Blue may be the warmest colour, but the prurient gossip and rumour-mongering circulating the making of Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palm D’Or-winning movie has generated heat enough to obscure the truth of the film itself. But if you dismiss the salacious tabloid indignation and the leering, sensationalist headline-grabbing subject matter you’ll discover a work which is, at heart, a tender and deeply intimate examination of a defining period in a young person’s life.
Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) is a young French girl, approaching the end of school and beginning to ponder the possibilities and opportunities of life when a fleeting moment of eye contact with strikingly blue-haired free spirit Emma (Léa Seydoux) shatters the numb routine of her young life like dropping a sapphire into a becalmed pool of water. The encounter awakens something inside Adèle and, hesitantly seeking Emma out, she embarks on an affair which will come to shape the rest of her life.
Of course, much of the notoriety of the film is down to the L word and the explicit sex scenes between the two leads but this loose adaptation of the French graphic novel actually focusses more on the all-consuming nature of the other, universal, L-word: love itself rather than the sexuality through which it’s expressed. Unlike the graphic novel, the fact that this definitive love affair is with another woman rarely impacts on the plot beyond the need to hide her romance from her parents and a token scene where Adele’s school friends turn on her.
Kechiche keeps the camera fluid and in motion, tightly framing his characters – Adèle especially – to bring an almost documentary quality to the film. It’s no surprise his Palm D’Or was shared with his two lead actresses as their performances are superb. Seydoux is as impressive as ever but it’s Exarchopoulos who really impresses. Her performance is little short of astonishing. With the camera relentlessly focussed on her, she delivers a nuanced, breathtakingly honest portrait of someone discovering their place in the world, through passion, art and love.
At three hours long, and in French with English subtitles, this is a film which requires some investment and attention from the viewer. At times its pacing seems to deliberately echo teenage lifelong periods of routine tedium interspersed with moments of unbelievably intense emotion but the film itself is never less than absorbing, with an ending that is as bittersweet and real as life itself.