The breakout 2013 film Blue is the Warmest Color has been lauded as one of the most passionate, devastating love stories in recent memory. While this epic didn’t blow me away as Weekend did, it certainly was a fascinating, intelligent work that justifies its 3-hour length on an intellectual level, even if not an emotional one. This ambitious work is some parts love story, some parts change-over-time, and mostly a coming-of-age tale of a young woman in modern-day France.
This bulky work is best looked at through its two distinct halves: the first of main character Adele as a high school youth, and the second of Adele as a young woman, having become a teacher and coming into her own. There is a fascinating parallel between the two – Adele seen as a student, learning from others, and then as a teacher herself, passing along wisdom rather than receiving it from mentor figures.
From the very beginning, we get a strong sense of intimacy by the sheer closeness of each shot; each character is right against the camera, making us feel like we are right next to them, nearly feeling their breath. Each character is also shot in isolation, giving one moment (nearly 45 minutes into the film) of two characters in the same shot that much greater of impact.
The love story is a sweet and believable one, as we are drawn to the allure, charm, and intelligence of the artistic Emma just as Adele is. Even their first real meeting, after-hours at a lesbian bar, ties back to Adele’s school lessons of philosophy; earlier in the film, her teacher mentions the struggle between chance and fate/predestination. When Emma asks what brought Adele to the bar, however, Adele brushes it off as “by chance,” though neither Emma nor we believe that for a moment.
The romance that ensues, much like the also-excellent Her, is an insightful, poignant tale of love, jealousy, and obsession. With the lengthy running time a film like this has, we clock in enough time in the relationship to feel the trauma and rough waters that Emma and Adele face.
The brilliant subtext of art and philosophy provides a very satisfying finale to the film. Emma’s gallery of artwork is full of models (all loved ones) in her life, and, even years later, Adele is still part of it. In a similar vein to Her, which argues that our relationships build us into who we are, Blue is the Warmest Color addresses our projected identities and how we share these pieces of ourselves with the world, and embrace these reflections.
All in all, though, I see this movie less of a romance and more of a coming-of-age story. Any young adult goes through an incredibly impressionable period where a singular person, or way of life, can completely transform your way of life and your outlook, and this film puts all of these together into one personification, Emma.
Blue is the Warmest Color is a sometimes joyful, sometimes heartbreaking, exploration of identity and the sacrifices necessary to achieve that.