Last Friday, I saw Blue Is The Warmest Color (La vie d’Adèle: Chapitres 1 & 2).
I had been following the film for about two months, watched every interview – in French and English, regardless of how much I could comprehend – read every article – the high brow critiques, the misguided discussions sparked by words lost in translation, the less-than-tasteful hyper sexualized perceptions of this simple story, and absorbed every ounce of this remarkable film that I could.
I had been drowning myself in Blue for so long, hoping for just a gasp of air, a temporary moment of respite disparate from the litany of feelings that were literally suffocating me with each article of press that I came across.
If it wasn’t one media outlet treating the three-hour Cannes Film Festival Palme d’Or winner as though it were only a 10 minute sexpedition, it was another, more qualified publication curtailing conversation to center on the controversial remarks made by the film’s leads Léa Seydoux and Adèle Exarchopoulos and one Abdellatif Kechiche, the film’s director and a cinematic auteur in France.
And while admittedly heated journalism and fiery coverage may be perceived by some as necessary warmth for a subtitled French film with a director and stars relatively unknown in the states (though after this film, even the most uncultured of cinephiles ought to be able to pronounce “Exarchopoulos”), so much of the media firestorm has charred and unjustly deferred attention from le cœur et l’âme – the heart and soul – of this film.
Though I will be the first to say that I have what feels like a paralyzing number of thoughts about how the film has been portrayed by most, if not all, media outlets, I am fully aware of the fact that I am not a veteran film critic, nor am I an established editor or even a seasoned feminist.
I am not an expert in anything except for the feelings that I have. All I am is a girl, with a reason to share why this film – save for the reasons you may have even heard of it to begin with – has arrested my heart and resuscitated me back to life.
The story begins with a then-15-year-old Adèle, as she listlessly endures each day of her adolescent life, searching without a map, growing older and recognizing a void in her life that no amount of her father’s spaghetti or her brief boyfriend’s necking can diminish. There is something the boy cannot give her, something that he cannot give to a person whose heart is parched by a life spent unable and unwilling to quench itself with a forbidden feeling.
Enter Emma, in all of her tousled, blue-haired understated glory, played by the infinitely rapturous Léa Seydoux. She is cool, assuredly self-aware, at ease. She is awake in her desires; her palate tastes of experience and self-reflection – all that Adèle wishes for herself but cannot yet comprehend.
For a moment, you can’t help but feel the weight of the encounter, with every close-up on Adèle’s curled lips, the spark in her hesitant eyes dancing in the intimacy of a crowded bar, the warmth, the undeniable warmth emanating from the cool stranger with the strawberry liquor.
Yet at the very same time, you become endeared to the moment because, in so many ways, it is not about Emma at all. It is about Adèle’s introduction to the person she has, perhaps, always known she’s wanted to be. In that moment, you are inextricably familiarized with the fact that Adèle is projecting all that she has been missing, all that she has been denying, all that she has been starving – onto this person.
No sooner are you introduced to both Emma and to the reinvigorated Adèle than you find yourself wrapped up in the sprawling roots of their violently impassioned romance, transcending time and place and circumstance.
I’ve read a troublesome number of articles focusing so blindingly on a scene that lasts about seven minutes long, in which our heroine Adèle and her paramour Emma explore the sexual topography of one another like hapless wanderers, tasting what will become their most treasured memory, for the very first time. It is graphic, unflinching, raw, and holds you captive for its entirety. It is also painfully beautiful. The release of that innermost feeling, the liberation of a chained soul – with every kiss, bite, and stroke – is nothing short of visual poetry.
A poem void of a rhyming scheme – the scene refuses to lull you into submission and blur so as to allow you to just imagine, in less than NC-17 terms, what transpires. It is there and it is for you. It is for Adèle, it is for Emma.
Yet so many people – and this is telling of a much larger conversation about the history of depicting sex which I am not, at present, going to nor intelligent enough to summarize succinctly – view the scene as just un-choreographed, disconcerting pornography, lacking some sort of glamourized rhythm and musical score we have come to expect from sex scenes. Whether a person takes issue with the duration of the scene, the extent to how visceral it is or the elephant-in-the-bedroom notion that maybe they just didn’t know what two women having sex looks like is entirely something each audience member ought to self-examine and make sense of, on their own terms.
When we focus so much on the physicality of a relationship – as we so often do out of a human predisposition to understand what is seen rather than unseen – we lose sight of the meaning, of the interiors, the indefinable smudges of a radiant romance, the erasure marks of a love lost, the feeling that escapes us before we can make the choice to hold on.
One can’t help but recall the titular experience that American author Kate Chopin’s heroine Edna Pontellier undergoes in The Awakening, spurred on by dissatisfaction with the circumstances of her life – sexually, emotionally, intrinsically. Edna, awoken by her innermost stirrings and freed by a passion she has kept dormant all her life, recognizes that she cannot be a vessel for the feelings which have both opened her eyes and forced her to come face to face with the woman she thought she could be. And for a moment you worry, as Adèle steps away from looking after her students at a daytrip to the beach, that she may seek a similar solace in the sea.
The relationship between Emma and Adèle traipses into the territory of utter destruction, but in its tragic dissolution it bruises your heart a great deal more than any traditional breakup is able to. It shakes Adèle awake from the deception of her dreams, and it unflinchingly keeps her awake to live the nightmare of what she has lost – both in Emma and more devastatingly, in herself. Though she wants to close her eyes and never face the light of day again, life encapsulates her, pours cold water down her spine, props her up to continue onward like a test subject in a sleepless experiment. She is forced to keep watching, to keep going through the motions of living a life devoid of purpose – a life sans blue.
And in that feeling is where I found myself most visibly in the film.
I remember I was 7 years old when I told my brothers that I loved a girl in my class. Her name was Kyla, and I thought her hair was made of sunrays, spun with golden yarn. When I told them – young, naïve heart full of hope – I was met with noise that has since been etched into my memory like a broken laugh track.
“She’s so young, she doesn’t mean what she says.”
I laughed too, but I didn’t want to. Instead, I wanted to show them pictures I kept tucked into my backpack of Kyla and I square-dancing. I wanted to tell them how we had been partnered up after our class ran out of boys, that her and I were a pair in denim jackets and little straw hats, and how big I smiled when parents asked me who my dancing partner was.
I remember being 16 years old, sitting in my backyard after agreeing to take out the trash, numb to the cold air that rushed idly past me, as I cried over a girl I’d unrequitedly fallen for who broke my heart just by being herself. I remember wanting to sleep for a very long time. To arrest myself in time, to just stop being there: for her, for myself, for anyone.
I remember and I feel these experiences every day, in some measure or dose. I am inoculated by my past. And I am at present reminded how the media can be a lit match against an oil-laden field of ignorance and hatred.
At the age I am now, I find myself meeting people who come to conclusions about my tastes and the definition of my heart before I can spell out the 9 letters of my name. And a part of me dies and lies buried within every person who presumes for me what I can hardly articulate for myself.
And maybe that’s why my heart felt more broken in the scenes before Adèle met Emma in the film, and why I reheard the voice of the girl I gave everything but the truth to in high school, as I watched those scenes unfold.
There’s so much more to say about the pervasiveness of our desire to define sexuality, about how we insist on compartmentalizing people so we can tell ourselves we understand them, about how codification and terminology has become more important than compassion and tolerance.
But it’s hard for me to write out how I feel about all of those things when I am still in the process of getting my degree on the subject of who I am, at my core.
All I can say with educated certainty is that a film like this rarely comes along and even rarer still, comes along without an apology attached.
We have to stop apologizing, I have to stop apologizing. We have to stop earmarking people on the length of their hair, on their choice of skirts or pants, on the depth of their vocal tone, on the unending hydra of classifications we imprison people inside of.
So often I find people repeating this simple mantra, “love is love.” And I am heartbroken to find so few living it, breathing it, embracing it for all its vibrant colors and subdued hues. My heart breaks more achingly still to know that there are times when I cannot bear to live it either, that there are moments when I cannot see cerulean, periwinkle, or lapis – that I just see blue.
But I try, still.
I still wake up and feel my limbs stretch out of a lifelong slumber of missed chances, uncertain identity and wasted youth. Though I am repeatedly scoffed at by people several years my senior when I complain that I feel old, I feel that the fault is partially mine for not being more clear.
I am tired of waiting for the clouds to open up. I am tired of looking for an answer to the question of whether or not I am good enough, as I am. I am tired of feeling fundamentally wrong because I do not see gender when I love a person. I am tired of being told that my predilection for people cannot be based off of personality because somehow we are wired to only see sex organs as immutable streetlights illuminating the direction we ought to go. Sometimes, I am just tired of being me.
So maybe this will mean nothing in the grander scheme of things and maybe winning the Palme d’Or is high praise enough for this remarkable story, but after everything all I can ever hope to express is my utter gratitude and ardent appreciation for this film.
Though I felt a mélange of emotions – both nuanced and obvious – throughout the film’s seamless three hours, the one that I could recognize most of all was ultimately that of feeling secure.
I was heartbroken, emancipated, desperate, lost and found in the course of a few brilliantly illustrated moments on screen – and I was safe.
But it would do me and Blue no good to sit enraptured by the film and leave myself perpetually in the comfort of that theatre chair, never to step outside and adjust my eyes to the light of day.
So I am writing this because it is time, and it has been for a while now, for me to express who it is that I was, that I think I am, that I hope to be. I am a lover of all things beautiful and unmarred by the violence of stigmatization and the folly of closed eyes and an ever more closed mind.
I am exactly who you think I am. I am blue, and so are you.