Blue is the Warmest Colour caused a storm of reaction upon its debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 2013, and it’s not hard to see why: the French romantic drama that follows a teenager named Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) exploring her sexuality through a fiery relationship with a blue-haired art student named Emma (Léa Seydoux) has been widely lauded for its exceptional acting and scope, but also derided for its extensive and graphic depiction of sex as well as the harsh treatment endured by the crew and its lead actors.
Despite the controversy surrounding director Abdellatif Kechiche’s work method, his results are nothing short of fascinating. It takes several viewings of the film to fully digest everything it throws at you, and even then it’s difficult if not impossible to really condense it all down into a single article. While perhaps the film would have left a better aftertaste had it been conducted by a queer woman as opposed to an abusive straight man, the sheer power of Kechiche’s powerfully coded masterpiece is hard to deny.
The colour ‘blue’
The most obvious symbolism in the film is the permeance of the colour blue. It drenches virtually every scene, from the lighting in the gay club Adèle visits, to the outfits she wears and most significantly, in Emma’s hair. Blue represents a wide range of a emotions for Adèle, but most notably it represents the exploration of her sexuality: the curiosity, the passionate love, and finally the heartbreak – as the relationship between the two young women falters, Emma is immediately shown to have removed the blue from her hair. Blue is also particularly noticeable in the most emotive scenes of the film: Emma and Adèle are both wearing blue shirts, for example, in the scene where the former confronts the latter about her infidelity; a later scene shows Adèle immersing herself in the calming blue of the ocean as she attempts to move on from her relationship; and finally the dress Adèle wears in the film’s final scene is a deep, dark blue which strikingly stands out as she walks away from Emma’s art show – as well as Emma herself.
The camera’s gaze
While Kechiche has been criticised for the pornographic nature of the film – which has resulted in many disregarding it completely due to it arguably being made for the “male gaze” – there’s an argument to be made that this criticism is only truly warrant in regards to the overlong sex scenes. By making each shot in the other scenes so close and intimate, whether it’s showing Adèle’s commute to school or her family having a meal together, there’s a distinctive sense of realism brought to the film that heightens the intimacy involved. This in itself actually ends up making it less of a spectacle for perverted gawkers and more of an invitation into Adèle’s world, as we aren’t merely an audience watching her life anymore; we’re right there living this life with her. The close sense of familiarity we’re given also helps to heighten the deep sensation of passion that the film holds, which finally brings us to…
Food and passion
Food is a constant presence in Blue is the Warmest Colour, and it’s something that plays a large part in many of the film’s themes, such as the class division between Adèle and Emma’s families: where Adèle’s family is usually seen eating bolognese, for example, which Adèle later slaves to make for Emma’s graduation party, Emma’s family introduces her to the more luxurious choice of oysters, which she previously claimed to dislike but quickly develops a taste for. What the imagery of food perhaps symbolises most, however, is passion, with its sexually suggestive metaphors, such as the spaghetti dripping from Adèle’s mouth as she gets to know a young man at Emma’s party (who becomes a potential future lover by the film’s end) as well as the slurping way in which she eats the oysters. Her aggressive appetite for food becomes a parallel for her equally aggressive appetite for sex, which is the whole foundation of her relationship with Emma in the first place.
Words by Samantha King
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