Blue Is the Warmest (Hair) Color

Instead of dwelling on the explicit 10-minute sex scene in Blue Is the Warmest Color, which I've finally motivated myself to watch and which divided critics and the queer community (so much scissoring!), I want to focus on a smaller question:

Why has this movie's title been translated as Blue Is the Warmest Color? 

The French title, La vie d'Adèle, meaning "The Life of Adèle" after the lead character (played by Adèle Exarchopoulos), works so much better as a title for a 3-hour exploration of female sexuality. Ok, so there is the irony that blue is considered a 'cold' color. Yes, director Abdellatif Kechiche, whose previous film L'esquive is a subtle and brilliant exposé on France's multicultural youth, dresses his protagonist in blue and makes her girlfriend's hair blue for edginess and lesbian appeal. But everything that's meant for warmth in the film has the opposite effect.

First of all, Kechiche's choice of constant, extreme close-ups on Adèle's face made her seem bland and vacant rather than emotive. I think this choice was intentional, and it works at the beginning, when Adèle is still discovering herself and her sexuality, but it turns quickly annoying as all I could focus on was Adèle's inability to keep her lips closed. Her mouth had this lazy pout on it that I can't make sense of. Is she a daydreamer? Is she not self-aware? I was relieved by the final scene in the art gallery where we finally see her in medium long shots - still so uneasy about her surroundings but at last not the center of our attention.

 Look at that pout.

Secondly, Kechiche takes the path of least resistance to portray the romantic connection between Adèle and Emma (Léa Seydoux), but it's a shallow one striving for depth. Adèle's into books, while Emma's studying painting. Adèle is a helper, while Emma's a talker. They supposedly have sexual chemistry (more on that in a minute). This is supposed to be a life-altering shift in Adèle's life, but Emma seems to figure only sexually into this shift. There are no coming out scenes, only a meager (yet affecting nonetheless) instance of homophobia, and just one Pride Parade, but no real scenes of romantic support, admiration, or devotion. Aren't they supposed to love each other? I want more of those scenes. Kechiche gives Adèle's personal development a shot in that we watch her graduate, march in an education protest, and become a teacher. But really she's just a muse (Emma's muse and Kechiche's) and we all know that a muse's pedestal matters more than her heart or mind.

Ok, I will talk about that sex scene. There are the obvious criticisms, a few of which I'll name. It turns pornographic and male gaze-y in Kechiche's hands because he's a straight man trying to represent female sexuality.  There is a lot of focus on bums and panting. It involves positions that seem potentially unreasonable for a first sexual encounter (and some, like scissoring, that are stereotypical of lesbians and that may or may not be performed outside of porn, depending on whom you ask). It's not even that sexy but rather borderline animalistic.

Yet my biggest problem with the scene--and really, the whole film--is that it is supposed to represent the apex of female sexuality - pure pleasure, desire, fulfillment, even ecstasy - but we are not really there with Adèle and Emma even though we're watching them. We're not sympathizing or even experiencing vicarious/movie-watching pleasure. Rather, the tone I get is of Kechiche feeling jealous. Later in the film there is a group discussion about how female pleasure is deeper and more complex than male, and I get the sense that this is personal for Kechiche. He's making a movie to try to get at an understanding, but he's actually pushing himself, and therefore us, farther away from that understanding by defaulting to voyeurism. If we understood Adèle better (meaning Kechiche had actually made her a complex character instead of a shell of a young woman), we could have gotten there, together. But as we watch her walk away from the camera down a street in the final shot, her blue dress diminishing against the sunset, we don't know her at all, or what this sexual "awakening" has done. This is a shame, because I could have seen a lot of myself in her.

The Affair

Connections, and Her