by Auggie Cooper
Blue is the Warmest Color (La vie d’Adèle) belongs to the 21st century — living a fervent life before being released to a general public, reflected upon without being seen, becoming known chiefly for being known. Endless articles spooled out after the movie scored at Cannes, first condemnation or praise of sex scenes, then gossip surrounding tension between the cast and crew, then speculation about the reaction of the film’s principals to the gossip, then speculation on the speculation. All flowing between the press and the artists with a swiftness and ease made possible by the transitory nature of today’s cinematic culture. Director Abdellatif Kechiche has shown no hesitance to push the ping pong to its limits: after telling French film site Telerama in September 2013 that he believed Blue should go unreleased because it had been “too sullied” by the press, he has since gone on to give a whirlwind of appearances and interviews promoting the film.
Friday, October 11th, 2013: Kechiche and star Adèle Exarchopoulos appear on stage after the United States premier of Blue at the New York Film Festival. I perceive them with skepticism, but I feel it through a fog. They are tiny to me, and miles away. Not so much people as half-forgotten endnotes. I am in a sharp haze cast over me by the movie they are here supporting, the movie which has given indirect birth to so many words about so many things outside of its own sounds and images. I am struck by the sensation that perhaps only a movie that is both so simple and complex, so long and short, could cause those who make and see it to emit so much static.
Like another tale of the crests and troughs of young French people, Nénette et Boni (Claire Denis, 1996), Blue is the Warmest Color is shot predominantly in close-up, and we live with the faces of the leads. So close that we feel more like appendages than voyeurs. Adèle (played by her namesake Exarchopoulos) goes to high school, talks with her friends, goes out with a guy, slurps spaghetti with her family. All the while her eyes are so large on screen, perhaps too large for her own liking, shifting and dipping, as if never having met another pair worth sticking to. Three hours and several years later, her eyes are not the same to us. They have grown slow with love, full with sadness, still with experience, the enormous and microscopic disillusionments of every life. While still in high school, she meets Emma (Léa Seydoux), an older art student with sly, wistful eyes of her own. She first passes Adèle on the street and smiles at her, a non-meeting, and from then she is like a ghost of the present, waiting to re-emerge. As the two begin to see each other and fall in love, it becomes clear that Emma’s family prefers slurping oysters to spaghetti, a small detail that manages to contain the class disconnect which will finally tear the two apart.
But let’s not be too hasty. First, there are the moments. There is first lovemaking, there is the passion of quiet exchanges on a park bench, there are Adèle’s attempts to assimilate into Emma’s social circles and ambitions, the muddy confusion that follows and leads her finally to her own way in life, there are countless and barely perceptible glances cast down or to the side with flickers of shame, affection, embarrassment, contemplation, sometimes all at once. Mistakes piling up and spilling into relief, ecstasies giving way to unfamiliar pain and glistening snot sliding all down a quivering lip. A blockbuster of the mundanities and fire of the youthful soul! Of course this is no way to market or categorize a movie, and so the focus in the press has been (must be) on several sex sequences each lasting several minutes, as if these scenes contain the movie in themselves, as if their very presence indicates the purpose of everything else. But each moment of the movie seems to me to finally carry equal weight, every shared experience between the two women melting to form the third person, the spirit, the thing they could only touch together.
For each viewer, there is much to see in the story of Adèle and Emma. I see each person I know, all growing, barreling, always wishing to feel whatever’s coming next while still longing with such romance for the lost moments, the eyes they wish they could feel on them once more. Perhaps it is because I am near the age of these characters, or because most people I know are young. But anyone who watches the movie will have been young, will know what it is to feel so many moments with someone that they blur into one, and to want to break them apart and feel each again on its own. This is a great joy and sadness of cinema, a truth that lives brightly in Blue is the Warmest Color: with these lives, we can go back.