Opinion: Blue is the Warmest Colour is great on love, bad on lesbian sex

  • Nine
  • 7 November 2013
Opinion: Blue is the Warmest Colour is great on love, bad on lesbian sex

Director Abdellatif Kechiche says that 'love is cosmic', but his film fails to convey queer nuances

The Palme d’Or winning film Blue is the Warmest Colour has raised debate for its explicit scenes of lesbian sex. But just how representative is the film of a queer relationship in today’s world?

‘There’s a banality to how a lot of directors represent female bodies and female pleasure, partly because they borrow from the industrial handbook of male-oriented pornography,’ wrote Manohla Dargis in The New York Times, after viewing Blue Is The Warmest Colour's much-hyped sex scenes. I'm inclined to agree. The three-hour film largely portrays its protagonist in close-ups, warts and all. It doesn't matter if she's crying with snot running down her face, or caught at an unflattering moment of eating spaghetti. This is what I like about Blue: the central character Adèle's awkwardness, her vulnerability, is captured and relatable. But when she and her girlfriend fuck, suddenly the camera zooms out and it's all perfect writhing bodies. Even as a 15-year-old sleeping with a woman for the first time, she apparently feels no self-consciousness or hesitation, no uncertainty about what to do or whether it'll feel good for her partner. There are no words here, no ‘is this okay?’ or ‘oops, sorry!’. The central, ten-minute sex scene seems to illustrate the glib claim that women innately know how to please each other sexually, because they have, like, this mystical female bond.

Julie Maroh, author of the graphic novel on which Blue was based, didn't buy it either. In a carefully worded blog post, she commented that these scenes principally appeared to serve the interests of straight male viewers, with no input from any actual lesbians who might have steered them a bit closer to reality. Interviewed by The Guardian, director Abdellatif Kechiche responded to such concerns by saying, ‘Do I need to be a woman, and a lesbian, to talk about love between women? We're talking about love here – it's absolute, it's cosmic.’

His words rather seem to echo the 'colourblind' refrain popular among well-meaning white folks. Race shouldn't matter; I don't see colour! Sexuality shouldn't matter; love is universal! Wonderful sentiments, but identity does make a difference in a world that values you more if you can tick a few boxes like 'straight', 'white', 'male', and so on. On the flipside, your claim that you don't see any differences between people will not erase structural inequality, and it will not mean that the art you make is suddenly experienced in a vacuum.

Members of minority groups have legitimate concerns about who gets to represent them and how, especially given that not everyone has equal access to a platform in the first place. However, this absence of a level playing field doesn't mean that people should only make art about those like themselves, and it's disingenuous of Kechiche to imply that that's what his critics advocate. But it's relevant to consider how the artist's motivation – which might be altruism, edginess, or something else entirely – intersects with the artist's knowledge of and understanding of the community in question. There are already plenty of unrealistic portrayals of lesbians, in porn and otherwise, and it's perfectly reasonable for queer women to hope for something better; it's interesting that Kechiche ignores this reality, instead invoking the question of whether he was qualified to make this film. What this says to me is that he can film a decent love story, but if we want a narrative that recognises the nuances of being queer in a heterosexist society, we'll have to look elsewhere.

Nine is a writer, editor and former Edinburgh resident, now semi-based in Kuala Lumpur. More of her writing can be found at www.jinxremoving.org.

Blue Is The Warmest Color Official Trailer #1 (2013) - Romantic Drama HD

Blue Is the Warmest Colour (La vie d'Adèle)

  • 5 stars
  • 2013
  • France
  • 2h 59min
  • 18
  • Directed by: Abdellatif Kechiche
  • Cast: Léa Seydoux, Adèle Exarchopoulos, Salim Kechiouche
  • UK release: 22 November 2013

The story of a young lesbian couple's beginning, middle and possible end.

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