Bearing the Palme d’Or from the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, the sexually wild and refreshingly liberated Blue is the Warmest Colour provides an insightful social commentary on sexuality. Abdellatif Kechiche’s (The Secret of Grain, 2007) lengthy female coming-of-age epic delves into the complexities of sexuality, identity and, ultimately, love. Blue is the Warmest Colour forefronts female sexuality to confront societal norms; this French romance is a revelatory triumph for gay cinema and makes for an impressive foreign film.
Apart from being a commendable foreign film and a skilled adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name penned by Julie Morah, the film boasts an endearing and expressive performance from French actress extraordinaire Adèle Exarchopoulos. In an unprecedented move, the Cannes judging panel awarded Exarchopoulos, along with co-star Léa Seydoux and director Kechiche, the Palme d'Or, making the two actress only the second and third women to receive the award, with the other being director Jane Campion for The Piano (1993). Exarchopoulos and Seydoux capture anger with such authenticity that their staged love seems real.
The young and attractive Adèle (Exarchopoulos), peculiarly named after the actress playing her, is discomforted by her sexuality and is the subject of homophobic abuse. The film charts Adèle’s evolution from curious schoolgirl and closet homosexual to a silently suffering teacher. Throughout, the film remarks on the diversity of relationships and love via acts of affection that oppose the homogeneity of the Hollywood romance story. A stranger in the street, Emma (Seydoux) just happens to walk by with her lush blue hair and faint skin. Instantly the young and curious Adèle feels an attraction to the blue-haired stranger. Blue is the Warmest Colour comments on sexual orientation in terms of conformity and identity. After wrestling with her desire for women, Adèle’s curiosity leads her to embrace her sexuality. In handling her curiosity, several explicit and vivid sex scenes powerfully punctuate the film’s politics. Blue is the Warmest Colour does not shy from sexuality but rather embraces it.
The film’s most interesting choice is to present the tale from the perspective of a young homosexual woman over the conquests of a man. It departs from heteronormative expectations and introduces sexuality as a fluid form; the relationship between sexuality and identity is explored through the sexual explorations of the young Adèle. Blue is the Warmest Colour is similar in this regarded to the crisis of identity shared by Brandon Teena (Hilary Swank) in Kimberly Peirce's biographical drama Boys Don’t Cry (1999) at the same time as recalling the softness and intimacy of Ang Lee’s sex-pionage romantic drama Lust, Caution (2007).
The much debated lengthy sex scene is the simple display of two lovers' affection. Whilst it is somewhat explicit, the sex distances the film from conventional romantic comedy fare and operates outside of the heterosexual fantasies of romance and love. The film is more a tragedy than a drama, and there are no long-winded speeches that end in eternal happiness like in When Harry Met Sally (1989), but rather their love is disconnected and made unequal. Blue is the Warmest Colour is as ambiguous as it is resolute. The film derails from the conventional path of the rom com in its determination to confront heterosexual norms and explore female sexuality for its diversity.
Blue is the Warmest Colour confronts sexual taboos to comment on sexuality as an identity. The characters and performances are profound and intimately expressed. Exarchopoulos details Adèle’s growth and brings weight and depth to the young and agonised lesbian. Such depictions of fluid sexuality are exactly what the screen needs to break away from the rigid confines of heteronormative stereotypes. If only Hollywood would listen.