Full disclosure: I was going to write something lovely about how Blue Is the Warmest Colour explores the heady experience of falling in love, how it takes a long look at someone’s same-sex experience, and how it honestly deals with the hurt involved in the breakdown of a relationship. There are parts of this that are well-done, especially the ambush at school with Adèle’s (Adèle Exarchopolous) friends, which manages to break my heart every time I’ve seen it. However, after multiple viewings, I have problems with it. Big problems. Problems too big to ignore. Yes, this one is a critical darling. Yes, it covers ground that needs to be covered. That doesn’t get it an automatic pass. In a world of yes, someone has to say no.
While not quite a Hell in a Handbasket entry, this one does leave me uneasy enough to come up with a new category: choppy waters. It’s nice sometimes, but others, not so gentle. As much as I’m going to get in trouble for this one, these are the issues I had with the film.
|This should have been better.
#1 – The sheer length
This film clocks in at three hours. Blame it on a short attention span, but I have trouble staying focused for something that lingers and is overly detailed with no end in sight. Initially released as two volumes, there comes a point where you have to hit the quality control button and edit it down. There are parts of this film that go on for-fucking-ever. I don’t need to see every tiny detail, every morning that someone wakes up. I didn’t need to get every waking moment of Adèle’s adolescence. Speaking of adolescence….
#2 – Isn’t she a little young?
I get that age gaps happen all the time; I’ve had quite a few myself, and have always found older to be better. However, there needs to be a limit, especially when one of the parties is so young and frankly, immature. When the film starts, Adèle is 15 (it’s a bit dicey, as the film randomly has her aging to 18 without much fanfare – a bit like the way that soap opera children age in order to advance a story arch). Emma (Lea Seydoux, who I will concede gave a great performance) is a fourth-year college student, which pits her at 21-22. Think about that for a second, though: 15 (or 17, which isn’t much better) and 21/22. If this was an older male/younger female pairing, people would be screaming that he’s taking advantage of her. Giving someone a pass because it’s two females does not make it any better. In fact, Emma points out at their first meeting that Adèle is underage. Emma’s friends tease Adèle in the bar because they can see that she’s a kid. It’s very clear that Adèle is jail bait. What does Emma do? She then hangs out in front of Adèle’s high school to pick her up and embarks on a relationship with someone who is underage. I’ve seen this joke before, and Edgar Wright did it better in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. It wouldn’t be so bad if Adèle was a mature teenager. There are in fact teenagers out there that have their shit together and can handle serious relationships better than most adults. Adèle, however, is not one of those individuals. This is someone who is not emotionally prepared to be in any form of a relationship. Girlfriend needed some time to figure out the me before becoming part of a we. Instead, we watched a young girl get dragged to art galleries and discuss concepts that she didn’t really know that much about. Adèle goes along with it to please her love interest, which hurt this tale for me. Instead of being a person, Adèle conforms to what her lover likes. Had she been given some time to mature, she would have brought more to the table. It comes off as molding herself to suit Emma’s tastes, and that sort of cheapens this love story.
#3 – Odd time lines
My concept of time was completely blown in this film. One minute, we’re watching a fifteen-year-old turn eighteen. The next, she’s apparently finished college and is teaching nursery/elementary school. In short order, more time has gone by, and the two women are living together and balancing careers and home life. In the ten minutes of the breakup, Lise somehow gives birth to a four-year-old. For a film that drags its heels, it really tried to perfect the art of time travel. Obvious passage of time can be obnoxious, but not giving us a clue as to what year it is? Just as unhelpful.
#4 – The source material had more than enough drama to keep this going
Have you read any of Julie Maroh’s comics? It covers so much more: addiction, loss, reconciliation, forgiveness. It’s powerful. That Clémentine (Adèle’s name was changed in the film to match the moniker of the actress) endures so much and has something haunting yet positive to say at the very end is moving. It’s not entirely her journey – it’s Emma’s as well, which I feel isn’t as acknowledged in this film. As an audience, we’re firmly attached to Adèle while Emma comes and goes in the periphery. I feel like we missed some wonderful points and based it around one character rather than the two people in a relationship. I encourage you to go and read the comics. They offer so much more depth and sympathy for Emma than I feel this film gives her.
|So much more going on in here.
#5 – Ugh, the stench of pretension
As more time went by in the film, I wondered if director Abdellatif Kechiche wanted me to actively dislike Emma. The party scene in particular has a moment where Adèle attempts to engage in conversation with Emma’s friends. One such friend looks visibly annoyed when Adèle tells her that she’s a teacher, and the friend goes on to explain her thesis to Adèle. Emma interjects with statements like, “I told you about him!” when Adèle seems a little lost in the conversation. The conversation is then hijacked to talk about Emma’s opinions of different artists, with poor Adèle being the outsider looking in. She’s chided later for not pursuing writing, as Adèle proclaims that she doesn’t feel she needs to in order to have a sense of fulfillment. The exchange between Emma and Adèle is telling:
Emma: “I want for you to be fulfilled… I like it that you’re here, cooking and stuff, but I’d like to see you happy.”
Adèle: “I’m happy with you, like this. It’s my way of being happy.”
Emma: “If you say so.”
Adèle: “It hurts me to hear you insist.”
Emma: “I’m not insisting.”
There’s an misconception here that’s being pushed: being an artist is integral to happiness, which it’s not. Finding what you love, helping a lover’s dream comes true – that can be just as fulfilling as the act of creation for some. Add to this the constant side-eye towards Adèle for having the nerve to be a teacher while everyone else is such a deep artist, and it rubs me the wrong way. I will say this right now: there is nothing wrong with teaching. I hate the expression “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Seriously, if you think that, go fuck yourself. And on that note, I would have loved to have known if Adèle was footing the living expenses while Emma was busy being an artist. That real-life component is never broached, which, if we’re going to get long, drawn-out and detailed about everything else, why omit something that important? One could argue that the everyday has just as much influence over the ideals the partners have; in fact, the everyday can rip a union apart if it’s not acknowledged. By the end of their relationship, I wasn’t left with the feeling that Emma was an artist that was true to herself – she came off like a woman bullying her partner into being something she wasn’t. That she was such a stereotypical artist in her execution made this infinitely worse because she came off as a complete snob.
#6 – The cheating reaction
Cheating – honest-to-goodness lying and betrayal, not the arrangements a couple makes about monogamy or lack thereof – sucks. Emma’s got a right to feel upset. However, her reaction troubled me for a few different reasons. Million dollar question: would Emma have been screaming “slut” and “little whore” if Adèle had cheated with a woman as opposed to a man? Did she really need to physically shove her and slap her? I was geuninely troubled by this aspect in part because Emma was so intellectually controlling during the course of their relationship. This seemed a sharp escalation that was in step with the dynamic of their relationship. Here’s the real kicker for me: does anyone remember that Emma pursued Adèle while she was in a relationship at the start of the film? She was at that bar with her girlfriend. We don’t hear about the girlfriend ever again. Seems like a double standard.
|You don’t get to slap someone around. Ever.
#7 – Disappearing characters
Why do we never see Emma’s supportive parents again? Or Adèle’s conservative parents? Adèle still has the need to be closeted, so that could have provided more than enough fodder. We never saw how they reacted to this couple, how they dealt with having a gay daughter. Again, in the comics, we do get answers to those questions. That portion of her journey is gone in this film, and I was sad for it. We never see orh hear of them ever again. It’s disconcerting.
#8 – The lack of the everyday in the life of the couple
While this film is long, we only get to see the highlights of Adèle and Emma’s lives. What’s missing? The everyday minutia. This film missed out on the opportunity to show you the little things that have impact on a relationship, and that’s a subject that doesn’t get examined as closely as it should. We see the damage cheating does; we see the damage that mismatched wants and personalities can do. What we don’t get to see are some of the equally important, less-sexy factors: parents influencing the relationship; long hours at work (seriously, the prep time teachers go through and grading… yikes); the distribution of chores to make the household run. Again, if you’re going to go this long and drawn-out, give me representation of everything. We watch Adèle do homework, eat dinner, go for walks – everything short of her doing a crossword puzzle on the toilet. It felt inconsistent.
#9 – The restaurant scene
It was long. It’s also unintentionally funny in how graphic it gets. Licking and stuffing half of someone’s hand in your mouth? The extreme groping? I’m no prude, but this felt more like a reason to include some graphic girl-on-girl action than something that was going to further the plot. Believe it or not, two exes really can feel a sense of longing without having to jump each other at the table. It’s called nuance and subtlety. On a lighter note, I really, really wanted a waiter to stop by and go, “Uh… I’ll come back.” The whole thing seemed a bit out-of-place. And I’m an asshole with an inappropriate sense of humor.
#10 – The sex scenes
Time for the elephant in the room. Let’s get something straight: naked people are awesome. Any gender, yes please. I will say, though, that I grow concerned when a film has a prolonged and explicit scene that leaves little to the imagination. Should a female orgasm be portrayed? Yes. One of the points made in the film is that in art, the female orgasmic experience tends to be the one that is lauded with beauty. Where I get concerned is the notion of a film showing us explicit sex just because it can. If you’re going in for art house fare and you have a reason for showing it, fine, but there has to be some sort of consciousness that you’re going to be drawing creeps that just want to see two chicks doing it. In this one, I found myself concerned that this film was going to get viewed on the notoriety of the sex scenes rather than the merits of the film, which defeats the purpose of making art.
#11 – Close your damn mouth
This may seem petty, but Adèle Exarchopolous had her mouth hanging open more often than not in this film. I didn’t know if this was intentional, or if she needed the name and number of a good dentist that could help her. It was a distraction. When I watch you chew with your mouth open and stare slack-jawed at the world around you at every pass, I have trouble really biting into your performance as an actor. While it’s nice to see an actress that isn’t afraid to give us a realistic cry, and I did buy the points where she conveyed pain, the constant open-mouth performance detracted more than added realism.
|Par for the goddamned course.
Again, there were points where this was well-done. The tension of uncomfortable conversations, the play with color, Lea Seydoux – all demonstrations of craftsmanship. However, this film did have some problems. I don’t think that you should kiss a film’s ass just because it’s a critical darling. It had its good points, but it also had some things that detracted from the experience. In the end, I wound up feeling more like I needed a bottle of Gatorade than a sense of artistic epiphany. It may be unpopular, but sometimes, someone needs to be the voice of dissent.