Perhaps one of the most stir-causing, feather-ruffling films of the year so far, 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' scooped the Palme D’Or at Cannes – becoming the first title ever to be awarded the prize to both director Abdellatif Kechiche and the two lead actresses, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. Discussion of the film has been (unsurprisingly) dominated by its unusually long and explicit sex scenes, but – strangely enough – these are the least interesting component of this piercingly intense love story.
Though the film has a rather languid running time at three hours, it makes for mesmerising viewing. Exarchopoulos is captivating as Adèle, a 17-year-old girl with dreams of becoming a schoolteacher, who consumes life with all-or-nothing voraciousness. She finds herself suddenly entranced by Emma (Seydoux) – a mysterious, older arts student with cultured tastes and blue hair – after a chance encounter on the street.
We see their romance blossom from tentative infatuation to all-consuming obsession, with breath-taking realism. Kechiche’s reputedly tyrannical directing style (the leads complained of torturously long shoots and not being allowed to simulate blows in a fight scene) could perhaps be partly credited for this, but there’s no doubt that Seydoux and Exarchopoulos give spectacularly raw, intensely charged, and potentially career-defining performances.
Julie Maroh, the creator of the graphic novel the film is based on, has denounced the adaptation for its inauthenticity – particularly around the sex scenes – but while they’re certainly overly long and acrobatic, they’re not purely gratuitous: Adèle’s all-consuming passion for Emma, both physically and emotionally, is a salient character point – and provides a highly effective contrast to her tepid, unfulfilling dalliance with Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte).
Adèle’s sense of ‘missing’ something in Thomas that she finds, irresistibly, in Emma, is all part of the conflicting emotions of lesbian sexual awakening, and I think the film’s treatment of this will resonate with many. Poignantly, Kechiche captures not only all the tumult of coming of age, and the thrilling, transitory magic of falling in love and lust – but also the desolation of heartbreak and loss. Filled with euphoric highs and crushing lows, 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' is a beautiful film.
'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' premiered in the UK at the London Film Festival. The film is out in UK cinemas on Friday, through Artificial Eye.