I’ve said if before, I’ll say it again: as a film plays out its run, it takes on baggage.
It could be the baggage of hype, for instance three or four weeks of fans and media talking about how great it is. It could be the baggage of hardware, like…oh, I don’t know…a Palm d”Or. Or it could be the baggage of one part of it gaining notoriety – a particularly funny scene, or an intensely brutal kill. In opening one’s door to a film that has already hit a few stops on the tour, one must take it in baggage and all.
As I pressed ‘play’ on BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR, I knew that it had divided some of my friends. I knew that some were calling it brilliant, while others overrated. I knew that it would be unusually long – clocking in at three hours. And I knew that it would involve several lesbian sex scenes, at least one of which lasted around seven minutes. The beauty of seeing so much so soon is that I don’t usually have to sort through these things in the decision-making process. Ordinarily, I can just let it wash over me. This time though, I needed to take a breath and sort through everything, and see where I weighed in on a larger debate.
BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR is about a french girl named Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) . When we first meet her, she is in high school and very much out of sorts. She doesn’t feel like she fully connects with her circle of friends, not at all helped by the fact that some of them seem to only be around to add to her confusion. Into this perplexity walks Emma (Léa Seydoux), a young lesbian artist with a shock of blue hair. At first she is only seen from a distance in passing, but when Adèle gets to meet her in a more intimate setting, she leaps at the chance. This opens a lot of doors inside of her – doors her friends are disgusted with, and doors her parents are hidden from. Still, by meeting this woman she connects with so completely, her path is set.
When we think about coming-of-age stories, and tales of intense first love, we don’t expect to sit with them for three hours at a time. With such a runtime, we see a lot of scenes carry on far longer than we’d suppose – in certain cases well after the point where we’d walk away from them and see who else has come to the party. Even some of the sex scenes, strange as that is to say. We’ve become accustomed to physical intimacy in commercial film lasting a certain amount of time. When it runs longer than that, we start to feel icky.
It’s the difference between glimpsing through a bedroom door that’s blown open a crack, and pulling up a chair behind that door with a cup of coffee and a snack.
But the length of everything in this film – from the intense sex, to the banal dinners – serve a purpose. They are there to build everything outwards and give us a complete picture. For instance, there is a scene in the late-going where Adèle and Emma sit in a cafe and discuss what has become of them and what they mean to each other. The scene is as intense, raw, and honest as anything I have seen in a very long time. One of the things that allows this is the patience the scene is afforded. We watch wave after wave of emotion wash over these women, and see them struggle to sort through some very raw truths. In any other film, this scene would only be afforded a few moments, lest it throw off the balance of everything else. Here though, the scene plays out for as long as it needs – having already been given the lengthy counterweights elsewhere in the movie’s runtime.
It’s a risky move, and it pays off well.
A film I love dearly once said “Real life is pretty complexed stuff”, and few films understand that better than BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR. It inherently knows that in order to stand apart, a film needs intricacies…and that intricacy only comes through great detail and balance. By boldly stacking bricks upon bricks and creating something bigger, the film allowed its most important moments to feel more important than many of its contemporary films. We are allowed to understand a great deal about Adèle, even if she doesn’t understand a great deal about herself. In lesser films, one wouldn’t comprehend why she’d want to lob hand grenades into personal relationships; in this film, we’ve been briefed fully on the topic.
So as I welcome BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR into my home, I truck all of its baggage in happily. I think nothing of its length, quite the contrary – I welcome it. I see it’s attention to sex as something original, feeling for the first time in a while that I am seeing something that I’m not supposed to be seeing. And I identify with its confusion as confusion we all wrestle with at some point in our lives.