If the rumours surrounding the gruelling nature of this film’s creation can be believed, then at least it wasn’t for nothing. The two lead actresses in Blue is the Warmest Color described the experience as horrible, stating that they would never work with director Abdellatif Kechiche again, which supported negative responses from the rest of the crew who said his behaviour verged on moral harassment. The end result of this supposed trauma, however, is one of the most transcendental and challenging romance movies ever made, a three-hour behemoth love story that feels way, way too short.
Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a student at a French secondary-school who falls in and out of love with boys just like all her friends, until a lustful passing glance from a beautiful blue-haired girl changes everything, causing her heterosexual frivolities to decline in fulfillment. At a gay bar days later, she encounters the girl again, who introduces herself as Emma (Léa Seydoux). The two begin a relationship as Emma guides Adèle through to sexual and emotional maturity, which eventually ends up with their love expanding to breaking point.
It’s a modest story-line, but that’s not the point. Blue is shockingly naturalistic, a result of Kechiche’s preference of leaving the camera rolling between takes, allowing the actors to fully immerse themselves in their roles and avoid breaking the tension on set. He ended up with a reported 750 hours of footage which took three editors to wrestle it down to its final running time of 179 minutes. Tellingly, not a second is wasted even in the jarringly intense sex scenes, one of which is already notorious for lasting over ten minutes.
A lot of it feels invasive, and I often felt as though I shouldn’t be watching it. The leading duo, Exarchopoulos in particular, never seem like they’re performing for a camera – Adèle’s face is often gormless and lost in thought, she eats with her mouth open, her hair is often greasy and strewn across her face. The lighting is so well executed, however, that it brings out the beauty of these two actress despite efforts to not look their best. Kechiche practically forced method acting on his actors, for example he wouldn’t shoot dinner scenes unless they were hungry, nor sex scenes until they were in the right mood. This is another unconventional work ethic which paid off and aided Exarchopoulos and Seydoux in delivering performances so astonishing that this year’s Palme d’Or was awarded to them as well as the director.
While coming across as pornographic in places – and I can’t argue that it isn’t – you have to admire the sheer confidence of the director and actresses in pulling off something like this. It’s arresting filmmaking that deserves attention for just how ballsy it is. For three hours straight, Blue is the Warmest Color had me caught in its realistic web of immeasurable humanity, sometimes uplifting, other times depressing, always emotionally intense. It’s not a film about lesbianism or being a lesbian, but rather a coming-of-age drama centered around one naive girl’s experimentation, examining the relationship between confidence and maturity. You’ll doubtlessly remember the extended sections of furious love-making, disturbingly upfront and passionate, but to Blue is the Warmest Color‘s colossal strength, there are many more moments which will be just as strongly stuck in your head.