Cards on the table, often the Cannes Film Festival can be a bit pretentious, some of the Palme D’Or winners can, whilst good, be a bit depressing (The Pianist, The Wind that Shakes the Barley) or even downright rubbish (The Tree of Life.)
So there is a sense of anticipation but also some trepidation when sitting down to see this years Palme D’Or winner, Blue is the Warmest Colour, the latest epic (it’s 3 hours long) from French writer director Abdellatif Kechiche
The film tells the story of Adele (Adèle Exarchopoulos) a 17 year old High school student in Lille, whose life is changed when through a chance encounter and a subsequent search of the city’s gay bars she meets Emma (Léa Seydoux.) The film then sets about charting in excruciating detail the beautiful blossoming and subsequent withering of their relationship.
There has been controversy about Blue is the Warmest Colour. Largely, but not exclusively, this controversy has centred around its depiction of explicit lesbian sex (with some particularly classy publications making a point of adding up the length of the sex scenes, it’s unclear what this mathematical exercise achieves but they seemed pleased with themselves.)
That there are explicit sex depicted in this film is irrefutable, that those scenes are NOT the the most explicit thing in the film, is also beyond dispute.
The depiction of the power of first love is far far more raw and explicit than any of the sex scenes.
Indeed the fact that the relationship is a lesbian one is utterly secondary to the fact that, for Adele it is first love, the film oozes with the sense of heightened emotion that is at the same time beautiful and heartbreaking in it’s power.
This film is clearly the work of a passionate director with a very clear vision of what he wants to portray and how he wants to portray it. The repeated closeups of Adele’s tear ravaged face are held just that bit longer than anyone can feel comfortable with. The tension Kechiche achieves in the relationship and particularly in the scenes with the girls families is truly excruciating, and it is no exaggeration to say that the viewer is often put in the position of hoping for a sex scene, simply to alleviate the tension of the domestic scenes.
Above everything though this film belongs to its leads, both Exarchopoulos and Seydoux are astonishing. The performance of Seydoux as the more experienced Emma, is in equal parts gentle and loving but also egotistical and selfish, she imbues the character with a power that is both believable and honest.
It is Exarchopoulos that is the heart of the whole film though (this is her love story,) and her performance is incredible, the portrayal of a young woman embarking on a journey into the very heart of what it means to be truly in love for the first time is both mesmerising and utterly convincing.
It is a great credit the the director and to Exarchopoulos that in some ways it is easy not to notice her performance, as you truly cannot “see the strings.” The mesmerisingly powerful interpretation of Adele who, like the film itself, is at one moment ethereally beautiful and at the next almost ghoulish, will no doubt be career defining for Exarchopoulos as all sense of performance simply drops away and you are left with an entirely rounded and genuine person, who you ache to see achieve happiness.