Blue is the warmest colour, directed by Abdellatif Kéchiche (2013)
Abdellatif Kéchiche shows us what he sees, reveals pieces of reality. An interpretation slips into this unveiling of course, but description prevails, as if Kéchiche, as a realistic filmmaker, wanted to make us look at what we could hide in reality. What is described, subtly, at length, is what’s happening in the head of a young woman, Adele, dealing with a sadness she doesn’t understand as well as obscure desires. Her sadness is the result of teenage weariness towards existence. We can read on Adele’s face that existence has become insipid, it doesn’t taste as it used to. She’s disturbed by some inner turmoil, of which she doesn’t know either the origin or the meaning, which she doesn’t name, that she doesn’t understand. This lack of understanding can be seen in Adele’s slightly stupefied look, in her parted lips, in her slight slowness compared to external life going at its own speed besides her. In the middle of this lack of understanding, desires. Obscure too, since Adele can’t figure out their object: desire of a man, desire of a woman? Desire to be loved, desire to flee? Desire, but of what? There’s no comfort in feeling lost, and Adele looks for explanations or signs around her. But who could understand her? Her family is a long way away from her anxieties, no one talks there, no one can conceive the importance or the complexity of an internal life. Her friends are shallow, reducing her issues to their own issues, which are less deep. Though Adele sees the discrepancy, she still listens to them, letting herself believe she only needs affection from a young man whose physical appearance has been approved by the feminine circle. She meets him, but he doesn’t understand her either, even if he tries clumsily. All-powerful mimetism, she tries, attempts to be like everyone else without any success, and thus the feeling of being lost is reinforced. The starting point of Adele’s internal life, it’s the fact that she’s misunderstood by others as well as by herself. Only literature shines a thin ray of light on this darkness. Marivaux first, who unveils lies and pretences of desires and love. Then Sophocles, who reveals in Antigone the possibility to be yourself, to assume your eternal destiny against the world and its order.
A first homosexual experience confirms the orientation she felt growing inside her and that her body had started to indicate. But above all, it’s this young woman, the blue-haired girl, who’s going to open a new horizon to her. In the gay bar where she went looking for a new start, Emma says simple words, told on the naive tone of a game, but these words sound true, which is new for Adele and profoundly sweet. The maturity gap between Adele, disorientated high school girl, and Emma, cultured student and confident character, is obvious. The attraction felt by Adele for Emma is immediately whole, she embodies for her some sort of perfection. All her desires seeking an object will turn to Emma and her obsessive face, Emma and her assumed uniqueness. The relationship growing here is asymmetrical and characterised by Emma’s superiority, who’s charmed by Adele as she would be by a mysterious toy, who looks for a muse in her, as well as the joy of being able to initiate an innocent being into existence. Emma is fond of this little bird, plays with it, while it is struggling in the depths and can’t find the right words to express it. Adele adores this woman, free, smart, and confident; who sees her and talks to her as no one has ever seen her, as no one has ever talked to her. The gap will last from the beginning to the end of their love story. Adele follows Emma, stays in the background. The song she likes: I follow you. The scene that symbolises it: Emma admiring a painting, Adele standing behind her, watching where her eyes go and imitating them, almost becoming a part of her. This will of absorption will be made possible in their sexual relations. The sex addiction Adele is going to develop goes hand in hand with her will to abandon herself completely. Adele finds in sex the meaning of her existence: abandonment to someone else.
The issue with this desire of abandonment, it’s that it’s impossible to fulfil. Adele’s unhappiness, it’s that she can’t be a part of Emma; she can’t become someone other than herself. Her own identity won’t leave her, and her escape in someone else’s identity can only be temporary. The dependence she gradually settles in prevents her from building her own individuality and prepares her future pain. When Emma will pull away from her, she won’t have anywhere to go since her place is Emma. Abandonment will be extremely painful. Adele convinces herself that her happiness is Emma; she seeks that happiness to the point that she forgets herself. When she organises a party to celebrate her, she doesn’t belong there, she’s Emma’s servant who gradually grows irritated by it. Emma’s game towards this dependence is ambiguous. She doesn’t put a stop to it, lets Adele get attached and idealise her —no doubt she takes pleasure in it. But Adele’s weakness becomes irritating to her. She invites her, although very lately in their relationship, to think about her own happiness, to individualise herself.Truthfully, there again, she pushes her to identify with her too, telling her to write, to be an artist; in short, to be like her. Eventually, what counts for Emma is mostly herself. Centred on her own desires, her own quest for pleasure, her own quest for inspiration, she has quite a utilitarian relationship with other people. She wanted Adele as a muse. When she doesn’t inspire her anymore, when she irritates her, she doesn’t hesitate to send her away hastily, pretexting a mistake on her part, and she leaves Adele completely empty, completely lost. You’d have to be quite disabused to find “beautiful” the love story growing between Adele and Emma. It’s the story of the temporary absorption of a young woman to whom existence weighs by another looking for inspiration and pleasure.
Kéchiche adds to this psychological film a social dimension. Emma comes from a middle class family, reconstituted, perfectly open-minded about the issue of homosexuality, adept of a cultured Epicureanism, whereas Adele’s family, from a lower class, teaches the necessity to lead a wellorganised life, without any excesses. If Emma’s environment never stopped her quest for individuality, Adele’s pushes her to submit to the external order, the others’ order. She’s polite, thanks people a bit too much. She likes to give to others, wants to share, and becomes a school teacher. As for Emma, she’s individualistic, follows her own path, and has the right to say “me”. She doesn’t care about Adele’s altruism, has no consideration for the job she chose. Adele’s difficulty to assume her identity is for the most part the result of the internalisation of norms she doesn’t dare face head-on. She doesn’t say anything about her sexual orientation in front of her friends. She doesn’t tell her parent s either, or her colleagues. She still bypasses those norms, but through Emma, thus leaving internally the environment she comes from, and yet without joining Emma’s, since doing so would require an important change of character. When Emma’s gone, she ends up without any environment. She hasn’t built either her personality or the frame in which she could let it grow. Adele, unique, is both the prototype of an individuality seeking itself facing the difficulties of the end of childhood, facing love’s reefs, and the conflict of classes. Blue is the warmest colour is an unfortunate tale of initiation.
Translated to english by Magali Hamilton Smith