Review: Blue Is the Warmest Colour

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Orson Welles said that ‘only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion that we are not alone”. In Abdellatif Kechiche’s arresting new film Blue is the Warmest Colour, one the main protagonists Adele arguably fabricates just such an illusion for herself when embarking on a lustful lesbian relationship with the film’s other lead Emma. Adele is seen to undergo almost a rite of passage into adulthood through scenes of sexual exploration. There is an almost gauzy feel to many of the earlier scenes between the two and the cinematography is tremulous with beauty; almost every shot filmed with a soft and shallow focus lens and a predominance of intimate close-ups in romantic locations. Whilst some have found such scenes idealised, I find them justified as they reflect Adele’s naïve, rose-tinted outlook upon life in light of meeting her capricious new lover.

The film’s French title translates as ‘The life of Adele chapters 1 & 2’, and there is a definite watermark where it is split into two halves. In the first half Adele is still going through pubescence and is a restless figure with an insatiable appetite for all life has to offer. As Adele says so herself in the film she is ‘voracious’, and food remains a constant throughout. Early on she is shown to devour her food with glee, where it is familiarly synonymous with sex.

It is a carnal craving for sex which comes to define the relationship between the two protagonists in the film’s second chapter, and is also where food is again used metaphorically, this time to reflect systemic class divisions. Whilst Adele is associated repeatedly with the somewhat understated staple of bolognaise, Emma’s bohemian family dynamic displays an altogether more sophisticated palette as a meal of oysters. Though a little clunky, such a device nonetheless fires an early warning flare as to the potential incompatibility of the two worlds the characters each inhabit.

Whilst structured into two distinct halves, overall the narrative is loose and elliptical, eschewing the tight Hollywood narrative, attempting to capture the nuanced ebbs and flows of real life. The camera is seen to perambulate, with Kechiche often holding on the action instead of cutting to allow events to play out uninterrupted, such as scenes following Emma and Adele as they engage garrulously in seemingly arbitrary dialogue. Recalling the sprawling conversations in a film like Before Sunrise there is a conscious attempt being made to embody raw, unscripted reality.

The sex scenes too are protracted: exquisitely sensual and boldly explicit. Through it’s measured, naturalistic and at times a granular portrayal of a lesbian affair, the film is endearingly progressive in comparisons to past evocations in cinema where lesbianism is often rather shallowly and two-dimensionally presented to the audience for mere titillation.

Both sensationally sensual yet also intellectually compelling and thought provoking, this is pure cinema.

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