Beauty in the Breakdown – ★★★★½
The Palme d’Or had never been given to actors from the winning film, only to the director. Such was the power of the performances by Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux, the two leads in Blue is the Warmest Colour, that the jury, headed up by Steven Spielberg, felt they had no choice but to award the honour to the two of them as well as their director Abdellatif Kechiche. The film is based on Julie Maroh’s graphic novel “Le bleu est une couleur chaude” and tells of the love between Adèle (Exarchopoulos) and Emma (Seydoux) and how their unique story is universal in its execution.
Let us get a few things out of the way. The film is one minute shy of three hours and it contains very explicit sex scenes between the the two main protagonists. These sex scenes have garnered quite a lot of controversy for many reasons – they are quite long, leave nothing to the imagination and are being acted out by straight actors and directed by a straight director. To add more fuel to the fire, Exarchopoulos and Seydoux have since claimed they were subjected to intimidation and humiliation during the shoot. Some of this has died down since the Cannes win in May but has none the less overshadowed the film’s release. The scenes are certainly more erotic than pornographic, perhaps too long although the length is said by some to strip away any hint of titillation, yet they have the danger of being closer to male fantasy than reality.
Sex scenes aside, this leaves us with 150 minutes of one of the most emotionally affecting love stories to have graced the screen in many a year. When we first meet Adèle she is still at school and by chance catches a glimpse of Emma while on the way to meet a potential boyfriend. Unsurprisingly this doesn’t work out and Adèle is consumed by her thoughts of Emma. Another fateful meeting at a bar provides the basis for their relationship and with this we are swallowed up for better or worse into their world.
The film is an honest look at the issues affecting gay and lesbian people today. With Adèle and Emma we have both sides, Emma is fully open about her sexuality, embraces it and her family are very supportive while Adèle is the complete opposite – perhaps in part because of her age. With Adèle we see the ugly face of homophobia at play in the school yard as she must defend herself against a series of homophobic slurs and insults.
While the story concerns a relationship between two women its themes and motifs have been seen many times before; passion, obsession, jealousy, infidelity, rage, insecurity, power, longing and loss. It is in the performances that the film sits shoulder to shoulder with the greats. Exarchopoulos and Seydoux transform what could have been a tiresome melodrama into an emotionally draining experience which you will be unable to forgot for some time to come.
Released in Ireland on 22nd of November at selected cinemas