Blue is the Warmest Colour has attracted a lot of critical attention. This could stem from its accolades at Cannes this summer for its seven-minute long sex scene. What I found interesting were the comments that arose from the portrayal of the women in the film.
Manohla Dargis, writing in The New York Times, takes issue with the film because of its ìpatriarchal anxieties about sex, female appetite and maternity that leach into its sights and sounds and the way it frames, with scrutinizing closeness, the female body.î This conclusion, however, misses the complexities of the other social and political anxieties in the film, such as class conflict, relationships, and true happiness. Blue, or its original French title La Vie díAdele: Chapitres 1 & 2óis the story of a womanís life through love, food, and sex. The film takes you from 15-year-old Adeleís romance with Emma, an older art student, to Adele becoming a schoolteacher and finally, to the end of her long-standing relationship with Emma.
Director Abdellatif Kechiche focuses on Adeleís body throughout the film, especially her mouth. Adeleís mouth, ever open and ready to consume, is constantly in frameódemonstrating her characterís ìvoraciousness,î as Emma says. Adeleís openness, and the closeness of the camera, imply that Kechiche is going deep under the protagonistís skin to explore her by physically placing the viewer in a position to do so. The focus on Adele is intense and constant, and it achieves its purposeóto condition the viewer to Adeleís experience.
Dargis mentions the amount of time that Adele’s ìderriereî was shot, alone and center on the screen. I counted three times within the first 20 minutes of the film. Undoubtedly Adele’s rear end gets a lot of attention, but what does this mean? Dargis uses the attention given to Adele’s rear-end to cement her argument on the patriarchal representation of women in this film. I think the film points us elsewhere.
The most obvious source of tension in the film, besides the patriarchal one that Dargis discusses, is the difference in class between Adele and Emma. The two scenes of the women meeting each others parents mirror their discomfort. Emma’s family reflects her more cultured inclinations they eat oysters and question Adele’s desire to be a teacher because of the job’s economic security. Adele’s parents similarly question Emma about her art, wondering what she will do to make money with such a career, while they eat a simple pasta dish. Kechiche’s focus on the food they served framing the actresses’ faces as they eat is another way for him to show the conflicting reality of their social positions.
What does this have to do with Adeleís backside? Kechicheís focus on the female body from a distance, in scenes such as where Adele is sauntering down a hill towards her bus stop, is an objectification of her body, but perhaps not a solely patriarchal objectification. Adeleís face is constantly framed on the screen in a way that makes you feel as if you could delve deep into her mind. Pairing this with her bodyóopenly and without obstructionógives a full image of Adele: body and soul. What could be called a superfluous exhibition of Adeleís body is rather a purposeful display of her own anxieties about her lifestyle, her appetite, and her body image.
Blue depicts an internal struggle of living and loving. The film loses its impact when one focuses solely on the film’s images of the beautiful women in it. As a viewer it is a struggle in itself to watch Blue, with its constant focus on Adele pushing us to empathize with her unique life. That’s what makes it so relevant–struggle just as Adele does, trying to wrap our heads around what is happening around us.