I Didn’t Get Blue Is the Warmest Color

There. I said it.

A lot of press surrounds Blue Is the Warmest Color for one reason or another, and with it winning a bunch of awards and ranking on some year end movie lists, I decided to see what all the fuss was about.

Long story short, I wasn’t a huge fan. Short story long, well, that’s what the rest of the post is for.

The concept seems interesting enough; we follow Adèle and the ups and downs of first love in her relationship with Emma. It’s something we’ve seen before, this time in a lesbian context. So far so good, but things fall apart when the concept leaves the paper and gets on screen.

Blue Is the Warmest Color is visually dull. Sure, there’s a lot of blue in the beginning, but it’s there almost indiscriminately (rather than in a way that would relate to Emma and her blue hair). The camera angles are repetitive; it’s the same medium close-ups and close-ups over and over again with framing just a little too tight. It wouldn’t be so bad were it not used for the majority of interactions. But then, maybe that serves the story. There’s little attempt to beautify the action. When Adèle eats it’s messy and pasta sauce dribbles down her chin; crying in the movie is snotty and unattractive; and dialogue is (at least translated) to sound banal at times.

So it could be then argued that the film wants to discard the hyperrealism so frequently found in ‘normal’ film, and this supposedly honest look at a relationship will be shot accordingly. Basically, the antithesis of (500) Days Of Summer, which, like Blue Is the Warmest Color, was more of a story about love than love story, except this time rather than seeing things through Tom’s hyperrealistic, romanticized point of view it’s told ‘realistically.’ Cool.

Only all that is thrown out the window when it comes to the sex scenes. Ah, right, the sex scenes; the source of half the film’s press and, arguably, a large amount of its problems. Now, they’re shot in that same non-hyperrealistic way as the rest of the film: the lighting is stark and harsh and there’s no sweeping romantic soundtrack in the background. Yet it lacks a sort of emotional honesty. There’s no prelude to any of Adèle and Emma’s sex scenes and, barring the third, there’s nothing of pillow talk. They just happen.

Granted, this is hardly unique to Warmest Color, but it struck me as jarring that a film that focuses so heavily on relationships would have such abrupt sex scenes. Worsening them is the lack of character showing through in the scenes. There’s no dialogue between Adèle and Emma nor attempt for their relationship (beyond the obvious) to show through their actions, it simply transpires as a sort of pseudo-pornography devoid of personality.

But then personality isn’t something the film thrives on either. Emma, the focus of Adèle’s affections, comes off as just another, albeit lesbian, Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It’s when Emma enters the story that Adèle is brought out of her unsatisfactory heteronormativity into a more interesting life. She’s quirky, she’s an artist, she’s different, and she has blue hair makes her stand out, especially when juxtaposed with Adèle’s bland surroundings. Now, Emma is by no means the worst offender, Adèle does not achieve a ‘happily every after’ through her and Emma has a measure of an inner life (though it is still primarily defined more by outlying qualifiers [her job, class, sexuality] than her own personality), yet she still plays the part. That aspect of their relationship feels like something we’ve seen dozens of times before. Adéle’s character suffers in a similar way; she feels defined more strongly by her nature as bookish, working-class teacher than by some of her other traits.

Not to say it’s all bad. There’s a fight between Adèle and Emma towards the end that is powerfully acted and genuinely compelling. For me it was the first time I suddenly felt myself really caring about their relationship and it became painful to watch, in a good way. The film does have its moments of excellence, it’s just bogged down in all the rest.

Which then confuses me as to why its receiving all those accolades. Now, I’m aware I’m someone who tends to harp on the idea of ‘high art,” but I found the only thing truly remarkable about Blue Is the Warmest Color to be its frank approach to LGBTQ themes. Have it be about a heterosexual relationship and it’d be all-but-mediocre.

It’s not enough to praise a movie simply because it features an LGBTQ romance at its center. It’s the same problem I have with Christian films or some approaches to women protagonists. As much as I’d like to see a good LGBTQ film, I can’t bring myself to just give it an A-for-effort. So yeah. I didn’t get Blue Is the Warmest Color when I watched it and, given its overlong three hour runtime, don’t much feel like trying again.

 

Writer’s note: Look, I just didn’t get it. Maybe if someone broke it down bit for bit and explained just why it was so great, sure. But ‘til then, I don’t understand the fuss.

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