A great clue to deciphering Abdellatif Kechiche’s Blue Is The Warmest Colour, one of the most affecting love stories of recent years, comes in the opening motion of the picture.
As Adèle, Adèle Exarchopoulos’s formidable lead, explains in passing and in reference to Marivaux’s La Vie de Marianne, she cares not for the autobiographical when it comes to absorbing and understanding the works of literature that she is faced with. One cannot help but smile wryly upon hearing this exchange in the wake of the troubled response that greeted the production of Blue Is The Warmest Colour in the wake of the film making it’s mark on the world stage earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, where, when judged upon its own merits, Abdellatif Kechiche’s picture was deemed worthy of being bestowed with the Palme d’Or. The protagonist hates contextualisation, preferring to come to her own conclusions in the face of an encouraged interpretation, and if ever a film was in need of such facing treatment from it’s own audience then this is it.
There’s an eloquence and a confidence on display in Blue Is The Warmest Colour, and while concerns that the film does on occasion stray in to areas perhaps deemed to be exploitative, ultimately Kechiche’s grand-thesis operates very masterfully via a system of mechanics that operate quite like an inversion of the technique honed by Frank Capra in It’s A Wonderful Life, with the emotional effect of the final act amplified ten-fold thanks to the unbridled joy projected in the earlier moments. Rather than reaching the bottom of the barrel before one can see the sky, Kechiche shows paradise only to blind it from vision long before the final curtain. The early stages of the film unfold in an episodic manner, capturing moments and events in the life of Adèle from 15 years of age through to her emotional awakening in the company of Emma, Léa Seydoux’s blue-haired art student, a figure who is equal parts alien and comforter. Purposefully veering towards the conventional for the most part, the first section of the film plays out almost like a film in itself, with Adèle meeting a boy, developing a relationship with him and struggling with the fallout in a manner which in itself would form the basic skeleton of a typical coming of age story. Instead of halting here though, Kechiche carries on the story of Adèle, telling of her true coming in to being.
It’s in it’s portrayal of the emotional that Kechiche’s film takes aback the most. Eschewing the familiar beats and tropes of a tale of “young and in-love”, the film constantly feels as though it is fighting convention and expectation. The clue to deconstruction comes in the opening fugue on the nature of the ‘gaze’. Discussed early on, Kechiche attempts to turn theories of such on it’s head, and while not wholly successful, due to the long game being played, it ultimately pays off.
The strident tone recalls Maurice Pialat’s work in the area, in films like Loulou and Passe ton bac d’abord, although in it’s structure it is the director’s A Nos Amours which stands the closest to a true kindred spirit for Blue Is The Warmest Colour. It’s often said that Pialat did more for the contemporary French cinema than any of his more high profile counterparts in the pantheon of the national cinema, and that influence is clearly on display here. While robbed of the unassuming tenderness that one might expect to find in the emotional resolution of a Pialat picture, with instead hope present but up in the air, Kechiche’s portrayal of a youth coming in to adulthood is familiar to aficionados of the earlier director, in the shape and form of the presentation of things like social awkwardness that comes with being young, and the overwhelming confusion of what it means to come of age.
Kechiche is a cine-literate filmmaker, and Blue Is The Warmest Colour is a film which exhibits an understanding of the form. Adèle professes a love for the American cinema, while an early date is personified by a trip to the cinema to see Gaspar Noé’s Enter The Void, and ultimate reprieve comes in the form of an actor in Hollywood movies. Louise Brooks, perhaps the seminal on-screen presence of the “lost girl” also makes an appearance, as a ghost from the past projected against a great wall as the main players live out their lives during one memorable sequence, while the original title of the source material for Blue Is The Warmest Colour, Julie Maroh’s The Blue Angel,alludes towards another tale of doomed love and infatuation in Josef von Sternberg’s film of that title.
In adapting Maroh’s graphic novel Blue Is The Warmest Colour also carries with it a feeling of the legimisation of the comic book movie too: while other films have had some success in this area, most notable Terry Zwigoff’s Ghost World, Vincent Paronnaud and Marjane Satrapi Persepolis and the Christopher Nolan Batman movies, this film is of extra significance due to it’s winning of the Palme d’Or, one of the major benchmarks of the film culture landscape. In a year which has seen a wealth of masterpieces in this particular area of the cinema, Blue Is The Warmest Colour ranks amongst the very best achievements in the medium.