At the center of the he-said she-said controversy surrounding Blue is the Warmest Color we find three indisputable facts: 1. Abdellatif Kechiche identifies as a straight man; 2. Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux identify as straight women; 3. The film tells a (at times graphically sexual) story of two young women in love. In the wake of the film’s release, it appears that many members of the LGBT community feel that these three facts cannot coexist in a way that could ever be respectful to the lesbian experience.
To those individuals, I offer another indisputable fact: I am a lesbian, and I watched this film with a reverence bordering on awe at the depiction of my own story reflected in Adele’s. That said, I don’t consider this a deep emotionally affecting film. There was nothing gut-wrenching or harrowing about the story. No one was subjected to a hate crime, there were no coming out scenes, no disappointed homophobic parents shaking their heads at their daughter’s news (which there is in Julie Maroh’s frankly sentimental graphic novel which the film does well to stray from). Indeed probably the “gayest” thing about it was a brief scene at a pride parade. So when fellow lesbians condemn this film for not being a “lesbian” film, I can’t help but assume that’s what they are referring to. The word “lesbian” is said maybe 5 times, in a predictable scene in which Adele’s friends interrogate her about a rumor she went to a gay bar.
Blue is the Warmest Color is not a lesbian film. It is a portrait of a young woman, any young woman, going through the most turbulent period of a person’s life between high school and adulthood where your identity is a malleable and constantly changing thing. Adele has no care for whether she is a “lesbian.” She knows she has found love in Emma. Emma is a woman. The latter fact is an afterthought to the former. This does not make her a “fake lesbian” as the saying goes, or “bisexual” or “a slut” or what have you. It makes her a young woman searching for answers. For her own answers. The message of the film has nothing to do with sexual orientation, only to do with Adele’s understanding that identity can be transient, if not inconsequential. The final image of the film captures this: just when you think you’ve caught her, figured her out, she’s disappeared once again. Off to find herself somewhere else. It is an experience I relate to not as a lesbian, but as a human being.
And as for that sex scene. That allegedly 20 (but actually 5) minute sex scene. It is very graphic, very French, very NC-17. It was also, in my opinion, the complete opposite of pornographic. The big lesbian complaint about that scene is that it is yet another example of a straight man hijacking the lesbian sexual experience for his own fetishizing needs. Having now seen it, I find that claim even more ridiculous than I did going in to the film.
The scene becomes uncomfortable to watch, I will admit that up front. But not because I felt my sexual experience was being cheapened and ridiculed on the screen in front of me because how DARE straight people attempt to represent gay sex. It was uncomfortable because it was not trying any of those things. It was uncomfortable because there was no music, many close-ups, jarring editing that simply cut and spliced between sexual acts without any fluidity. It was uncomfortable because, unlike most sex scenes in films, it was clearly not attempting to turn anyone on. So the idea that Kechiche has disrespected the lesbian experience because he has chosen to depict sex in such an intense but fundamentally un-sexy way is just ridiculous. Though I will say, my inner five-year-old had to giggle at the spanking. What can I say, I was in a public theater surrounded by strangers. It was never going to be silent during that scene.
So there, I’ve talked about it. I’ve talked about the one 5-7 minute scene in a 3-hour movie that nobody in America can seem to get over. But here’s the real point I want to make about this film: I don’t care if Adele is a lesbian. And neither does Abdellatif Kechiche. It is a remarkable work in its complete unwavering devotion to its central character. Adele Exarchopoulos as Adele, cannot even be considered a performance; there is no distinction between actor and character. She lives and breathes this life for a few hours and invites us to join her, to help her understand. The idea that a film about two women falling in love can be this commercially and critically successful (and doesn’t star Hollywood names) – that has nothing to do with their sexual labels, nothing to say about the struggles of being gay, only the struggles of being in a relationship – is remarkable. The struggles of being a human being and understanding that there is no difference in those struggles among gay and straight people. Is this a lesbian film? No. And it is for that reason it is the most important film the lesbian community is ever likely to get.
Find Will’s review of the film from the New York Film Fest right here.