Filmmaker Abdellatif Kechiche explores the lives of outsiders looking for their place in Blue is the Warmest Color, an intimate love story based on a graphic novel. Thanks to Academy rules for foreign films, it wasn’t eligible for an Oscar nomination due to the timing of its French theatrical release. But it took home the Palme d’Or at Cannes and its two stars, Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, shared the Best Actress prize.
It also became the center of a furious critical tug-of-war for months afterwards and those controversies stole the conversation from what the film is actually about: first love, overpowering desire, the excitement of discovering yourself and the fear of what others may think of you.
High school girl Adèle (played with so much vulnerability by Exarchopoulos) who finds herself drawn to a charismatic young woman (Seydoux), an artist whose self-confidence is as attractive as her physical beauty. The graphic (though not explicit) sexual coupling in the opening act is all anyone seemed able to focus on as it made its way through film festivals around the world. Sure it’s provocative and it earned an NC-17 rating stateside, but it’s not a peep show or erotic spectacle.
Blue is the Warmest Color is about people, not flesh, about letting all boundaries go and giving into desire and pleasure, about devouring a lover and being devoured. And it’s about Adèle’s fear of embracing her identity and her love in front of the world. As the original French title of the film, La vie d’Adèle: Chapters 1 & 2, suggests, Adèle is a work in progress. Kechiche explores her stumbles on the way to finding herself.
You’ll want to set aside an entire evening and your full attention for this. It’s three hours long and in French with English subtitles. If that’s more commitment you can muster, that’s understandable. But if you really want to engage in a film with characters who draw you in to their struggles, I can’t recommend this more highly.