Blue Is The Warmest Colour review

Here's some background. I'm a 19-year-old English Literature student, film-lover and cultural aficionado – so I am bang in the middle of Blue Is The Warmest Colour's target audience. And, I confess, predisposed to love this film.

BITWC is a French (I mean wine-swilling, progressive-political-protesting, slightly pretentious philosophy-talking-while-gratuitously-smoking-cigarettes French) love drama that follows Adèle, a 15-year-old girl from a working-class family, as she meets Emma, a blue-haired Fine Arts university student. They fall in love, and Adèle grows from a girl to a woman.

Importantly, BITWC is a full three-hours long. Immediately, this raises red flags – mainly, how in the blue blazes (sorry) will it manage to keep an audience hooked and caring for that amount of time? The answer comes in three parts: the storyline, the acting and the camerawork.

The film's first phase uses full-frame close-ups to drop you straight in to the world of Adèle. Whether she's eating, on the bus to school, staring dramatically into middle distance or gyrating in pleasure, she fills the entire screen – and it does draw you in, in an almost literal sense. Simple techniques work wonders to hook in a viewer. The backgrounds or settings only become even vaguely important in the second phase, where the camera zooms out to reflect wider interests and complications in Adele's life; now it's not just her girlfriend, it's her career, family and social class too, and it helps break the film into sizeable chunks.

However, the camera-trick only works if the storyline is good enough in the first place – what's the point in breaking up a terrible three hour storyline? Thing is, it's not a traditional storyline. This life of a teenage girl growing up, because of the running time, is a naturally paced progression. It's not rushed, instead it develops through slow changes and improvised dialogue. Sexual discovery, career worries, relationship drama, and towards the end, colleague drama is all there, displayed with a kitchen-sink sensibility. A lingering first glance can make all the difference.

Thing is, the beauty of camera-trickery or slow-reveals of storyline are irrelevant if actors cannot make them emotionally resonant with audiences. Safe to say Seydoux (Emma) and Exarchopolous (Adèle) excel here. Initially sparking through furtive, sideways looks and winsome giggles, the developments in their relationship soon warrant powerful and encapsulating acting, and it covers all the bases. Their courtship? Real. The now infamous lesbian sex scenes? Real. Meeting the family scenes? Real. Relationship troubles? Heartbreakingly real. The highest praise you can give an actor is that they “disappear into their role”, and it happens twice in BITWC.

The flaws of the film are so outshone that they almost don't bear talking about. The constructed group scenes and reliance on partial stereotypes are accepted because of the monolithic strength of the story and central performances. Ultimately, Blue Is The Warmest colour is a near-total success in character drama, with something developed to say of love, the restrictions of social class and much more, while managing to keep you not only engaged, but entertained, for 180 minutes. Truly, an achievement of a film.

Blue Is The Warmest Colour at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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