Right off the bat, let me just say that you should NOT Netflix this now. At least not “now” in the literal sense. Blue Is The Warmest Color is a film you have to gear up for. Not so much in the emotional sense where you’re strapping in to watch 12 Years A Slave and feel absolutely awful for the next 24 to 48 hours. No, this is more in the practical sense. There are four things you should know before you go into this one:
1. Weighing in at a hefty 179 minutes, it’s just a hair under 3 hours long.
2. It’s in French.
3. It contains the most graphic, explicit, long sex scenes I’ve ever personally seen in a film.
4. It’s a pretty fantastic movie.
Blue Is The Warmest Color tells the story of high school student Adèle, a yearning, coltish 15 as the movie starts. It’s very much a coming of age story; we’re with her every step of the way as Adèle struggles to find her way in the world. The camera is nearly always on her, and considering how expressive yet understated she is, it’s not hard to see why. She’s a true Everyman in the sense that she absolutely captures the sometimes confused, but always yearning way it feels to be a teenager.
Much of the movie focuses on her relationship with Emma, an art major in college (I’m probably totally Americanizing the French way of saying that) at the time they meet. In that relationship are the major threads of the movie. Love, sexuality, social class, passion, heartbreak, growing up.
You can get pretty heavy with the “movie critic” thing here. If you want to delve into gender politics and the Male Gaze and depictions of lesbianism in media, you can do that. If you want to talk about symbolism and the role of the color blue, you can do that. If you want to examine the role of social class as it relates to self-discovery and freedom, you can do that, too. For a movie that feels this light, warm, and occasionally bluesy, there are some deep currents under the surface. It’s the kind of movie you almost wish Susan Sontag was alive for, just to see what the crazy old bat would write about it.
Me, I’d rather f— around with some text.
(1 million internet points if you get why that clip goes with that line)
So let’s take those points I mentioned. Point one, it’s extremely long. You want to watch this, you need to block off 3 hours. If you started watching this at the same time you started driving east from LA, you’d be halfway to Phoenix by the time you finished the movie. So, yeah.
Despite its length, it really never drags. It’s a sparse movie that feels lush. There’s very little music, the film doesn’t go in for big, wide-angle shots (it’s very much a character piece), so when little things happen, you notice. The film doesn’t have to draw your attention to the use of the color blue, or make some kind of heavy-handed and embarrassing “this is what blue means, idiot” statement, it’s just… there. A part of it.
OMG LOOK IT’S BLUE
Point two: Yes, it’s in French. That means the Dreaded Subtitle. Yes, for the first few minutes you have to adjust how you watch a movie, but it’s really quite seamless. A bit like wearing 3D glasses: seems really odd at first, but not a big deal.
I almost don’t want to talk about point three, but it’s kind of hard to not talk about this movie without mentioning the explicit sex. There’s a whole raft of issues here – the role of sexuality in art is kinda, um, complicated. Frankly, it’s been covered elsewhere and it’s been a while since I took Intro to Film. I’m really only qualified to talk about what I got out of it. And here’s what that is.
I didn’t have any kind of personal problem with those scenes. They go on for a long time, long enough that they drew me out of the movie, but the movie is incredibly intimate – no wide-angle lens views of Adèle; you’re living right there with her – and those scenes fit that theme.
There’s also no one on earth I’d be comfortable watching them with. A handful of close friends wouldn’t be too awkward, but certainly not anything close to comfortable.
The main thing I got out of them, honestly, was a kind of wondering, amazed respect for the two actors, Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux.
I do some theater. I was really into it as a kid, and since I graduated college I’ve rediscovered a love for acting on stage. There’s some real magic there. I was in a play a couple years ago where I had to kiss a woman in several scenes. Not full-on groping and making out, but definitely not a chaste peck on the lips. It was the first time I’d done anything like that on stage, and it was complicated by the fact that the woman’s husband was also in the play. It was kind of nerve-racking. For months of rehearsals, when we got to those parts, I’d just hug her. A few weeks before Opening Night, the director took us aside and said, “OK, tonight you gotta do it.”
In the end, it wasn’t the kissing that was hard, it was the “doing it in front of people.” Generally speaking, that kind of intimacy is reserved for just the people it’s happening with. Doing it in front of a handful of other actors and crew was tough; doing it in a crowded theater was kind of a trip.
Thus, it absolutely blows my mind how these two actresses accomplished something like this. It’s not even in the same ballpark; we’re talking orders of magnitude. Tons of respect.
Point 4 is the easy one.
Adèle is one of the most relatable characters I’ve seen in a long time.
For a movie with such a simple premise, it’s refreshingly free of cliche.
It doesn’t spoonfeed you with characters whose sole point is to blurt out plot developments or character notes the way most films do. There’s no random girl who pops up after a “Six Months Later” title card and says “Hi Adèle! How have you been enjoying your new job as a teacher for these last six months?”
It’s relevant, topical. Coming of age in this place, this time, with these social issues; Blue is smack dab in the middle of them.
It’s beautiful. Some scenes practically drip warmth and sunlight. Both leads have incredibly expressive faces (even though Adele has that Kristen Stewart-esque annoying habit of never closing her mouth completely), and the film just lavishes both of them with interesting, subtle framing and lighting.
It feels light and airy and it’s 3 freaking hours long.
Go Netflix it.