Directed by award-winning French-Tunisian actor-turned-screenwriter, Abdellatif Kechiche, Blue is the Warmest Colour won the coveted Palme D’Or (Golden Palm) at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. Based on a graphic novel by French illustrator, Jul Maroh, this heart-warming movie was well-received by critics, as well as being a box office smash. But its release also generated some controversy. Why? Because its central theme – lesbian love – unfolds so vigorously. The central character, Emma (Léa Seydoux), an aspiring artist with striking blue hair, enjoys a passionate relationship with Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), a quiet, much younger, high school student. It wasn’t the age-gap aspect of their love affair that grabbed the headlines – after all, a disparity in ages between leading actors is as old as moviemaking itself. It had more to do with the explicit girl-on-girl sex scenes. To understand why this excellent film might have ever been thought of as contentious, it’s necessary to dig a little deeper into Emma’s character, and also study this portrayal in terms of how LGBT partnerships are viewed in the modern age.
Society Shifts Towards Inclusivity
First of all, why would the love affair between Emma and Adèle be regarded any differently from, for instance, Emma and a boyfriend? This is because Western society still has lingering hangups about people from the lesbian community celebrating their passion the same way as any straight couple would. However, a director like Kechiche recognizes there are so many individuals just like Emma who are increasingly empowered to express their true feelings. Perhaps it doesn’t seem too long ago that lesbians lacked the same opportunities to socialize as their straight counterparts. They had to rely on far fewer gay-oriented bars and clubs. But recent years have seen a seismic shift in perceptions. Single LGBT females can now arrange a lesbian sex meet up very easily, by relying on the digital environment. Dating sites dedicated to same-sex partnerships can be accessed from any web browser or smartphone, allowing girls to touch base with like-minded individuals 24/7. Discreet communication channels can now be utilized to instigate everything from casual flings to the type of intense get-togethers favored by Emma and Adèle. This backdrop of lesbianism being just as relevant as any other form of potent sexual attraction is one reason why movies such as Blue is The Warmest Colour are now proving to be so popular.
Emma first appears as a stranger passing Adèle in the street. Something about this enigmatic, confident-looking older woman, sporting a shock of short, electric blue hair, instantly captivates the introverted student. Adèle is unsure of her innermost emotions, but ignited by this chance encounter with Emma, her suspicions about her sexuality are confirmed. A stolen kiss with another friend, Béatrice (actress and model, Alma Jodorowsky), who doesn’t want anything serious, merely leaves her frustrated, ready to fall into the arms of Emma, whom she eventually gets properly introduced to in a lesbian bar. There are other intriguing aspects to their relationship, and this can be seen in the context of so many enchanting movies centering on desire and sexual awakening these days. As well as their natural same-sex attraction, there are other interesting underlying themes. When we see Adèle spending time with her family, who are working-class but conservative, only dreary everyday subjects are discussed. Emma’s family, who are middle-class, are far more open, chatting about career prospects, art, and life. Crucially, Emma’s parents accept their daughter’s sexual orientation, while Adèle’s assume the girls are just friends.
The story of Emma and Adèle works on so many levels. Critics have praised the intimate nature of this film, not just in terms of the abandoned bedroom scenes, but also the way the director has chosen to highlight these moments. Kechiche often employs camerawork intended to capture intimacy. Unlike more gratuitous lesbian-friendly movies, which are sometimes all about titillation, close-up angles are frequently employed. This is intended to give the audience a sense of closeness. We only glimpse their naked bodies while they embrace with passion, but what we do get a full sense of is the electricity of their flesh-on-flesh clinches and the way they gaze adoringly into each other’s eyes.
To conclude, given the movie’s title, it’s no wonder its colour palette is also significant. Blue is featured throughout. It’s the garish background lighting in the lesbian clubs frequented by Emma and Adèle. It’s often in the clothes the characters wear, especially the dress sported by Adèle near the film’s end. Most obvious of all, it’s in Emma’s fierce hairstyle and beautiful eyes. The way this is most graphically portrayed is towards the conclusion, as the intensity of their lesbian love affair fades. Symbolically, Emma goes back to her natural colour, which looks so much more conservative.