The struggles between the physical and mental aspects of romantic desire are intensely deconstructed in director Abdellatif Kechiche’s latest film, Blue Is The Warmest Color.
Loosely based on Julie Maroh’s graphic novel Le bleu est une couleur chaude, the story centers on a 15-year old girl named Adele (played by Adele Exarchopoulos) who is climbing into adulthood and questioning her sexuality. After meeting a mysterious blue-haired art student named Emma (played by Lea Seydoux), Adele enters into a complicated love affair that spans a decade, testing her notions of romantic fulfillment and devotion.
The film examines the maturation and degradation of a romantic relationship as it pertains to aspects such as professional vocation and social class, and how navigating these often troublesome waters can reveal elements of the human character that neither party involved knew were present within themselves. The idea of teacher and student plays an important role both professionally and sexually with these women, and Kechiche enforces this by saying, “I find this notion of vocation entirely legitimate and honorable. I’m full of admiration for these teachers who are deeply engaged with the progress of their students. It becomes part of their lives, the thing that gives them satisfaction.”
With the help of Sofian El Fani’s cinematography, the barriers which hold and structure a typical scene break down to the elemental compounds of flesh, immersing the viewer in a realm of overpowering senses where moist mouths, slapping hands and frantic eyes become the bones and pillars lifting the joy and sorrow-drenched emotions out of obscure darkness and into every illuminated crevice of this world. Kechiche says, “Both characters’ mouths were decisive, and for very human reasons. They provoke all sorts of feelings and sensations. Something in a face touches us: a nose, a mouth…For me this the beginning of everything.”
By far the most controversial component of the piece has been the graphic sexual content , which has only been exacerbated by the ongoing feud between the film’s stars and Kechiche. After an LA press conference earlier this year in which the actresses said they felt “trapped” and not respected during the filming of the sex scenes, Kechiche has vehemently defended his decisions, and has not hesitated in pointing out in his mind the hypocrisy of the accusations. Most recently, Kechiche penned an open letter entitled “To Those Who Sought To Destroy Blue Is The Warmest Color” for the website Rue89, calling Seydoux “Spoiled and opportunistic.”
Dividing most critics and audience members has been the question of whether the sex is essential to the narrative, or is it excessive and exploitative? Here, as in typical romantic relationships, sex is the intrinsic force driving the desires of the characters. Both women derive inspiration from the other, Emma with her art and Adele with her humanity. But in reality, when all is said and done, can something like thoughtfulness, a good personality or even humor compete with physical attractiveness?
No matter the intelligence, compassion, or creativity of these artificial human determinations, is there honestly anything more essential and powerful than the touch of flesh and the heart-pounding excitement of sexual fulfillment? In its actions all life exists, and any words that could describe the visceral sensations of these moments are overtaken by the sucking of lips and warm embraces, the most powerful language of all.
Kechiche says, “What I was trying to do when we were shooting these scenes was to film what I found beautiful. So we shot them like paintings, like sculptures. We spent a lot of time lighting them to ensure they would look beautiful; after, the innate choreography of the loving bodies took care of the rest, very naturally. They had to be made aesthetically beautiful while keeping the sexual dimension.”
Is a ten minute sex scene too much? Is it laughably indulgent by an exploitative director? For anyone who has experienced meaningful sex, especially in the throes of youth, time has little relevance and in fact washes away completely in the moment. There is no measurement that can calculate the progress of passion, seconds can feel like centuries and it is in that instant, floating in the vastness of infinity, one feels the breath of all existence.
In this sense, 10 minutes is simply an imperceptible, solitary blink.