In Arabic, Adéle’ means ‘justice’, and it’s wonderful to see that Abdellatif Kechiche’s masterpiece has rightfully received it’s ‘Adéle’ – not only in critical accolades but in global audience attention too. This film is overflowing with subjects to discuss: New Queer Cinema, physicality, use of colour, twenty-first century existentialism (which Adéle defines as “existence, essence; chicken, egg” theory), gender culture in France, and more besides. Too much, in fact, for me to be able to give this film its due ‘Adéle’ in this short review.
Blue Is The Warmest Colour spans a period of five years. With this in mind, it is important to acknowledge the French title of the film: “The Life of Adéle – Chapters 1 & 2”. We are privy to two chapters of Adéle’s (Adèle Exarchopoulos) life: the first concerns her love for the blue-haired Emma (Léa Seydoux), and the second observes the breakdown of their relationship. The progress, climax and denouement of these episodes are the product of such adept craftsmanship by Kechiche that you can feel your finger curl under the page to start the next chapter, holding your breath in anticipation.
Other reviewers have not accepted this work so willingly but this does not discredit the film itself as most of the anti-Kechiche lobby are hostile to the telling of a queer narrative by a (straight, white, able-bodied) male rather than a feminist auteur. Julie Maroh, author of the graphic novel upon which the film is based, adored the film, even if she also remarked, “It appears to me that this is what was missing on the set: lesbians”.
One of the film’s characters, Joachan, states that, “Women go into another world. I can only gaze into another world. I’ll never experience that. I’ll always be a man”. This articulation, I believe, comes from a director who is writing for the characters, rather than creating a product to satisfy a male gaze or fulfill a masculinist agenda. The film arrives ready-made for academic essayists but one of the most interesting devices is the undercutting of the most iconic of Francophone cinematic images: the naked girl in sheets having a post-coital cigarette. The camera slowly pans up Adéle’s body in what we believe to be the continuation of a previous sex scene, but when the shot reverses to reveal Emma we are surprised to see that her hair looks as if the blue in it never existed. The “warmth” of their love has not only faded, but vanished, being fully consumed in what we will later realise is the passage of years after the beginning of their relationship.
Which brings me to what many seem to fear or objectify in the film: sex. The theme of physicality, explored deeply within Blue Is The Warmest Colour is neither pornographic, nor fetishistic nor tasteless. I think this physical break with the French cinematic ritual is designed to prove that the film is not just another piece of erotica: it contains the context and textures of a ruinous, magnificent, explosive and unforgettable real love. The love scenes are aesthetically beautiful and an integral component of the story. The viewer is neither voyeur nor customer, a factor almost impossible to believe considering the master-slave relationship capitalism has with sexuality these days that governs the representation of women. You are there to witness this love but you cannot possess any of it. . . Arousal might be a byproduct, because the two leads are absolutely stunning, but the film insists that the reason to watch is not for the sex, but for the love it encapsulates. When Blue Is The Warmest Colour finishes, it leaves in you an afterglow that is the result of being invited to mutually participate in Adéle’s existence, and to fully share in the essence of her experience in these first two chapters of her life.