"I suppose it is possible that one day we will meet again and it will feel as if nothing ever happened between us. This seems unimaginable, but the fact is that it happens all the time. 'No whiteness (lost) is so white as the memory / of whiteness,' wrote Williams. But one can lose the memory of whiteness too."
Maggie Nelson - Bluets
We lose eternity the first time we fall out of love. Those new sensations, physical and otherwise, that threaten to overwhelm our daily routines go into overdrive until suddenly there is nothing there but them. The songs, smells, and pleasures stretch seconds into years and we lose ourselves. That's why the decay, the eventual realization that this feeling is routine, hurts so badly. We are not permanent, these sensations don't last, and eventually we realize that routines can be abandoned, and forever ends - just like that.
I lost myself in Blue Is the Warmest Color, a film dedicated to the physical connections and mental betrayals that form and decay the love between Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Léa Seydoux). We never leave Adèle's side as director Abdellatif Kechiche takes us through years of her life, skimming the surface of her dreams, and focusing on the connections that form the core of her being.
It's a rare film - a romance told with zero concerns about being overly sentimental and blown up to an epic length. I've seen romances that take place within epic-sized events, such as The English Patient or Gone With the Wind, but not even the intimacy and eroticism of a film like The Unbearable Lightness of Being comes close to touching the open nerves of Blue Is the Warmest Color. Kechiche realizes that the core of this lost romance, that emptiness that it leaves, is all the film needs and hones in on that sensation with startling accuracy.
The story is as old as storytelling is, even if the particulars are unique to our moment in history. Adèle is uneasy with her high school friends as they talk about their experiences with sex and which boy they'd like to have a go at next. She's always at a distance, never able to share the frame with them without offering a resistance, and her attempts at feeling normal leave a boy brokenhearted and her even more confused. Her desire is given shape when she sees Emma and her tufts of blue-dyed hair walk past her and in a chance encounter they meet again, beginning a relationship that defines who Adèle will become.
Blue Is the Warmest Color loses us in Adèle's dreams and passions and Kechiche's camera rarely leaves Adèle's face. This is a technique that fueled Bergman's films but those were usually half the length of Blue. Kechiche keeps this fresh by insisting that the environment reflect Adèle's passion, as her desire add different shades to the world around her instead of being trapped in her head. Adèle and Emma's first real conversation takes place in an amber nightclub where the music echos seamlessly from one track to the next as Emma teases Adèle to come closer. It is achingly romantic, one where we see the world is being forever preserved in Adèle's mind, and denies immediate gratification. True love, both falling in and falling out, takes time and Kechiche lets the years play out as Adèle and Emma grow further together then apart.
Kechiche's use of color is important to the title, but not in the ways I anticipated. Yes, blue is prevalent throughout the film, but the most transformative scenes have it enter in unexpected ways. Remember, blue is the warmest color, not always the nicest or most romantic, and sometimes the harbinger of sudden pain or despair. One particular moment late in the film has the sudden appearance of blue wardrobe at the end of a period in Adèle's life where she and Emma have settled into darkened colors and Adèle's loneliness is thrown back at her. Blue is the color of her true love's hair, but it's only dye, and comes out in the wash in time.
Most of the controversy from Blue Is the Warmest Color comes from the sex scenes as Adèle and Emma explore increasingly unlikely positions to work their bodies into. I understand the complaint - they're improbable, occasionally look painful, and are more likely Kechiche's fantasy than Adèle's. That said, they're essential for Adèle's transformation. We don't need to go back into the same sensual realm as many times as Kechiche places Adèle and Emma there, but it's important to have at least one moment of pure erotic passion as a contrast to what lies ahead for them. So whatever crimes of excess are committed do not transgress into exploitation, because those moments where the two of them seem alone with one another give way to the public reality that they are part of a larger world - an absolute necessity to Adèle's story.
Which brings me to an important point about the performances from Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux. They are perfect. I cannot think of a single flaw or false not between either of them, and the transformation both needed to go through is not easy. It's one thing to film long sex scenes with each other, it's another entirely to chew loudly in a state of undress or weep so terribly that your nose runs into your mouth. They are fearless in the way they lose themselves to the emotion each stage of their lives and are unashamed to be so messily human.
Blue Is the Warmest Color ends with that shade of eternity echoing into the dark with Adèle. Her story will continue on even as these chapters of her life come to a close. So the credits roll on, and the echos of the love that came to clothe and surround Adèle move on into the dark. It's a haunting and essential moment for cinema, and for the warmth that slowly fades away.
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche.
Screenplay written by Abdellatif Kechiche and Ghalia Lacroix.
Starring Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux.