In a scene late in Blue is the Warmest Color, Emma (Léa Seydoux) and Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) meet in a café. Abdellatif Kechiche’s camera functions in largely the same manner it does throughout about 90% of the picture - it’s a close-up on the two. In this particular scene though it’s been established that both Emma and Adèle are in the company of other patrons and customers. Regardless, their long-delayed meeting results in an exceptional make-out session, riddled with some vivid imagery of mouth-on-finger action. As the scene reaches its necessary conclusion, the audience captures a quick glance of the other patrons in relation to where Emma and Adèle were sitting. It’s one of the quirkier jokes that Kechiche submits to his audience, though it also exemplifies the problematic nature of capturing a love story that is so tightly confined within a bubble. The subsequent problems that arise, when analyzing the content of the narrative with Kechiche’s framing, presents a complicated sexual dichotomy between creator and object. But perhaps a clearer question to ask is: does Kechiche’s style hinder the genuineness of a narrative on the struggles of lovelorn lesbians discovering their sexuality?
The steadfast controversy surrounding the explicit sex scenes in Blue is the Warmest Color took precedence over analyzing any of the emotional particulars that the film offers. But it’s something worth citing as a reason to appreciate Kechiche’s approach. By essentially shooting most of the picture in close-up, the intimacy he achieves in helping the audience sympathize with Adèle and Emma gives Blue is the Warmest Color a fluid sense of movement. With a runtime of nearly three hours, the picture is as fleet-footed as one can expect, punctuated by scenes of escalating emotional intensity. While the film functions as a collage of scenes that depict Adèle and Emma’s blossoming then waning relationship, the intimacy of Kechiche’s approach doesn’t bother with external forces. Often times, Kechiche will simply bypass years and characters as a means of getting to the meat of his narrative. At one point in high school and then posing nude in her flat, Adèle’s journey is one that spans several years, with Kechiche’s efforts focused on creating a primer. All this shapes a narrative based largely on the emotional highpoints and low points of two lovers.
But problems arise when Kechiche decides to pull his camera back and experience the two lovers’ embrace. For one, the voyeuristic nature of Kechiche’s camera may have benefited from maintaining that same rigid closeness exhibited throughout the picture. But by pulling back, there’s something oddly intrusive about capturing Emma and Adèle at their most vulnerable and passionate. Accusations against Kechiche from the film’s leads, Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos, have already defined the difficulty in creating the film and Kechiche’s, ahem, quirks.
So in large part, this comes down to a clash between formal proficiency and emotional honesty. The picture, despite the grueling nature of its creation, is one of some genuine emotional impact, even if its insights are somewhat limited. Then there’s the sense of intimacy that Kechiche creates through his use of close-ups, creating a bubble for his characters to live and for the audience to experience. The bubble bursts when Kechiche extends the frame, mistaking intimacy for some high-octane pussy eating. There’s much to appreciate in Blue is the Warmest Color: the sincerity of its material, the subtle touches in seeing two lovers uncover and define their sexuality, and the actresses capable of realizing that beauty. But there’s a tinge of perversity that stems from Kechiche’s style that makes reconciling the good with the bad a difficult one; therein making what could’ve been a great film, merely a very good one.