2018 Film Essays

Vague Visages Is FilmStruck: Ciara Pitts on Abdellatif Kechiche’s ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’

Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is the Warmest Color displays a raw and affecting observation of identity, passion and heartache. In the beginning, after listening to an excerpt from Pierre de Marivaux’s La Vie de Marianne, the audience receives a question to contemplate: “When you exchange glances, like with love at first sight, is there something less or more in your heart?” When Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) exchanges initial glances with Emma (Léa Seydoux) while crossing the street — one of the 2013 drama’s most famous scenes — she experiences a rush of emotions. It’s as if the two women are the only beings in the middle of the walkway, no crowd. To the teenage girl, Emma’s blue hair is like a sea, whose waves wash away all of the commotion around them. Adèle has encountered a lingering emptiness in her life, but it’s her intense attraction to Emma that makes her whole.

Adèle’s coming out process undoubtedly feels extremely relatable for anyone who has ever experienced it. One night, a friend takes her out to a gay club — it’s a world she knows nothing about, but she’s curious to learn more. When Adèle notices a group of women from a nearby lesbian bar, the pulsating techno in the background blends into a lush, dream-like beat, suggesting that she’s finally found what she was looking for. A man standing next to Adèle tells her, “Love has no gender. Take whoever loves you.” In that exact moment, Adèle needs to hear those words. It’s reassurance and validation that there’s nothing wrong with women being attracted to women, and that it’s deserving of acceptance — not just in the world overall, but in her world. After a confusing time of thinking that a part of her was missing, there’s no better feeling than her identity becoming clear, making other aspects of life fall into place.

Emma and Adèle’s conversations are just as electrifying as their romance, which couldn’t have been accomplished without the actresses’ natural delivery. As revealed through long gazes and rapturous grins, they’re completely invested in one another, always desperate to absorb each other’s likes, dislikes and motivations. The camera concentrates on faces and bodies, amplifying the euphoric intimacy of their moments together. In one scene that entirely focuses on kissing, the sun beams on the women’s faces directly, evoking the exhilarating bliss that only love can achieve. Their connection also inspires Adèle, who is quite shy, to loosen up. When the couple attends a Pride parade — an environment free of judgement as well as a celebration of same-sex love — Adèle’s dancing gradually becomes more dynamic, and she feels more comfortable embracing her girlfriend in the crowd.

While Emma is aware of her identity and desires, Adèle carries a vibe of uncertainty. Even though love brought them together, the two slowly realize they have little in common, causing them to drift apart. Out of loneliness, Adèle cheats on Emma with a male colleague, and their relationship disintegrates from there. Many LGBTQ films don’t always end well for their lead couples, but Blue Is the Warmest Color depicts the aftermath of its breakup with a depth that can be appreciated. For Adèle, her relationship with Emma kept her grounded, and other elements of her life became obsolete. But once it collapses, Adèle experiences the motions of heartache so viscerally that the audience feels them with her. Daily activities become difficult, every detail becomes a reminder of a former love — we’ve all been there.

Like Julie Maroh’s graphic novel of the same name that inspired Kechiche’s film, the captivating usage of its titular color adds more intricacy to the journey. The visual symbolism could’ve easily been watered down to only Emma’s eyes and dyed hair, but it goes further to illustrate the film’s events and moods as they occur. When Adèle has an erotic dream about Emma, blue sheets cover her bed, representing warmth and comfort in exploring new desires. The gay club she goes to before coming to terms with her sexuality is boldly lit in blue: curiosity, then courage. Adèle dances along to Lykke Li’s “I Follow Rivers,” calling blue imagery to mind, and also serves as the theme to the women’s vibrant passion (“Be the ocean, where I unravel / Be my only, be the water where I’m wading”). When romance ignites, Adèle noticeably begins wearing blue clothing, but when the connection eventually dwindles, she wears less of it — not to mention that Emma has removed the blue from her hair. On a trip to the beach, a breeze causes a blue umbrella to tumble along the sand in disarray, akin to the clutter inside Adèle’s mind after the agonizing breakup. An exquisite embodiment of reflection, Adèle lays about in the ocean, face towards the sky, with streaks of blue from the tranquil tide glimmer in her hair as she ruminates on memories of love, and gets closer to accepting the necessity of moving forward. The women decide to reunite, bringing back familiar feelings that they can’t go through with, as Emma is in a committed relationship with another woman. As Emma walks away from her former partner, sapphire light illuminates the restaurant’s exit, communicating the loss and regret that consumes Adèle in this moment. The final scene takes place at Emma’s art exhibit, which Adèle gets invited to. Wearing a blue dress, she’s finally learning to cope with knowing that she can’t be with the woman who left her forever changed.

Blue Is the Warmest Color might be most well-known for its lengthy sex scenes, but the gripping romance, elaborate imagery and realistic demonstration of the human experience are what truly keeps the film’s legacy alive. The drama comes as close to life as it gets. Dealing with love and heartache is inevitable, but as the characters learn, there’s beauty in learning to make it through.

Watch ‘Blue Is the Warmest Color’ at FilmStruck.

Ciara Pitts (@CiaraNPitts) is a lesbian freelance writer with an obsession for film analysis and LGBTQ+ cinema. Her other interests include alternative music and endless rewatches of Thelma. She has previously written for AfterEllen and GO Magazine.