Saturday, January 24, 2015

Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) ****

I'd like to be all cool, and introduce this film as a French coming-of-age tale about romance, love, and heartbreak, but let's be real. If you've heard anything at all about “Blue is the Warmest Color,” it's that it has graphic, lesbian sex scenes. Boy, does it! In that regard, this film is as-advertised. It is also, however, a coming-of-age tale about romance, love, and heartbreak, and a really good one, at that. It would be a shame if this film were written off as soft-porn, because it is a quietly thought-provoking film about a young woman.

Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) is a high-school student who doesn't know who she is yet. Her friends are all sexually active with boys, and they encourage Adele to do the same. She tries, but she doesn't seem to be able to make a real physical or emotional connection with anyone. Then one day on the street she is captivated by a girl with blue hair. Adele starts to wonder if she is into girls, then, during a night out with a gay, male friend, she wanders into a lesbian bar. The blue-haired girl, Emma(Lea Seydoux), is there, and the two strike up a friendship that turns into a passionate affair.

One of the most interesting things about this film is how it chooses to explore class differences. Most movies that deal with class do so with broad strokes. The working-class people will be clearly blue-collar and crass, or the upper-crust will be snooty and rich. “Blue is the Warmest Color” shows how there are many more gradations of class than just upper, middle, and lower. Emma's family is slightly upper-middle-class. Her parents work in the humanities, and they encourage their daughter's career as a painter. They are also aware and accepting of the girls' lesbian relationship. Adele's parents are more slightly lower-middle-class. They want her to do well in school, but mainly so she can get some kind of steady work, and there is no assumption that she will go to college. For Adele's parents, the girls hide their relationship, making up a boyfriend for Emma who has a practical, steady job, which gains hearty approval from Adele's parents. These class differences are largely illustrated around the families' dinner tables, where Emma's parents like to try different wines and experiment with foods like fresh oysters, while Adele's family mostly serves basic fare like spaghetti. The family homes are pretty similar in terms of opulence, but there is a clear difference in attitudes and expectations, a difference we have all likely noticed among our own friends and acquaintances.

After the initial bloom of love and lust starts to quiet down for the girls, these class differences start to color their relationship as well. Emma's life is full of artsy, educated, well-traveled friends, and it starts to bother her that Adele's only ambition is to be a kindergarten teacher. In this, I think Emma sells Adele short. Adele is a quiet girl from a somewhat limited background, but she has a lot going on under the surface. She is ignorant about art, but never dismissive of it. She is open to new experiences, as is shown when she finally tries, and enjoys, seafood, not to mention her openness to a same-sex relationship.

Now, about those sex scenes. They are as graphic as people say, clearly earning the NC-17 rating. This is not a movie to watch with your parents! Fortunately, this isn't one of those movies where the director tries to make the sex look really artsy and ugly. The scenes are beautiful, and downright hot. The question that has been brought up in numerous reviews and interviews is whether these scenes are necessary to the story or are simply exploitative. My response would be to look at other films with similarly intense content. Did “Saving Private Ryan,” for example, need to have such long, graphically violent battle scenes? In the case of “Blue is the Warmest Color,” a major point of the film is that sex and romantic love are inseparable, especially when you are young. When you long to be with someone you love, you don't just feel it in your heart.

4 stars out of 5

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