“Director Abdellatif Kechiche is a past master of expansiveness, known for stretching his running times—notably in L’Esquive and The Secret of the Grain—to allow his dramas the maximum breathing space,” begins Jonathan Romney for Screen. “The technique again pays terrific dividends in Blue is the Warmest Color (La Vie d’Adèle, Chapitre 1 & 2), his return to the present after the period digression of 2009’s Black Venus. Kechiche hits emotional paydirt with a story spanning several years of the early adult life of a young woman, focusing on a passionate lesbian romance. A coy coming-out drama this most definitely isn’t.”
“Kechiche creates his story in the intimacy of the face,” writes Barbara Scharres at RogerEbert.com. “For much of the extended length of this film, his camera is quite literally in the faces of his actors. It’s a drama in which the flickering of eyes, a blink, or a twist of the mouth can say more than lines of dialogue. The film takes Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) from the age of fifteen, as a high school student just discovering sex, to her early twenties, now a primary school teacher, when her relationship with Emma (Léa Seydoux), the woman who has been her first love and her obsession, has run its course. Kechiche’s method of narration requires duration, and many of the key events in Adèle’s life play out in real time.”
Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter: “Less concerned with classic storytelling than with creating virtual performance pieces on screen, the film features dozens of extended sequences of Adele and Emma both in and out of bed—scenes that are virtuously acted and directed, even if they run on for longer than most filmmakers would allow. But such a technique is precisely why Kechiche belongs in the same camp as John Cassavetes or Maurice Pialat, eschewing narrative concision in favor of the messy realities of life, and creating works that can be as ambitiously bloated as they are emotionally jarring. Despite some of the longueurs, the central turn from 19-year-old Exarchopoulos (Carre blanc), who DP Sofian El Fani captures in every state possible, manages to hold it all together, and the actress can really make you feel things only suggested at in other movies, especially when it comes to the ecstasy and agony of a first relationship. Playing opposite her, Seydoux (also in Cannes film Grand Central) shows how much she’s matured from a gorgeous It-girl to a daring young talent, and this is clearly some of the best work in her short career.”
“Post-screening chatter will inevitably swirl around not only the galvanizing performances of Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux, but also the fact that they spend much of this three-hour emotional epic enacting the most explosively graphic lesbian sex scenes in recent memory,” notes Variety‘s Justin Chang. “Having previously examined the lives of artistically inclined youth in 2004’s Games of Love and Chance, Kechiche and co-writer Ghalya Lacroix (who also served as one of four editors) have narrowed their focus yet deepened their emotional palette with this very loose adaptation of Julie Maroh’s 2010 graphic novel, Le Bleu est une couleur chaude.”
At Cineuropa, Fabien Lemercier notes that Kechiche does away with “almost all the aspects of lesbian militantism and the tragic dimension from his adaptation, in order to concentrate more fully on the sociological theme so dear to him: the social gap and ‘melting pot’ territories (body to body, the pleasures of shared eating, demonstrations, parties and dancing, small classes in school etc.).” Blue is the Warmest Color is “a very great film, achieving spontaneous fusion between body and soul.”
Updates: “From this simple, not especially unique love story, Kechiche has fashioned an intimate epic in every sense of the term,” writes Guy Lodge for Time Out London. “Typically for a Kechiche film, meanwhile, [Adèle’s] individual journey is set within a bustling, articulate network of friends, family and food. He remains a most sociable filmmaker, which makes his new film’s tingly behind-closed-doors tenderness all the more remarkable.”
“If you don’t see yourself in its fierce depiction of intense emotion I both envy and pity you,” writes Jordan Hoffman at Film.com. “It is a masterpiece of the genre, a damn near perfect film.”
“Most movie sex scenes function like shorthand—a series of socially approved movements and poses that denote an exchange of fluids,” writes Mike D’Angelo at the AV Club. “They’re as divorced from the narrative as a travel-map montage. When Exarchopoulos and Seydoux make love, by contrast, the act carries precisely the same emotional weight as do their lengthy conversations about art and literature. It’s communion, not calisthenics. Blue Is the Warmest Color is familiar in its broad outline but bracingly specific in its minute details, and it traffics in feelings so raw that they’re almost painful to observe. And it confirms Kechiche, who first caught my eye over a decade ago with the little seen but first-rate La faute à Voltaire, as one of the most underrated filmmakers currently working.”
Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn finds that Kechiche’s “approach echoes the textured personal elements of Olivier Assayas in his smaller projects, where implication carries more depth than dialogue. Though nobody states it outright, Blue is the Warmest Color elegantly tussles with the idea of reconciling desire with other factors involved in the cultivation of healthy companionship.”
“The darker phase of their relationship is painful and there is ultimately much crying,” writes the Guardian‘s Peter Bradshaw, “and this looks every bit as passionate and real and un-Hollywood as the sex. I can’t imagine Jessica Chastain or Anne Hathaway ever doing the brutally authentic tears-mingling-with-snot look the way Adèle Exarchopoulos does it.”
Updates, 5/24: “It’s disappointing,” finds Manohla Dargis in the New York Times, that Mr. Kechiche… seems so unaware or maybe just uninterested in the tough questions about the representation of the female body that feminists have engaged for decades. However sympathetic are the characters and Ms. Exarchopoulos, who produces prodigious amounts of tears and phlegm along with some poignant moments, Mr. Kechiche registers as oblivious to real women. He’s as bad as the male character who prattles on about ‘mystical’ female orgasms and art without evident awareness of the barriers female artists faced or why those barriers might help explain the kind of art, including centuries of writhing female nudes, that was produced. ‘Men look at women,’ the art critic John Berger observed in 1972. ‘Women watch themselves being looked at.’ Plus ça change….”
But for the Playlist‘s Jessica Kiang, Blue “has been the most transportative, truthful and sublime movie experience of our Cannes to date. The wags among us might suggest that the 3-hour film overwhelmed us with its sheer length but truth be told we could have watched, or rather lived Adèle, as brought vividly and unforgettably to life by newcomer Adèle Exarchopolous (Cannes Best Actress winner or we’ll stage a picket) for hours more.”
“Even though there are many moments to savor here and the performers are never less than stellar,” writes David Jenkins at Little White Lies, “Kechiche’s search for a florid kind of naturalism is occasionally corrupted by his constant recourse to literary precedents. A French lesson on Marivaux’s novel La Vie de Marianne carelessly signposts the themes of love at first sight as the teens air their romantic predilections, plus the lazy depiction of the girls’ parents (Emma’s are enlightened and intellectual, Adèle’s are ignorant and tasteless) offers a class counterpoint that’s far too on the nose.” Still, “it is a lovely movie, albeit one which is so thorough and single-minded in intent, that it doesn’t really leave anything much to ponder after the lights have gone up.”
“I could have happily watched it for another seven [hours],” writes the Telegraph‘s Robbie Collin. “It is an extraordinary, prolonged popping-candy explosion of pleasure, sadness, anger, lust and hope, and contained within it—although only just—are the two best performances of the festival.”
Fabien Lemercier interviews Kechiche for Cineuropa.
Updates, 5/25: “Kechiche’s new feature goes further than any film, certainly any mainstream film, in bringing female emotion—whether sexual or involving the passions more generally—vividly, bodily to life,” writes Jonathan Romney in a dispatch to Sight & Sound. “Only Kechiche’s film presents the bedroom as a place for, not to put too fine a point on it, a hot shag—and these scenes are indisputably hot, and sweaty with it. This is something cinema almost never dares to show us, in any male-female combination, because there’s usually more spectacle to be gained from showing sex as something dramatic, even traumatic. But here’s something radically different—two people in bed, and more importantly, two women, unproblematically having the time of their lives.”
“The narrative arc recalls Mia Hansen-Løve’s great Goodbye First Love (2011),” suggests Time Out New York‘s Keith Uhlich, “though Kechiche tells his tale with less sun-dappled poetry, more dispirited verisimilitude…. If I can’t quite get beyond a kind of clinical admiration for the film, it’s due to Kechiche’s unadorned vérité aesthetic, a cinema consciously bereft of the poetic flourish—for me a fault, for others a benefit.”
“Is [Kechiche] creating a revelatory texture of reality, the way that Jean Eustache did 40 years ago when, taking off from Godard, he invented the stripped-down, rambling, open-air language of contemporary French cinema realism in The Mother and the Whore (1973)? Or is he basically giving us a rough cut that would have been better at two hours?” EW‘s Owen Gleiberman leans toward the latter.
The International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI), presenting an award each year to one film in Competition, one film in Un Certain Regard, and one in the Directors’ Fortnight, has singled out Blue Is the Warmest Color, Manuscripts Don’t Burn, and Blue Ruin. John Hopewell has more in Variety.
Updates, 5/26: What Film Comment editor Gavin Smith calls “the soon-to-be-legendary explicit lesbian sex scene” becomes the topic of an exchange during the magazine’s second Cannes roundtable. Smith’s “problem with that scene is that I don’t think there’s any passion or emotion in the sex. It’s done as a kind of erotic spectacle with the actresses going all the way, and it’s done from a very male point of view.” Alexander Horwath: “And he would not have shown it at nearly that extent if it had been a heterosexual love story.” Todd McCarthy: “If you saw that scene and you didn’t know where this came from or who made it, what makes you think that this is filmed from a male’s perspective?” You decide whether or not that question actually gets an answer. McCarthy gives the roundtable two shots at it.
The Palme d’Or’s been presented to Kechiche and to Exarchopoulos and Seydoux.
Updates, 5/27: “Considering that sex is an activity almost everyone participates in, and thinks about even more, it’s startling and depressing how few movies have connected their characters’ real lives with their erotic lives,” write Richard and Mary Corliss for Time. “Kechiche eagerly addresses that challenge. Unlike the slick, deodorized sexcapades in late-night Cinemax movies, the graphic scenes here express the personalities of Emma (who’s in charge) and Adèle (who’s in love). (tramadol) ”
At Ioncinema, Nicholas Bell argues that “if you give Kechiche your time, he hardly tries your patience, once again creating a beautiful, engrossing film that manages to capture human emotion like few others films ever have.”
“Subtitled in French as Chapters 1 and 2, the door is open for more of Adele’s story,” suggests Ryland Aldrich at Twitch. “While Kechiche has said no further chapters have yet been written, success such as winning Cannes’s Palme d’Or could convince his team and him to revisit this world sometime soon. I say bring on Chapters 3 and 4.”
Update, 5/28: Julie Maroh, who, as you’ll remember, wrote the graphic novel on which the film is based has posted a lengthy and very carefully considered statement on her blog. The English version is available as a PDF and warrants reading in full because her position with regard to the film is rather complex. A summary won’t do it justice, but I’ll try. She admires Kechiche’s previous work. The two met, she trusted him, and she declared she’d not take part in the adaption. Blue would be his film. And indeed, she recognizes some of her book in it, but the two works are, of course, two separate, if related, visions. “I consider that Kechiche and I have contradictory aesthetic approaches, perhaps complementary.” Then: “About the banging…” That she’s got some pretty serious problems with. First off, the controversial scenes do not, to her, amount to an accurate portrayal of lesbian sex. “As a feminist and lesbian spectator, I can not endorse the direction Kechiche took on these matters.”
Update, 5/31: At the Playlist, Charlie Schmidlin reports that a “statement released to the press by the French film union Spiac-CGT—fifteen of whom worked on Kechiche’s production—has brought a number of allegations against the director and his team over five months of filming: complaints of ‘workdays of 16 hours reported as 8,’ and other violations of the Labor Code. The smudging of work hours is nothing new on independent productions, of course, but with Kechiche garnering a €4 million Euro budget for Blue, there is noticeably less sympathy.”
Update, 6/3: For Dennis Lim, writing for Artforum, “as a coming-out and coming-of-age narrative, Blue is so familiar as to be redundant, and Kechiche’s rather dogged, airless conception of naturalism, predicated on distended scenes and a surplus of close-ups, largely forecloses the possibility of vitality, humor, and surprise.”
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