Don’t miss this brilliant film

I’m still recovering from a blow to my emotional solar plexus delivered by a new movie, Blue Is the Warmest Colour (2013) by the French-Tunisian director  Abdellatif Kechiche  (born in Tunis, moved with his parents to Nice at the age of six).

Almost everyone knows two things about this film, one of them significant, the other not:  that the film and both its leading actresses[1] won the highest award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, the Palme d’Or (a prima facie indication of its quality): and that it depicts a Lesbian love affair which includes lengthy and startlingly detailed sex scenes enacted by the two leading ladies (not particularly significant, because the sex is essential and integral to the story, and the fact that it depicts sex between two women is almost, but not entirely, coincidental – the story would not be radically changed if it concerned a love affair between a man and a woman, or even between two men).  It is emphatically not pornographic; the sex scenes are beautiful and erotic but not titillating.  In contrast with the rest of the film, the sex is more stylised than realistic.  Some critics have argued that this small but noticeable stylistic difference between the sex scenes and the remainder of the film shows that the sex is superfluous, interpolated for box office purposes.  I don’t think anyone who watches all three hours of this film (yes, it’s long) at all attentively could agree, but that’s necessarily a subjective judgement.

There’s one other departure from realism in the film as a whole: both the leading actresses, one or both of whom are on screen for almost the entire film, are strikingly attractive, with and without their clothes: real head-turners both.  They can perhaps be forgiven their good looks since both are consummate actresses, the intense emotional realism of their performances allegedly enhanced by obsessiveness, verging on bullying, on the part of the director during shooting.  The two women are Léa Seydoux (Emma), playing the older and more sexually experienced of the two, and Adèle Exarchopoulos (Adèle), French with a Greek grandfather, playing the younger character, a convincing 17 years old at the beginning of the saga.  The start, development and climax of their affair are portrayed with exceptional tenderness;  its effective termination is almost too violently terrible to watch, although life goes on beyond that point, if on a lower emotional level.  The temptation to resort to melodrama is resolutely resisted.  The ending is sad but wholly true to life.

An incidental charm is the location of the film in Lille, with many effective street scenes, one in the Grand’ Place, and another memorable sequence in the glorious swimming-pool art gallery, La Piscine Museum, at Roubaix, just outside Lille.

In addition to the Palme d’Or for the film and the two actresses at Cannes, the FIPRESCI Prize went to the director, Abdellatif Kechiche.  The film has won a raft of other international prizes, awards and nominations:  it will be astonishing if more are not on the way.

Only time will tell whether Blue Is the Warmest Colour deserves to be rated a great film.  Whether or not it’s great, it’s certainly exceptional, and packs a tremendous punch.  Don’t miss it.


[1]  Enlightened modern usage is to describe actors of both genders as actors, and to shun the word actress as implicitly sexist.  I have consciously disobeyed that rule in this post, because to describe the two leading players as actors looks hopelessly odd, when the fact of their femininity is such an important ingredient in the story, despite not being (in my perhaps eccentric view) absolutely central to it.