Come of Age with 'Blue is the Warmest Color' (2013)/Directed by Abdellatif Kachiche
This one not only ranks high on my list of favorite comic book movies, but has become one of my favorite coming-of-age stories, and one of my favorite romantic dramas as well. Based on the graphic novel by Julie Marot, this French stunner follows a young woman named Adele (Adele Exarchopolous, in her first performance), a young student who struggles to assert herself and what she wants in life. When she meets a blue-haired woman named Emma (Lea Seydoux), it begins a passionate relationship that will lead Adele to gradually find herself through loss and love.
What I love so deeply about this movie is its naturalistic storytelling. The cinematography by Sofian El Fani, in addition to being primarily handheld, often captures Adele in medium close-ups and close-ups, which completely places you in her point of view. While the film primarily utilizes one or two shot types can typically be monotonous, here it works in spades. You're just a fly on the wall as you observe this woman figuring herself out.
That immersive quality also owes a lot of a credit to two things: the editing, and the deliberate lack of a musical score. Editors Sophie Brunet, Ghayla Lacroix, Albertine Lastera, Jean-Marie Lengelle and Camille Toubkis pull a rare and smart move in not labelling the amount of time that has passed between stages of Adele's coming-of-age. There's no 'ten years later' or 'five weeks later' at the bottom of the screen. As a result, the movie genuinely feels like you are actively experiencing years upon years of life with this character, despite a runtime of merely three hours.
In addition, by not including a musical score, director Abdellatif Kachiche evermore increases the cinema-verite realism. I can't imagine a score doing anything other than detracting from the overall emotional effect.
Of course, the cherries on top of everything here are the two lead performances. Adele Exarchopolous and Lea Seydoux's work in this film are so intensely real that I can see why the Cannes Film Festival committee decided to award the Golden Palm to not only Kechiche, but to them as well in 2013. Neither ever feels like they are actively striving for an effect. It's like with each take on set, both actors gradually reduced their performances down to just the bare essentials of Adele and Emma's raw emotions.
However, this movie does have a couple of flaws. For one, an implicit element of Adele's characterization is that her family is conservative, and therefore would not be accepting of their daughter's homosexuality. However, there is not one scene that directly deals with the fallout of them inevitably discovering Adele and Emma's relationship. I later found out through IMDb.com that it was shot, but ultimately left out of the final edit, which was a mistake. It was a crucial moment in the source material that should've remained intact here.
Secondly, the sex scenes, which were the only reason the MPA assigned this picture an NC-17 rating, and the main source of controversy when the film began to make the rounds at festivals. Now, I am by no means a prude when it comes to sexuality on-screen (for instance, I'm a big fan of Alfonso Cuaron's Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), which is pretty steamy). However, the way the scenes of lesbianism here are shot and edited feel less like we're just observing moments in the characters' lives, or joining Adele on her journey of self-discovery, and like we're just viewing well-produced porn; it just stops the movie in its tracks. At least it only takes up fifteen minutes of the total runtime.
In the end, though, this is still a powerful experience for me every time I watch it. Being bisexual, it took me a long time to really come to terms with that part of my identity. Years, even. When I watch Adele's journey here, it always resonates deeply with me, which adds to the incredible impact of the experience. That is also another key reason why the lack of time stamps throughout so affected me when I first saw this; I just didn't realize it at the time. If you don't watch a lot of foreign films, and are curious to watch more, I would definitely suggest finding a place to rent this. If you're a fan of the graphic novel, absolutely check it out. Most of all, if you just want an enriching human experience, for my money, I can't pinpoint a lot of movies I've seen that I'd describe in this way.