Director: Abdellatif Kechiche
Starring: Adèle Exarchopolous, Léa Seydoux
UK Release date: 22 November, 2013
Certificate: 18 (180 minutes)
The hype surrounding the film is understandable given the fact it deals with a young lesbian love affair and that the reviews have been excessively positive. Whilst one broadsheet reviewer said that this film is ‘the only mainstream film so far to treat a lesbian affair on equal terms with a heterosexual one’, Fiona Ellis sees the affair as being treated on equal terms with its heterosexual counterpart only in the sense that there’s a lot of mechanical sex and some playing away. ‘So much for equality.’
Gilbert Adair had a point when he referred to the vogue for outlandish running times in art movies. Blue Is the Warmest Colour counts as an art movie in the sense that it is French, involves philosophical discussion, and features various arty types who wear black and take themselves very seriously. It also has an outlandish running time at 180 minutes, although the much discussed lesbian sex scenes take up only a fraction of that time (the main one running for about 7 minutes although it feels like an eternity). Julie Maroh - the author of the graphic novel upon which the film is based - complains that the director’s adaptation is a straight man’s fantasy of lesbian sex. She is absolutely right. The sex scenes are mechanical, tedious, and about as far removed from love-making as one could imagine. These girls don’t love each other – they are simply following the instructions of a director whose only concern is to give substance to his own fantasy of what they should be doing, namely, getting off on each other’s zoomed in bodily parts to the accompaniment of the appropriate sound effects. No wonder the actresses did so protest.
The film is set in Lille rather than Paris, and the film as a whole – art and philosophy notwithstanding – has an unmistakably suburban feel. Adèle (played rather brilliantly by Adèle Exarchopolous) is a student at the local lycée coming to terms with her sexuality. She is sweet in her way but rather unsophisticated, and with a tendency to sleep with people she doesn’t really care about, which becomes her final undoing. Léa Seydoux’ Emma is the more worldly 4th year art student with whom Adèle falls in lust. Emma has experience of both boys and girls, she knows her Sartre, and her parents know about wine, and, indeed, lesbians. By contrast, Adèle’s parents are less clued up about such things. They drink plonk, have appalling taste in wall paper, and assume that their daughter’s ‘friend’ has a potential husband in the wings to pay the bills whilst she does her paintings. One is reminded of the two sets of parents in Heavenly Creatures.
Emma cannot really accept that Adèle wants to be a primary school teacher – it’s so working class to worry about money and jobs and to forsake the really important things in life (like art and philosophy). Ultimately, she occupies the superior moral ground, and terminates the relationship on learning that Adèle is sleeping around with one of her work colleagues. It’s unclear why Adèle is compelled to do this so early on in the relationship – ‘wanting to be straight’ is hardly a response if she is genuinely in love, although there is little in the film to suggest that this is a serious love affair. The final scene is telling in this regard.
The hype surrounding the film is understandable. It involves girl-on-girl action, the action masquerades as high art (how can it be porn if the characters talk about existence and essence when they are not humping), the reviews have been excessively positive, and the actresses have complained about their treatment on set, particularly the filming of the aforementioned sex scenes. A perfect recipe for a Palme D’or, to which we might add, in the words of one broadsheet reviewer, that it is ‘the only mainstream film so far to treat a lesbian affair on equal terms with a heterosexual one’. Certainly it counts as ‘mainstream’ in the sense that it has attracted Odeon pundits (the extra-large popcorn is useful for the long bits in-between). Furthermore, the affair is treated on equal terms with its heterosexual counterpart in the sense that there’s a lot of mechanical sex and some playing away. So much for equality, and how telling that this should be seen as a move in the right direction. Give me André Téchiné’s Les Voleurs any day of the week.