Blue Is the Warmest Colour review: 'A searingly frank and intimate account'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY
4.00

The sex scenes are very frankly shot but almost every other scene has the same level of detail and nuance, writes Geoffrey Macnab

It was very bold of the Cannes Jury headed by Steven Spielberg to give Blue Is the Warmest Colour the Palme D’Or. After all, this is a film featuring explicit lesbian sex and made by a middle-aged male film-maker.

It has been rated NC-17 in the US, a certificate that alarms and alienates mainstream American cinemas in equal measure. (ET this is not.) In its depiction of a young love affair, Blue Is the Warmest Colour is intimate to the point of being claustrophobic. Director Abdellatif Kechiche takes his audience oppressively close to his two protagonists, 15-year-old Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and her blue-haired lover Emma (Léa Seydoux.)

The film-maker approaches his two young female leads with an anthropologist’s relish. It’s as if he believes that by observing them as intently as possible, he will be able capture their innermost feelings. For all the queasiness his voyeuristic, hyper-realist approach induces along the way, Kechiche has delivered a film of extraordinary richness and emotional complexity.

There are constant huge close-ups of the women’s faces. Kechiche seems determined not to miss any tell-tale sign, whether a smile, a frown or a look of bemusement. We don’t have a sense of Exarchopoulos, in particular, “acting.” It’s a measure of her skill that she seems throughout to be behaving naturally and spontaneously. It is also indicative of the way the director moulded her performance. He reportedly shot hundreds of hours of material, pushing his cast and crew close to mutiny in the process, as he searched for emotional truthfulness.

The film is inordinately long, a full three hours. This is a chamber piece – a film with  only two main characters – and yet it still has an epic quality that belies its origins. (It is adapted from a relatively short graphic novel by Julie Maroh.)

One of the surprises of Blue Is the Warmest Colour – given its notoriety – is the ordinariness of its settings. This isn’t a film that takes place in Amélie’s Montmartre or the fashionable Left Bank of Midnight in Paris (in which Seydoux also appeared). Instead, it unfolds against everyday backdrops in Lille. Made as a drama, Blue Is the Warmest Colour nonetheless has the same relentless focus on its subjects that you find in fly-on-the-wall documentaries.

Blue movie? Léa Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Colour Blue movie? Léa Seydoux in Blue is the Warmest Colour

The sex scenes are very frankly shot but almost every other scene in the film has  the same level of detail and nuance. This is  especially true of the earliest parts of the film in which we see Adèle and her friends at school. When Adèle catches an early glimpse of  Emma while on a date with a boy from her school, we’re immediately instantly aware of her fascination with someone whose rebellious spirit she immediately identifies with recognises.

As we first encounter her, Adèle is a conformist schoolgirl. She has a token “gay” friend but takes it for granted that girls go out with boys.  Adèle, though, is at a pivotal moment in her life. She is intensely curious. When she and a school friend share a kiss almost on a whim, the friend sees it as little more than a joke. For Adèle, it is far more important than that. There is a wonderful sequence when she wanders into a bar hoping to meet Emma – it is as if she has entered an exotic and dangerous new world.

Julie Maroh has complained that Blue Is the Warmest Colour is a heterosexual male director’s vision of what a lesbian affair might be like and is close to pornography. That seems unfair. This is primarily a film about a relationship. The fact that it is between two women isn’t the key factor. For Adèle, her lover represents difference and defiance. Emma is an artist. She is self-consciously rebellious and unashamed about her sexuality.

The two girls come from very different social backgrounds. Adèle is working class, Emma comes from an artistic elite. This is made very apparent in the scenes in which the girls and their families sit down at table. Kechiche loves to show his characters eating. Emma and her parents are shown shovelling spaghetti into their mouths.

“I eat everything,” Adèle blithely declares. Her voracious appetite for life is reflected in the way she devours her food. In theory, she doesn’t like shellfish but when Emma’s family offer her oysters, her curiosity gets the better of her.

In the first half of the film, as Emma and Adèle come together, the differences between them fall away. The film-maker’s approach remains determinedly naturalistic. There is nothing here like the famous scene in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona in which the two women’s faces seem to merge together, as if they are a single personality.

Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos in Blue is the Warmest Colour

The storytelling style changes subtly in the second half of the film. It’s as if Kechiche is taking a step back. The close-ups aren’t as big. The intensity in the relationship gives way to a cosy domesticity as Adèle pursues her new career as a teacher and Emma works away at her art. There is still one astonishing scene when the couple have a full-blown row. The rancour is every bit as fierce as their  tenderness had been earlier on.

The film tapers out in its final quarter. Its ending is strangely conventional. There have been countless other films that have chronicled young love affairs in a similar way. What makes Blue Is the Warmest Colour different, though, isn’t the story itself but the searingly frank and intimate way in which it is told.

Abdellatif Kechiche, 179 mins Starring: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform