorium were fifteen or so other people, ranging in age from about 35 to 55 or 60. I’ve gotta say, the amount of snickering and talking that occurred during the film, particularly during the sex scenes, are what makes the MPAA Rating System a complete and utter sham. The film is rated NC-17 for explicit sexual content, for Pete’s sake — if you can’t handle it, don’t by a ticket for it. At 21 years of age, I was by far the most mature person in the theater with regard to the material shown on-screen. Shame on everyone else sitting in those same theaters seats as me. But I digress.
While a bit much, the scenes in question do display important facets of Adele and Emma’s relationship. The first scene we see is a bit awkward, Adele not entirely sure what to do but very much feeling that this is right. It’s devoid of the fluidity we often see in American cinema. The second scene shows us that the two have developed immense passion, perhaps love, for one another; there is more tenderness and affection on display. Finally, the third scene exhibits the comfort these two have developed. Not only do they love one another, they respect each other, and that comes across in their lovemaking. They are happy together.
Still, however, I couldn’t help but begin to cringe as that first scene meandered along. The movie itself is long — three hours in total — but doesn’t really drag, for the most part. With that first sex scene, however, I found myself checking my watch, wondering when it would be over. I’m certainly no prude, I just don’t think it hurts to leave things a bit more to the imagination at times, or to yell “cut” once you’ve got enough footage. It seems Kechiche was more concerned with shock value than for simply portraying the intimacy between his characters.
All these words I’ve typed and I’ve hardly even mentioned the acting prowess of the films two stars, most notably Adele Exarchopoulos. She is a revelation, displaying a huge swath of emotions and creating an intense connection between herself and the audience. When she falls in love, we are joyous, and when her friends dismiss her for her sexual preferences, we feel the utmost pain. This is why slice-of-life films can be so riveting; if done well, we feel the characters’ feelings almost as personally as we do our own. We can relate.
And then there’s the symbolism present within the film, primarily the color blue, from which the film’s American title earns its name. The color weighs heavily through the film, on display in the background, within buildings, through characters’ clothing and props, and, of course, via Emma’s dyed-blue hair. That blue hair is what initially draws Adele to Emma — and as the two grow closer, Adele grows comfortable not just with Emma but in her own skin, with her own sexuality and her own person. Blue, to her, is comfort, warmth, home.
In all, I can’t help but recommend Blue Is The Warmest Color. If it’s playing near you, seek it out; it is long, but well worth your time if you have the means. There are minor areas where the film drags, and the sex scenes serve as gratuitous and not entirely informing of the narrative past a certain point, but the performances alone are worth the price of admission. Adele’s life is one I’m happy to have experienced a slice of, and she embraces it with great fervor.
Blue Is The Warmest Color
Grade: ★★★★ out of ★★★★★
MPAA Rating: NC-17 for explicit sexual content
Runtime: 179 minutes