Blue is the Warmest Colour is a movie about first love. And like all first loves, it is bound to end tragically. The movie even alludes to similar love stories through the books Adele reads in high school. That said, there’s one catch: this love story is between two women.
That doesn’t really make it a lesbian story though. Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) experiments with her sexuality throughout the movie, but her romantic struggles are relatively straightforward. In school, she dates a guy she doesn’t love—no surprise, it ends poorly. In the city, she passes by Emma (Lea Seydoux) and instantly becomes smitten. And years into their dying relationship, she has a sexual affair with a male co-worker.
If Emma were a man, it would be no different from any other breakup story.
This results in a mixed reaction among its critics. On one hand, it allows hetero-normative male viewers (like myself) to empathize with this unfamiliar concept: a same-sex love story between two women. On the other hand, it trivializes the identity of gay couples by associating it with heterosexual ideology. And while Adele is harassed by her homophobic classmates and belittled by her conservative parents, Adele’s sexuality is hardly ever threatened.
Moreover, I found the explicit sex scenes to be incredibly… uh, arousing? But while sex sells, it has a negative effect on Blue’s themes of passion and heartbreak. Scenes containing oral sex were already pushing it, but when the two lead actresses begin “scissoring” each other, it just becomes needlessly pornographic. The film is trying to convince us that lesbians normally engage in violent sexual intercourse, an idea reserved for the adolescent fantasies of horny schoolboys.
But hey, if the scene gives us all a boner, we might just ignore how sophomoric and insensitive the sex scenes are, right?
However, I do praise writer-director Abdellatif Kechiche for his portrayal of social class in Blue. As Slavoj Zizek mentioned in his fascinating video essay, The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology, modern Hollywood films have an absurd sympathy for the lower class. Using James Cameron’s Titanic, Zizek illustrates how the iceberg is necessary to facilitate a bittersweet tragedy. A real tragedy would occur if an iceberg did not hit the Titanic—after a couple weeks of passionate sex, the two lovers would inevitably break up. How would they ever sustain a healthy relationship?
Blue is the Warmest Colour challenges this Hollywood ideology by presenting a sincere interpretation of love between the rich and the poor. Adele is a preschool teacher, while Emma is an artist. Adele is comfortable with her working-class lifestyle, while Emma wants to challenge her with the pleasures of upper-class philosophy. For instance, she teaches her how to enjoy shellfish, and encourages her to write. And as Adele remains uneasy with Emma’s artistic community, Emma grows weary of Adele and subconsciously begins to alienate her. There will always be a social rift in between the upper class and the lower class, preventing the two from truly accepting one another.
Or as I quote Zizek, Blue depicts the true message of the ideology: “Of rich people having tried to revitalize themselves by ruthlessly appropriating the vitality of the poor people.”
There’s a lot to consider when judging the quality of Blue as a movie. Is it wrong to piss off the LGBT community by showing heterosexual actresses having hot “lesbian” sex? Or is it redeemed through its honest depiction of romance between the rich and poor? Didn’t writer-director Kechiche exploit his actors and mistreat his production crew? What should we think?
For a second, let us ignore all the social context behind Blue. No ludicrous Hollywood romantic myths. No behind-the-scenes abuse scandals. No ideologies.
Blue is the Warmest Colour is a movie about first love. A young woman falls in love with another woman. She’s never felt like this before. They meet, kiss, and fall in love. There is a period of intense passion and happiness. But over time, the two realize they have nothing in common. The relationship crumbles slowly, ending in a violent argument. Years later, they reminisce on the passionate romance they shared, but they both know that this love has long since died.
There’s something deeply meaningful, deeply existential, about the way this film portrays love. Love doesn’t always work out, even when we want it to. And in that moment of rejection, we find catharsis. Eventually, we move on, seeking new love. After all, what else is there to live for?