First love is an elusive beast. To encapsulate it neatly is to rob it of its wonderful complexity; to linger on it is to rob it of the potency that makes it all-consuming. In Blue is the Warmest Colour, Abdellatif Kechiche tries to do both.
The film begins with 15-year-old Adèle laying eyes on blue-haired Emma and quick-cuts through impressionistic scenes of their lives over the course of several years. That’s an awful lot of scope, and with three naturalistic hours to fill, it’s crucial we understand the butterflies that overwhelm poor Adèle. Happily, she’s embodied via heartbreakingly earnest performances from Adèle Exarchopoulos (building her character’s inner life with the eye of a documentarian) and Léa Seydoux, whose easy chemistry enthralls through the development of their passionate relationship. Much has been made of the film’s sex scenes, though aside from their frequency, their only notable quality is their relative dullness. Rote nude moaning pales in comparison to the electricity they generate just through stolen glances.
Yet, the film is as mesmerized by them as they are by one another. Though they inhabit a workaday world—from taking a last drag outside the classroom to dinner with the family, to whom they’re not out, or the controlled chaos of a garden party—the camera is most interested in their intense, overpowering emotions. Not all actresses could pull off the sheer volume of close-ups these two receive. It’s an exercise in intimacy, and though Blue occasionally feels as if this years-long story is unfolding in real time, Adèle is a halting, messy, longing heroine who earns the journey.