Blue is the Warmest Color is striking and stirring in the way that few romances attain without the use of some sort of plot device…”

The nearly three-hour runtime for Blue is the Warmest Color can be a daunting deterrent for those who may not have the stamina to commit to relationship dramas for that stretch of time. I often criticize Judd Apatow films for the very same reasons. There is no reason we need almost two and a half hours with witness Katherine Heigl give birth or Steve Carell get laid.

And director Abdellatif Kechiche almost completely pulls off the feat of justifying his film’s three-hour runtime, as he constructs a fly-on-the-wall perspective that feels raw and ragged, just like life itself. It also would not be half the film were it not for its amazingly talented lead, Adele Exarchopoulos, who is deserved of every award nomination tossed at her feet this season.

Blue is the Warmest Color
Directed by
Abdellatif Kechiche
Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche
Release Date
17 November 2013
Rob’s Grade: A

She plays Adele, whom we first meet as an average teen facing all the average issues most face at that point in their lives. Ever curious, she’s struggling to find her voice in this world, whether it’s questioning the mysteries of Marivaux, the sage wisdom of Sartre, joining a protest in support of teacher’s wages, or wrestling with her attractions. After a class discussion on love at first sight, she breezes past another young woman with cotton-candy-blue hair in a crowd, and cannot seem to shake her image from her mind.

She initially shrugs it off, dates a school hunk who’s nice enough, but she still finds herself wanting to feel more than the physical connection the two have. When she accompanies her male friend to a local lesbian bar, she once again encounters her mystery woman, a slightly older art student named Emma (played by Lea Seydoux). Adele quickly realizes that there is much more to this than a passing attraction.

The rest of the film follows the love affair between the two, their maturation as individuals and as a couple, and the emotional ride that we all pay tickets for when investing in a relationship. Throughout, Kechiche provides audiences all access to their partnership, a move that earned the film its NC-17 rating and much buzz out of Cannes (where it won the Palme D’Or). But it would be a shame if that becomes the most pertinent aspect of Blue, as there are so many other treasures to be found within.

Rarely has a film captured those gangly, awkward first steps toward young love so precisely. From stealing glances of another (even if it’s to see a piece of exposed flesh behind an arm), to the difficulties in putting feelings into words without becoming entangled in a rush of emotions, “Blue” is a film that dissects love equally through visuals, actions and reactions as well as its words, but never in a way that feels too clinical or forced.

Granted, three hours is much to ask of an audience, and I will admit there is many pasta-eating scenes that could afford a snip here and there (and an overly symbolic oyster dining scene that almost brings the film to a stop), but both Exarchopoulos and Seydoux are so naturalistic that we actually enjoy spending time with them. Seydoux is the more seasoned of the two actresses, having appeared in a few Hollywood films prior to this (Midnight in Paris and Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol). She takes the role of the “mystery girl” and infuses it with a life that is almost painful to watch at times (she’s out and proud, and she feels the stings when her new partner attempts to keep aspects of their relationship secret).

But it is Exarchopoulos who is the real find here. Her fierce, damaged portrayal is absolutely mesmerizing: her overwhelming initial intensity, her disorientation when she’s enveloped in the art world with Emma’s friends, and her overall sense of self as she swims through the waters of burgeoning adulthood. It truly is worth the time commitment if only to watch her handle this subtle, sometimes volatile, maturation.

Blue is the Warmest Color is striking and stirring in the way that few romances attain without the use of some sort of plot device (one developing cancer, going off to war, etc. etc.). Instead, it relies on all the seemingly mundane aspects to all relationships to thrust it forward, and the result is a triumphant piece of human observation that is deserved of its placement of many a year-end “best of” list.

Review by Rob Rector, Film Critic