Movie Review: “Blue is the Warmest Colour” – Exploring the “L” Words: Life, Love, Literature

Written by Rebecca Mirabelli December 19, 2013

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Nominated for endless awards since its debut at the Cannes Film Festival, “Blue is the Warmest Colour” is directed by Abdellatif Kechiche, and is a modern day bildungsroman about Adele’s (Adele Exarchopoulos) journey through young adulthood and her exploration of herself and her budding sexuality through her relationship with Emma (Lea Seydoux). The audience is first introduced to Adele as she sits in her French Literature class listening to a classmate recite an excerpt stating “I am a woman. I tell my story.” Nearly three hours in length, Kechiche slowly develops Adele’s story of coming to terms with herself through the literature she enjoys, the love she experiences, and the life she tries to create for herself.

Fifty Shades of Blue

“Blue is the Warmest Colour” is incredibly explicit in content. Nearly every remark either by critics, filmmakers, or audiences alike will allude to one of the many graphic sexual scenes that occur on film. Not the least bit censored, nor with any attempt to be made pretty, the sex scenes, particularly between Adele and Emma are raw, real, and explicitly honest in its representation of just how voracious sex can be. “Blue is the Warmest Colour” is shot primarily using close ups, particularly of open-mouthed chewing, stray pieces of hair covering the face, changes in skin pigment, and changes in lighting, causing the audience to share in Adele’s experiences, and as well, I believe, to feel uncomfortable in being forced to witness imperfection, awkwardness, ugliness, and the uncommon/unknown up close.

Naturally, given the title references the colour ‘blue,’ one would anticipate an excess of the colour in the film, and it is absolutely everywhere. Blue is Adele’s entire room and wardrobe; it’s the nail polish and rings worn by the first female to kiss Adele; it’s the cars driving by during an important scene of emotional discovery; it’s the colour of Emma’s eyes, and it’s also the colour of Emma’s hair. In high school art class, we learn blue is a “cool” colour, so the title takes on an artistic reference by suggesting blue is not only a warm colour, but it is the warmest colour. Emma studies fine art at the university level, thus making the artistic reference understandable.

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As well, blue is comforting to Adele, and the colour becomes all the more evident as the film follows Adele and Emma’s relationship. Until Adele meets Emma in the first-ever gay bar she visits, the light is dull, placid, slightly gray-scale. During Adele and Emma’s first conversation, however, a warm orange light highlights the women’s features (see first picture above) as they speak and interact, making all the colours on the screen appear warmer. Through process of association, warm can mean comfort or to be comfortable. Adele comes to terms with her sexual identity and her identity as a young woman in the comfort of her blue-haired lover’s arms.

Literature, the Other “L” Word

The literary allusions in “Blue is the Warmest Colour” are shocking. I was shocked and thoroughly pleased to see the movie use philosophical allusions including: “The Princess of Cleves”, Sartre, and “The Life of Marianne.” With these allusions, the audience is meant to associate Adele with the female protagonists in the above-noted novels. And Kechiche smartly has Emma and Adele discuss Sartre’s Existentialist essay on “essence vs. existence” in a conversation the audience can parallel to the controversial debate of whether one is born gay or becomes gay.

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Another work that wasn’t overtly referenced in the film, but is pervasively evident is “Madame Bovary.” First off, the Madame’s name is Emma, same as our blue-haired leading lady. Similarly, many essays have been written on Flaubert’s use of colour symbolism in the novel, and the colour blue has a significant appearance in Flaubert’s descriptions. Blue is associated with the Virgin Mary, of a woman’s innocence. The colour also signifies depression, cold, and water, which is infamous for its symbolizing rebirth. Adele develops from what appears to be a heteronormative teenage girl into a female who desires women. She undergoes the transformation experiencing depression and fear for how family and friends will react. And, ultimately, Adele is reborn at the end as a self-created, independent woman who is comfortable with her lesbian identity.

“Blue is the Warmest Colour” is artistic, sexy, smart, a little tedious due to the length, but thorough and committed to following the development of Adele’s identity. Definitely a film you want to make an effort to watch, but definitely not recommended to watch with parents or awkward company.

My Rating: 8.5/10

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