The Best Films of the Decade: #18. Blue is the Warmest Colour (2013)

| December 24, 2019
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In just 9 Days the decade will come to a close and so for movie lovers like me it is an opportunity to look over the decade of movies that are left behind. Over the next few weeks I am going to countdown the best films of the past 10 years from #40 to #1. My choices are personal choices swayed by nothing but the love I have for this medium. These are all great movies. These films all achieved something great. All reached for something special. They are the best of the decade . . .

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I remember very well when Blue is the Warmest Colour came out in 2013, despite its accolades and awards, all of the media attention zeroed in on a pair of scenes depicting two female lovers engaged in graphic sex that has – how does one put this nicely? – a very French sensibility.  It is true.  We saw the lovers naked, laid bare, with little to hide, particularly during the first encounter, an eye-opening seven-minute scene of raw sexuality in which the bodies twist this way and that in a manner that might make some viewers uncomfortable.  Yet, while those scenes are striking, it is the film that surrounds these two women that captures our imagination.  For all the news of scenes of sweaty sexual fumbling, the most tantalizing organ on display is the human heart.

Based on a graphic novel by Julie Morah, Blue is the Warmest Colour tells the story of Adèle and Emma, two intelligent and heartfelt teenagers who, through simple cosmic fate, fall desperately in love.  The movie sees their relationship over the course of a decade, mostly through the eyes of Adèle, a pretty 17-year-old high school girl with pouty lips and an expression that suggests a great deal of unhappiness.  She’s that very rare teenager who always seems to be waiting for something.  Her classmates live in the moment, but Adèle seems to be searching for some kind of meaning in her life.  As the film opens, her eyes suggest that she is lost in the world.  When the movie is over, she will have the same look in her eyes, but for a completely different reason.

At school, she has a circle of friends but they seem distant somehow.  She tries to touch the social strata but nothing really engages her.  She begins dating a nice guy named Samir.  They talk and before long she shares his bed.  Something in her eyes in their post-sexual encounter seems sad.  The parts are there but, in her mind, there seems to be a sexual component that is missing here.  The relationship doesn’t last long and she breaks his heart.

Then something happens.  While walking with her friends one day, she passes a blue-haired girl on the street walking the other way.  It is only a passing glance but, for Adèle, it leaves a startling impression.  This parting glace stays on her mind for days and days until one night, while out with friends, she makes an unexpected left turn into a gay bar hoping the find the girl.  She does, and they begin to talk.  The girl is Emma, a pretty college student who is studying art.  Emma and Adèle talk a lot.  They talk about art, about music, about philosophy, about themselves.  They talk about their dreams.  Adèle reveals that she wants to be an elementary school teacher; Emma wants to be an artist.  Days later, on a park bench, they pause in their conversation and share a kiss.  They go home and have sex.  Afterwards they talk some more.  Adèle finds her life turned around, especially by her former friends who cruelly interrogate her for hanging around with a lesbian – a reminder that even as open as we are about homosexuality, a social stigma still exists.

What is happening between Emma and Adèle is a building relationship that will last for several years.  The miraculous thing is that the story is constructed in such a realistic way that we never know where it is going.  Director Abdellatif Kechiche shoots the film in a way that makes us feel as if we are standing in the room with the characters.  There are no glossy, pretty images.  When they sit at dinner, we are sitting at the table with them.  Kechine gets in close, and allows us to get to know the characters intimately.  He is an expert at photographing the landscape of the human face in close-up so that every emotional tic is on display.  We come to care about the fate of these two girls and it pays off in the film’s climax, a heart-rending moment that will break your heart as the lovers realize what their fate must be.  The weight of that moment stands for the fate of all lovers in crisis.  What they do with that moment determines the destinies for both.

To understand what a remarkable achievement this film is, you have to see it in relation to most other movie love stories.  Other films want to throw problems at the characters that are there to be solved.  The problems for Adèle and Emma are borne out of their personalities.  Not one moment in this film feels phony or contrived.  It moves with the rhythms of real life and ends on a welcomed, life-goes-on note that leaves us with something to talk about afterwards.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
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