“La Vie d’Adele” – Blue is the Warmest Color
Directed by Abdellatif Kechiche
Blue is the Warmest Color is a beautifully filmed coming of age story that—as the French name suggests—centers on the life of 15-year old Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos). An only child living in the burbs of France, Adele takes on the typical struggles of suburban teenagers everywhere—burgeoning sexuality, school bullies, conflicted identity, an uncertain future, and of course; first love. Yet, something about the way Adele navigates those tricky roads allows us to see how different she really is from most other teenagers.
As we watch Adele desperately try to form connections with people, we are almost tricked into believing we’re watching a love story. Really though, Blue is the Warmest Color is a classic tragedy.
In the film, Adele’s teacher defines tragedy as being “…the unavoidable. It’s what we cannot escape.” Adele knows she is unlike her peers. Despite her attempts at hetero love, her true self is unavoidable. She knows she will never fit in and so, although she appears to be on a mission for love, she’s actually on a mission for justice— the justice to be true to herself, and to escape the limitations society has set for her. Despite her hesitancy in labeling her sexuality, Adele is by far the most honest character of the film.
Adele’s honesty takes shape in the form of lust, love, and everything in between. She gives fully of herself to everything, never once apologizing. Whether she’s eating her mom’s pasta, or kissing a girl for the first time, her appetite is fiercely unbridled. Kechiche has Adele move across the screen with a voracious appetite for life. Kechiche’s own love affair with his main character is obvious— he spends an inordinate amount of time on close ups of Adele’s mouth, or her roving eyes as she devours everything in sight.
Kechiche’s long shots build ever so slowly, showcasing Adele’s urgent longing to be at peace with herself. His long takes may seem extraneous at times, but they allow us to live with this character, and her frustration becomes ours as well. We’re with her as she cooks, dances, teaches, and comes— all the while rooting for her to find her real release.
Adele’s desperation to find a release and to be accepted as a complex (society might say contradicting) creature—is palpable. She finds this release—physically at least, within her relationship with beautiful, blue-haired Emma (Lea Seydoux). Yet, it is her relationship with Emma that serves to both exonerate and imprison Adele.
During Adele and Emma’s first brief encounter, we discover much about these two very different characters. Emma is worldly and sophisticated. She tells Adele she studies fine arts. Adele then asks whether there is a school for ugly arts. The cool, all knowing Emma seems amused by Adele’s honest naiveté. Yet surprisingly, when it comes to knowing the Arabic meaning of Adele’s name, Emma is stumped multiple times—justice, we learn, is the correct answer.
Kechiche sets clear limits for his two protagonists. Adele is the raw, practical girl from the working class; she slurps her pasta in silence and yearns to love and to nurture. Emma, on the other hand, is a painter who enjoys fresh oysters and serious dinner conversation. We quickly discover that Emma is there to teach Adele all she needs to know about life and love. Emma speaks to Adele about philosophy and art; introduces her to her bourgeois circle of friends and lovers, and pushes Adele to expand her provincial tastes and ambition. And then of course, there is the sex.
Ahh yes, the sex—how could I almost forget?! Explicit! Emotional! And did I mention, lesbian?! Kechiche’s use of the male gaze is never so blatant as during those much talked about sex scenes between his two beautiful characters. And yet, after viewing the film with great expectations, those heavy-breathing, triathlon worthy sex scenes left much to be desired. Yes, they were erotic. Yes, they were graphic. But when it comes right down to it, they weren’t half as interesting as some of the more clothed Emma-Adele moments in the film. And still, the sex scenes are practically all US viewers can talk about. And it’s a shame, really. Because the heart of the film lies not in what goes on under the covers; but rather, what happens outside of the bedroom.
If Adele thought she had finally found justice with Emma. In engaging in a lesbian relationship, she could finally be herself; or so she thought. But eventually, Adele finds herself cooking and cleaning for Emma without much appreciation. It is not so much that Adele is bothered by her maternal role; in fact, like teaching children during the day, being a mother to Emma seems to come naturally to Adele. It is only when Emma expresses disappointment with Adele’s happy submission to this role that Adele’s identity once again becomes shaken.
Kechiche seems to have us ask ourselves. If Adele cannot be herself with Emma, then when will she ever? Sadly, Adele’s search for justice is moot— like women everywhere, we can’t let them be mother and lover. Does Adele ever find the justice she’s looking for? Kechiche never tells us. What he does seem to say however, is that Adele’s need to search is the biggest injustice of all.
By Abby Davis