As this year’s Palme d’Or winner at Cannes, Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue is the Warmest Color came into TIFF riding a wave of critical buzz. Fortunately the film, though flawed at times, does not disappoint. Abdellatif Kechiche presents a patient observation of the complexities that come with falling in love for the first time. He skillfully conveys this through the lengthy relationship between a teenage girl, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), and an older forth year fine arts student, Emma (Léa Seydoux). Taking place over the course of several years, it is as much a coming-of-age tale as it is a love story.
Blue is the Warmest Color’s most intriguing moments occur in the first half of the film as Adèle, like most teenagers, is learning how to deal with both her peers and her budding sexuality. It is an awkward phase that follows Adèle into adulthood as well. What makes this section, and the rest of the film for that matter, so captivating is the way Adèle misguidedly navigates through life. She is ruled by her emotions, yet never seems to feel completely at home with them. Even when she is with Emma, and passionately in love, she still keeps that side of her life away from her family and co-workers. However, it is her overall awkwardness and aspirations that make her an extremely relatable character.
Part of this is due to how much emphasis Kechiche places on the role that observation plays in love and life. Almost as if a supporting character itself, the camera ensures that every glare, subtle parting of the lips, or quick glance is captured on screen. There is so much emotion expressed in the film simply through the way Kechiche focuses on how the characters observe each other. Their eyes convey everything from innocence to lust to suspicion. It is often the unsaid moments in the film that really resonate.
Of course Kechiche could not achieve this if it was not for the outstanding performances by Exarchopoulos and Seydoux. Both women provide great depth and truth to their characters. They remain captivating over the various years, which Kechiche subtly jumps through, that the film charts their relationship. This is especially important when you factor in the film’s running time, a lengthy three hours. Two and a half hours would have been more than enough.
It is a shame that the stellar performances have been, and will probably continue to be, overshadowed by all the talk of the explicit sex in film. Sure the scenes may shock one or two people, but they are never exploitive. They merely feel like natural extensions of Adèle and Emma’s relationship. Even if you factor out those scenes, Blue is the Warmest Color remains a wonderfully honest and captivating love story.