It’s been a year or two that I’m purposefully watching ‘Queer Cinema.’ There are plethora of movies which I’ve watched, ranging from stereotypical, maligning the image of the community to some which strongly portrays same-sex desires and bio-pics on some of the great figures of all times. And pursuing this very dedicatedly, I had curated a list of movies which I wanted to watch and when I came back to the list earlier this year, I found that I’ve finished the list and have actually progressed further but there’s one movie which I wasn’t to watch, Blue is the warmest color (French title: The Life of Adele: Chapter 1 & 2) for a couple of years. I had it in my wishlist from the day I learnt that this movie has been awarded the prestigious Palm d’Or, my excitement and anticipation to watch this movie reached a different level altogether. The movie is based on a graphic novel by the same name by Julie Maroh.
Adèle, the protagonist of the movie happens to be a school-going girl. She’s shy, she’s imaginative and on top of them all, she’s exploring her sexuality. It was last year when I stumbled upon Margarita with a straw, yet another awe-inspiring movie and I was bowled over by the performance put up by Kalki. And I feel the way Kalki explores her sexuality in that movie is quite similar to what we see here; not exactly similar, I’m aware of stark differences but yes both come at an open end and come to terms with their own way of dealing with their lives. And whenever I look at this woman, Adele and Kalki, I’m convinced that there are people (actors) who can pull off a role with inasmuch as conviction like they’re playing it for real and can push the envelope.
Adèle (She bears the same name in the movie as well) without any doubt impresses me throughout. Her quite demeanour and impressive introvertedness adds layers to her already impressive character in the movie.
We’re shown in the beginning Adèle approaching the school and in class a fellow classmate is reading out loud, “I am a woman. And I tell my story.” after being affirmed by the teacher to accept, ‘I’m a woman’ and then continue reading. It’s an interesting begining to a movie exploring female sexuality. And in no time we see another girl interacting to the viewer with her appearance. Adèle seems to be attracted to this girl with hair dyed blue who she saw passing by while she’s with a group of friends and is instantly drawn towards her. It is not known yet whether she’s straight, lesbian or bisexual. However, we see that she’s imagining have sex with her and we see Adèle masturabting.
We also happen to learn that Adèle has sex with a boy (throwing hints at her experimentive nature) whom she knows from school but there fling doesn’t last long. It can be easily deduced that she’s confused about her sexuality. For she’s giving thoughts to her experiences and her imagination, which is fairly normal. This happens when one finds that they can’t think straight and no matter how open the society is, exploring one’s sexuality has always been frowned upon. And I guess, Adèle thinks that she’s bi-sexual which makes her even more frustrating. One should appreciate that sexuality is fluid somewhere between the extreme ends of the binary, male & female.
Further moving ahead in the movie, upon insistance of a friend, Adèle visits a gay bar and finds the blue-haired girl. We learn that the blue-haired girl has a name now, Emma. No more mystery around the woman but there’re things to be experienced and matters to address at consequent stages.
Emma, who is a student of arts, is profoundly talented. Over the course of time, Adèle and Emma begins spending time together. One of my personal favourite moments from the movie is when they both are sitting by the lake and Emma is doing Adèle’s portrait and she confesses, “I rarely do portraits” and that she picks on a detail and uses it often calling it, “The mysterious weakness of a man’s face.” What follows after that is no surprise to any literature and philosophy lover, or let’s take a borader term: any artistic individual. She blurts out, “Know that?”. Adèle, having no clue, rests her case. And Emma says and rather with an artisitc ego (my wild imagination here), “Sartre“.
And then anyone can sense where the discuss will head, towards existential crisis and to my no surprise it does happen. After further insistence by Emma, who asks Adèle if she knows who Sartre is, she says she does but didn’t quite understood his works. And we’re arriving there…..the intellectual masturbation. We’ve an artist and a school girl. A novicity is going to debate with an experienced life and there it happens. The pondering over existence. Adèle says that she tried reading him but except his plays she understood nothing better. Asks if Emma liked them, Emma replies that she, “Loved them!” Emma suggests Adèle to read a play, ‘Existentialism is Humanism,’ says that it isn’t that difficult and she further reflects on Sartre’s philosophical ideas. She explains that ‘existence precedes essence,’ is at the core of his intellectual revolution which motivates her to live with freedom and values as she’s doing now. And she feels highly of him. However, Adèle puts forth her opinion that, “Maybe I’m bad at philosophy but existence, essence is like the chicken and the egg. We will never arrive which came first.” To which Emma laughs and says, ‘You’re funny.’
That was the beginning of a cementing their relationship. One can easily sense that they’re going to meet time and again. And when they did, everyone knew that Adèle is dating a girl. And there were rumours that she’s a homosexual and when school-friends learns that you’re a homosexual, it is needless to stress how they respond, they begin to outcaste Adèle from any assembling of so-called-friends. On the contrary, Adèle is drawn to Emma with a greater intensity. We can see that during the passionate sexual intercourse as well.
They both introduce one another to their family as well. Emma, who has an artisitic background happens to have an open-minded fmaily who welcome Adèle gracefully, however, Adèle’s family isn’t quite as welcoming and at par with Emma’s, her folks are conservative but it wasn’t difficult to introduce a talented girl Emma from a philosophy background.
Soon they started living-in. A happy Adèle, is now working in a primary school where is enjoying teaching children. And Emma is occupied with her career. She’s a gifted painter. And whenever she thinks of an displaying her works in an exhibition, Adèle happens to organise it and happily cooks for all the guests.
It was very interesting scene during one of the social gatherings which is shown at length. Lise, Emma’s friend is pregnant and Adèle happens to have an anticipating look while touching her belly. May be she wants to have her own children. And she meekly nods when one of the guests, Samir who introduces himself as an actor asks her uneasy questions about her sexuality, how it is different with girls, followed by, if she happens to wish to have her own children.
Just a moment later Joachim arrives, whom Emma misjudged to be Lise’s husband, and Emma introduces Adèle as someone who writes wonderfully well but Adèle is so shy to even drive the conversation. The evening is progressed by an official champagne opening Emma addresses guests and introduces Adèle as her muse and that she inspires her (She, Adèle, posed for Emma’s works) and that she has cooked for all of them. Adèle is shy and docile to accept the pleasantaries and her voice is feeble when she thanks everyone. After that everyone raises a toast to their relationship and to love.
“To Emma & Adèle”
A moment later, I think like all the French parties (I’m assuming or it happens in French movies owing to their artisitc and open environment), the discussion takes altogether a different route. A friend of Emma is asking what Adèle does, to which a humble response is, ‘teaching in a nursery school’ and Adèle, a hesitant conversationalist poses the same question and comes a heavy-weight reply from the other side, “I’m working on morbidity in Schiele‘s ouevre.” Adèle just agrees and remains clueless even after been prompted by Emma. This is followed by the discussion between this lady and Emma, who debate on who is better the protege Schiele or the master Klimt,who happens to be more “florid & decorative“ according to the lady and more susbtantial to Emma. Difference of opinions, just another artistic trait. The lady is furious and concludes that Emma hates when people disagrees. It is clearly evident from Adèle’s incognizant face that she’s not having fun.
More connected to the theme of the movie is a discussion commenced by Joachim about the ‘female sexuality‘ and how he feels that male sexuality is grossly limited and according to a Story of Tiresias in The Odyssesy it is noted that women experience pleasure nine times more than men. And thus arriving at the naked poses by Adèle for Emma’s paintings.
The exhibition ends with Adèle conversing with Samir & Emma lost in the conversations devoted to critiquing arts & other discussions about art followed by another heated & passionate sex.
On frequent occasions, Emma feels that Adèle should be drawn towards arts and persuades her to actually pursue something ‘meaningful‘ though Adèle insisted that she’s happy doing what she’s doing.
Everything at this point of time in the movie goes fine but as it is the case with most of the relationships, there seems to be an inevitable ‘losing-the-balance’ and ‘you-cheated-on-me’ kind of a thing. One can sense from the initial aloofness and feeling of being out of place by Adèle in Emma’s artistic ecosystem.
Adèle who feels alone or rather ‘lonely,’ as she puts it, for Emma is often late from work and keeps busy. It’s hard for Adèle to keep up but she finds a partner in the coworker, Antoine, at school with whom she goes to a party and one day is caught kissing him in a car by Emma. A rather furious Emma feels cheated and questions Adèle where she’s coming form and with whom she was. But Adèle first lies and then confessed that a male colleague dropped her and ultimately revealing that she have been seeing him and sleeping with him ‘out of loneliness’. Not moved by Adèle’s tears and emotional complexities, (it’s a hint of more than that, Adèle might be a person constantly looking out for an adventure or confused whether she knows what love is or what it is not but when she cries it is heartbreaking) Emma asks her to pack her stuff and leave. She leaves and tries to make peace with her situation by being busy with the job. But she, hardly is, emotionally stable. We see a terrible breakdown when her students gave flowers to her and after that she begins thinking about something and then she weeps a lot. She’s consumed by something which is absent from her life, Emma’s love.
After sometime, both of them meet in a restaurant. And Adèle realises that she’s deeply in love with her. She asks, if Emma wants to be with her. After receiving a ‘No’ as a reply, she’s battling with her tears but the moment Emma declares that she’s seeing someone else, she couldn’t control. She snivels and says to Emma, “You know I cry for no reason at all sometimes.” Adèle offers Emma to leave when she feels like and within a couple of seconds they both bid themselves farewell. Adèle, when Emma leaves, weeps almost inconsolably. It’s like she’s collecting some broken pieces of herself and then working around and going on with her life. Adèle visits Emma’s latest art exhibition and after being welcomed by Emma, who happens to lose Adèle in between because of some artisitc interruption by a fellow visitor, & talking a bit alongwith Lise, leaves. She sees Samir, the actor but then she leaves the exhibition area. Samir tries to see chase her but we see Adèle walking a boulevard smoking.
Her boots making a sound, which vanishes with distance, doppler effect, and her hand making a swing action by taking a drag of the cigarette, can be seen from a distance as a viewer.
The movie leaves you dumbfounded about Adèle’s life and sexuality. But I think the movie is actually trying to portray the very vulnerability and volatility of any relationship and homosexual or bisexual relationships being no different. Beautifully shot and deftly directed, the story of Adèle is conveyed in the best possible manner, according to me.
Life is such, it goes haywire when you think it is making sense and it makes sense that that was the actual joy of living, fighting the fights which we fight, losing somoene whom we needed the most and still carrying on.
And Adèle does, and I recommend we should do as well.