Saturday, 24 January 2015

Blue Really IS The Warmest Colour

In art class, the teacher usually makes a point of emphasizing the distinction between "warm" and "cool" colours. Typically, they say that red is "warm" and blue is "cold". However, in the field of astronomy, it is a whole other story. While light always travels at a constant speed and never stops or slows down, different wavelengths of light contain different amounts of energy. Blue light actually has more energy than red light, and when you look at the stars, there is a pattern that quickly becomes apparent when you look at the main sequence stars in a Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram. Blue stars are much larger, because they have more fuel which allows them to display a greater luminosity and produce more heat. By contrast, the redder the star, the colder and smaller it gets (our own sun is roughly in the middle). Therefore, scientifically speaking, blue really is the warmest colour.

Okay, now that I've addressed the unintentionally accurate title, we can discuss the film itself. Abdellatif Kechiche's Blue is the Warmest Colour is a film I had been meaning to see for a long time, since it got international recognition in 2013. It was even one I considered for both my 2014 and 2015 Blindspot Lists, though in both cases it got removed (first due to concerns about availability, and later in response to several people recommending that I stay away from recent movies). As it happens, I was fortunate enough to stumble across a low-priced copy at a small HMV near my cottage, and I purchased it (alongside Edge of Tomorrow, Fight Club, and both volumes of Kill Bill) using a gift card I got as a Christmas present. 

Recently, I've been watching a lot of action movies, so much so that it has started to become difficult to watch other genres. On the recommendations of my therapist, I decided to set a rule of no more than two action movies per week, and she was suggesting trying to look at more historical films and romances. After finding that I had more free time than I anticipated during the weekend, I decided to finally give Blue is the Warmest Colour a chance, and I'm glad I did. This was an amazing movie that deserved the attention it got. It also cannot be faulted for failing to live up to its name, seeing as the colour blue itself is a significant motif throughout the film (and not just in reference to Emma's hair).

Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is an average teenager working through high school. Like other girls her age, she is interested in finding a boyfriend, but can't quite find one who satisfies her. After encountering a nice guy but finding sex with him to be dull, Adèle starts to experience confusion about her sexuality. One evening she goes out with her friend Valentin (Sandor Funtek) to a gay bar where he is revealed to have a boyfriend. During this experience, Adèle witnesses lesbian sex in progress, and encounters an artist named Emma (Léa Seydoux). The two quickly become close friends and Adèle starts to realize the reason she has never been successful in finding a boyfriend is because she happens to be homosexual. Over the following years, Emma and Adèle grow up together and face a variety of challenges in their relationship, ultimately ending in heartbreak.

There has indeed been some great progress made with regards to how gays are treated on film, though disregarding a handful of pre-Code exceptions it is for the most part a very recent development. However, while this is definitely a step up from the restrictions of the Production Code and the mentality that gay characters should either be "punished" or "cured" that came afterward, homosexuals are still under-represented. Hollywood is still making plenty of heterosexual love stories and while they are more open to depicting sympathetic gay couples (i.e. Mulholland Drive, Brokeback Mountain, Milk, The Runaways) the numbers of films depicting such material pale in comparison. 

It is therefore nice to see an effort like Blue is the Warmest Colour, coming from France of all places. In many ways, that might actually have worked to the film's benefit. Because it was made independent of Hollywood, the film is able to explore the relationship in far more depth than might be covered in any American films. The intercourse depicted in Blue is the Warmest Colour makes the famous lesbian sex scene of Mulholland Drive appear tame by comparison. A Hollywood picture might stick to showing the two lovers kissing, maybe with nudity being implied or partially shown. Blue is the Warmest Colour shows the sex in intricate detail with full frontal nudity. This actually gives the sex scenes a heightened sense of realism, and helps to develop a more intimate connection to the leads.

The relationship between the two leads is of course the heart of the film and both girls do exceptionally well with their characters. Both are smart and capable women who are still human and occasionally make mistakes. Once in a while they don't make the best decisions, and when that happens they make it believable. They always have some sort of motivation. The film also recognizes the amount of time that passes (roughly ten years), and allows the characters to make the appropriate changes. Through small and subtle touches the characters gradually experience changes in appearance and shifts in personality while still being  easily recognizable.

Blue is the Warmest Colour is a rare type of film and something we need to see more of. In this day and age we should be making a more concerted effort to present more sympathetic and complex gay characters, and that is precisely what we get here. It is a straight forward (if extremely long) narrative that simply centers on a romantic relationship between two young girls and the difficulties of such a commitment. I would definitely recommend taking a look at Blue is the Warmest Colour, even if you are the kind of person who has difficulty keeping up with subtitles or you are not a big fan of romances. This is one that needs to be seen.


  1. This is a great movie. What I love most about it is that aside from the sex, the way their relationship plays out is universal. It's merely two people growing apart. There's nothing particularly gay or straight about it. It just is. For what it's worth, the three hours flew by except during those sex scenes. I have a wife and kids and even though they were all sleep at the time (wife just doesn't do subtitles) I was looking over my shoulder and praying no one picked "that" moment to have to get out of bed. It would've been really uncomfortable.

    1. Those were certainly some remarkable sex scenes, even Eyes Wide Shut never got quite that explicit, but in your case I can see why that would be discomforting. Since I don't even have a girlfriend right now, let alone a wife or kids, I didn't have to worry quite as much.

      I think the whole point of the film might have been to show how being gay wasn't that much different from being straight, and that a gay couple still faces a lot of the same challenges. The way they break up (the two of them getting distanced followed by one getting mixed up in an affair with a colleague) could easily happen to a male/female couple, as does the uneasy reconciliation that happens at the end.

  2. I am not sure I could sit through two women having sex...I know, I is a fault in me but I probably would fast forward through this. I have heard wonderful things about this film

    1. Well, it's certainly not a movie for everyone.