Based on a graphic novel by Julie Maroh, “Blue is the Warmest Color” tells the story of a young student named Adele who falls in love with a blue-haired artist named Emma. Directed by French filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche, the movie stars Adele Exarchopoulos as Adele and Lea Seydoux as Emma.
CUT FOR SPOILERS FOR BOTH FILM AND GRAPHIC NOVEL.
To answer this question right away: Yes, it has a lengthy and graphic lesbian sex scene.
Much has been said about the movie (which won the top prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival) and its controversial sex scene, which we found a bit uncomfortable, but nevertheless Exarchopoulos and Seydoux delivered absolutely stellar performances. We think they were the movie’s strongest point.
(READ: NYT: ‘Blue’ through lesbian eyes)
Prior to watching the movie, we both read Maroh’s graphic novel, so comparison was unavoidable. Still debating whether this actually affected our enjoyment — there were at least two plot elements in the graphic novel that we were waiting for in the film, but unfortunately did not see: Emma’s girlfriend Sabine and the fact that Adele’s parents threw her out of their house when they found out about Emma.
I guess the director wanted to “simplify” the plot? Though we thought it was a good parallel to show Adele being thrown out of her parents’ house because of Emma, and then Emma throwing her out herself after the cheating.
Speaking of cheating — I think it was also a good character detail about Emma that she had a girlfriend at the time that she started seeing Adele. It would have been ~delicious to see Lea Seydoux do the whole “I can’t do this, I have a girlfriend” thing — I mean have you seen this woman’s face and what she could do with it? Good lord.
Also, the whole lead up to the sex scene — the whole, “Why haven’t you brought me here before? / Because I wouldn’t have been able to control myself” exchange would have been fantastic, had it been acted out.
Speaking of Lea Seydoux’s face — I can’t. I didn’t expect to be so smitten, but I was. Her character was attractive on its own: Ambitious creative types? Why, hell yes (are you actually talking to me? haha!) And then she has the gall to show up blue-haired and winking? HOW DARE YOU BE SO ATTRACTIVE, jesus christ.
A friend who’d read the novel but hasn’t watched the film yet asked: How can that film be three hours long? And my answer was that it lingered in places. If you ask me about the sex, I’d tell you we watched it with one eye closed: If we were to be completely honest, we’d say it didn’t hit us as particularly sexy. It felt like — well, I wouldn’t say unreal, but it felt like there was someone else in the room with the girls, you know? But then again, as we kept reminding each other: Just because you don’t like it, doesn’t mean nobody would. Okay, point well-taken.
But you see I was looking for uncertainty, I was looking for that split-second of hesitation — after all, it was supposedly Adele’s first time with a girl, yet curiously she dives headlong into EVERYTHING (stop snickering, self), which is — well. A word we liked to use for it is “jarring.” I mean, the thing about watching movies and tv shows about lesbians and lesbian relationships is recognition. And at some point, we were like, ???? Then we kept laughing in disbelief.
But the film is certainly more than the sum of its controversial sex scenes and nudity — not surprisingly, the thing I connected with the most was the anguish. I can’t say I liked being reminded about how it feels like to get cheated on — that chill that grips you at the realization that there is somebody else, and that somebody else is a guy — but just the same, that felt real. I held my breath throughout that confrontation scene. Emma, short hair now blonde, greets Adele at the door with her arms crossed, and Andrea and I were like, Oh shit, yari ka ngayon. The interrogation was terrifying in its accuracy. And Seydoux and Exarchopoulos in this — Jesus. There are no enough words.
It was all downhill from there, sort of — passage of time is unmarked (very different from the graphic novel, where virtually every moment is time-stamped) and I guess that is a message in itself — if I were Adele, my unraveling too would simply be just one day after another.
By the time we reach the two-and-a-half-hour mark, in which we are all Adele waiting for Emma to come in to the restaurant, our hearts are just about ready to explode. (And we were like: Where are we? Ten years later? Then Emma talks about Lise’s three-year-old, and we’re like THREE YEARS LANG ‘TO? THREE YEARS???)
(How heartbreaking was the fact that Lise and Emma actually have a three-year-old together, when Adele loved kids enough to become a preschool teacher? It was devastating.)
I loved that restaurant scene to bits, with the exception of the whole hand-in-mouth thing, which I ultimately did not understand. Clearly, the director isn’t lesbian, because lesbians = feelings (and that is pr0n enough), and the whole focus on Adele’s lush mouth was a fetish, and there again we are uncomfortable, but never mind: Adele in this. Jesus fucking H. All of it was heartbreaking.
And as if being told that Hey, I no longer love you but I will always have an infinite tenderness for you, like, FOREVER isn’t heartbreaking enough, check out the closing scene to this, where Adele attends Emma’s art exhibit, bumps into Lise (who is beautiful and kind and sort of perfect – also known as the worst possible person to lose someone to on account of perfection), and sees old versions of herself in the paintings — Adele’s basically just lost, and not in the way that young people searching for meaning are lost, which was how Emma found her in that lesbian bar, years ago. Instead Adele feels lost now the way an older person who’s just had the rug pulled out from under her would. And it’s a ten-year-old rug, at that.
Ten years. Re-reading the comic, I was reminded of how Adele’s character (named Clementine in Maroh’s novel) struggled to keep up with Emma’s increasingly bigger circles: “For Emma, her sexuality is something that draws her to others, a social and political thing. For me, it’s the most intimate thing there is.” (Aside: I think it is very relatable, this dichotomy of expand/contract – I have had this conversation with at least two friends, and it just reminds me of being younger and dating someone who wanted us to have our own world. We all know how that ended. Things with too-tight fences don’t last very long.)
And so it ends with Adele walking away into an empty pretty street – I have to concede, the movie ends better than the graphic novel, and I say this perhaps because of my bias toward open (albeit unhappy) endings. I would have written this ending similarly but perhaps with a bit more hope – perhaps there’s a girl at the exhibit, or a resurfacing of that girl she first kissed in school. Yes, Adele’s that girl who cheated on her girlfriend with another guy, but she’s also that girl you want to find someone else, you know? Nobody deserves to be this unhappy, though she does deserve seeing Emma and Lise being insanely happy and successful together. Half torturous, half aspirational, I think.
In all: Please watch the first two and a half hours to feel the full brunt of the last thirty minutes. For me, the last half-hour is the most remarkable, in that fist-through-your-chest way, which is how I like my lesbian movies.
The friend I’m sending a copy of “Blue” in the morning will likely ask me: Why do lesbian love stories always end unhappily? And I will beg to disagree, because clearly, Emma’s story ended happily.