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Blue Is the Warmest Colour

“Blue Is the Warmest Colour” stirred a few waters when it first came out (excuse the pun) at the Cannes Festival in 2013, where it won the much-coveted Palme d’Or. Critics loved it, and it’s also received nominations for this year’s Golden Globes and BAFTA awards. So how do we feel about it?

By Cathryn Ladd

Léa Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos in Abdellatif Kechiche's "Blue Is the Warmest Colour" Source: Sundance Selects.
Léa Seydoux and Adele Exarchopoulos in Abdellatif Kechiche’s “Blue Is the Warmest Colour” Source: Sundance Selects.

“Blue Is the Warmest Colour” is an adaptation of Julie Maroh’s graphic novel “Le bleu est une couleur chaude” and it has gained worldwide critical attention, winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2013 and sparking many high profile reviews which praise the performances by Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos. However, despite its success, the film has been coined controversial by certain audiences, especially in regard to the lengthy sex scene which sheds a certain light on the taboo topic of lesbian sexual activity.

With all of this in mind and with much anticipation I took my seat to watch the film, accompanied by friends from the SOAS Centre for Gender Studies and cupcakes. It started well and I found myself feeling a certain tenderness for Adèle as she navigates through the confusion of both high school and her newly awakened sexual curiosity. However, the arrival of the blue-haired Emma almost instantaneously changes the whole dynamic, both cinematographically and emotionally. The structure of the time frame suddenly accelerates, so that in a matter of fifteen minutes, we see them meet, talk, sit on a bench and then try and work themselves through the whole lesbian bible of sex positions.

The sex itself was both confusing and disturbing. I felt like I was watching mechanical robots on speed; my eyes failing to keep up with their constantly adjusting bodies – and the less said about their bizarre rear-end obsession the better. The fact that they did not look at each other throughout their climax of supposed intimacy gives a real indication that we weren’t watching it through their eyes, but through a very misinformed heterosexual gaze.

Putting sex aside, perhaps more importantly, I didn’t buy into their intense love that was supposed to carry the film through its three hours. Adèle’s attachment to Emma was a heady rush of admiration, lust and discovery; a discovery of herself, of her desires and her commitment to exploring the complexities of new emotions. And at 18, you can’t blame her for that – she undertook a necessary journey and the film was moderately successful in capturing what it means to be young and on the edge of your own revolution.

Emma is where I had a real problem. She was emotionally distant and took the role of educating Adèle into the ‘complex’ and ‘mature’ world of art; yet she struggled to form a sentence about how she felt about her eager student, managing ‘you’re beautiful’ and a weak shake of the head when asked if she was still in love with her. Maybe she was so full of ardour and overcome with raw pain that it rendered her speechless. But personally I think her mind was on other things, like when she would encounter her next ‘muse’ on a park bench or how to make her new middle-aged girlfriend better in bed.

For me this film was not about love and it was not about sex. Watching endless intertwining scenes of tears, snot and orgasms does not justify it as an intense love story. I felt it devalued lesbian relationships and reduced them to the trusty old stereotype of the bisexual woman having to sneak off and get sexually fulfilled by a man to then come running home and find everything in ruins. Blah, blah, blah we’ve heard it all before.

“Blue Is the Warmest Colour” plays at the Odeon, Panton St, until the 6th of March.

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