Set in the French city of Lille, Blue is the Warmest Colour slowly creeps up on the viewer, its two protagonists sneaking out of its noisy student setting, with its flirtations and crushes, its sneering and homophobia.
Thus director Abdellatif Kechiche spotlights its two young lovers, isolating them in their intimate love affair, away from family, friends and associates. Yet the action allows them to circulate back in the company of others, in a graceful to-and-fro movement, involving secrets and also lies, where at least one set of parents are concerned.
Kechiche’s adaptation of Julie Maroh’s graphic novel uses a very basic story line - girl meets girl, they fall in love, they break up. The bare story is amplified by performances from the two young lead actresses that are truly astonishing.
After the failure of a brief relationship with a handsome young male student, Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) must come to terms with finding other women attractive. That break-up brings the young man to tears, in stark contrast with his hitherto confident air. Naturally Adèle is confused and saddened by the break-up, her face revealing the foreboding that it never quite shakes throughout the film.
Later, at a gay disco, Adèle hooks up with an older girl, Emma (Léa Seydoux), an art student with blue dyed hair. Emma takes control of Adèle, and the couple fall in love. Between their torrid encounters, Emma talks to Adèle about existentialism and art. The few references to Jean-Paul Sartre establish gravity - the viewer must take the characters seriously, and realise that despite their hunger for sexual adventure, these women are also interested in leading moral, productive lives together.
Anyway, Emma works hard at her art, and has some success, Adèle becomes a dedicated teacher of young kids. The affair takes a turn, as all affairs do, but to say more is to spoil.
The director has been the subject of controversy for his "working methods", as both actresses are teenagers involved in graphic scenes. Adèle is supposed to be fifteen when the movie begins, so make of this what you will.
Blue is the Warmest Colour is emotionally exhausting, just as Amour, a film from the other end of the age spectrum, was. Kechiche's labour of intense love won the Palme d’Or at Cannes earlier this year.
The subtitle is La Vie de Adele, Chapters I and 2, so we can expect more from this extraordinary director.