Passion is the Warmest Emotion: Looking at Sex in La Vie d’Adele
A fair warning for anyone reading, this is heavy on the spoilers.
It’s all too rare to find a film that genuinely comes alive; a film that’s realism is so rich that every sense and feeling is sparked. To witness a kiss so passionate on screen, or a touch that resonates so strongly it makes your skin tingle, that’s a quality that’s nearly impossible to find in a work of art. And yet, here, in the most unlikely little gem of a film, we find just that.
La Vie d’Adèle, a film better known as Blue is the Warmest Color, has been praised and chastised alike for an abundance of reasons. Above all other controversy lies one thing: sex. Art is no stranger to the bodies of two (or more even) intertwining for the sake of love, warmth, or plain entertainment, and yet here we find ourselves again with the same situation. With Blue though, there’s something different. I will not say that claims of cartoonish sex are unwarranted, as the film’s second sex scene between couple Adèle and Emma – scissoring away into the night with moans that only porn stars can deliver – is exactly that. Yet, such a minor fault, a mere misstep can almost be excused, when the bigger picture, and the bigger sex scene, is looked at closely.
Before we address that, let’s rewind for a moment. To understand those moments, one needs to know about the way this relationship came to be; what came before. So many films ignore who a person was before they enter their current relationship, but Blue gives you a full picture of what Adèle’s life is like before and after. She’s a rather simple girl, focused on reading whatever novel piques her interest; looking to become a teacher herself some day. It’s clear she’s beginning to investigate her sexuality through three key scenes: her first time with Thomas, her kiss with her female friend, and her masturbation sequence.
Of these, the first is an absolute disappointment, signaled by her body language and subsequent break-up with Thomas. The second is a moment of joy, thinking that someone else shares your feelings, but then coming to the cold realization that they are more conflicted with your sexuality than you will ever be. It’s a common experience for a queer person to discover that the person they’re interested in is in fact straight and uninterested, and it’s rough. Heaven knows I’ve spent plenty of time hung up on men that weren’t interested, and Adèle’s tears in the bathroom represent that feeling all too well. And then there’s the masturbation scene, in which Adèle realizes that maybe a woman’s touch is exactly what she longs for.
While fantasizing about the blue haired woman she barely knew instead of anyone else might seem like a stretch, the entire notion of a woman exploring her body and giving her immense pleasure is something realistic. You don’t just go from straight to gay in ten easy steps; sexuality is fluid, and part of the process is discovering that the idea of what society implies you’re supposed to like not feeling as good as what you aren’t supposed to like. Most queer people who were conflicted in their teen years, including myself, have been there, but that’s not what this film is about. It’s about a woman’s first real experience with love.
Years of experience with literature professors who profess that the only way to fully appreciate an artwork is to understand the artist behind it is thrown out the window here. Separation of artist and art work is crucial, as a film (or any work really) should be able to stand on its own two feet. Blue is the Warmest Color is an expression of pure passion, of love at its rawest, and regardless of what horror stories we might have heard from behind the scenes, what we witness in the film is nothing but love. You can relate to this relationship because these two actresses are compelling enough to create a relationship that feels as real as it looks.
I’ve heard from men and women, both queer and straight, and everyone’s got as much of an opinion on these sex scenes as they do an asshole. But here’s the thing: many of the reactions to said sex scenes have been immensely out of context or simply through reading about them. When once has had nearly an hour (or more) of build-up, has experienced the disappointment of being with a partner who is unsatisfying at best between the sheets, has learned the taste of a lovers lips and desperately wants more – that is the moment when one knows and understands Adèle and Emma’s scenes of sexual discovery.
Their first is pure exploration. It’s passionate, it’s raw, it’s carnal. It’s something that every person, queer or not, who has had the good fortune to find a partner they find intoxicating will understand the minute it hits the screen. The feel of a breath against a neck, the slap of a hand against an ass, the grip of a thigh as those lips go further. It’s incomprehensible how two bodies become so intertwined with each other that no one knows where one ends and the other begins. That is the sort of feeling that Blue is the Warmest Color provides. Not something pornographic – as titillating as it may be to witness at times – but something passionate.
Their second, or rather what the audience witnesses as their second, is indeed something bordering on pornographic. As previously mentioned, this could be seen as something cartoonish. But why? The exaggerated moans and screams of an almost hypersexual activity only takes place immediately after Adèle experiences what a fantasy life could be with Emma. The perfect family, the perfect food (something she so loathed is now something she adores), the perfect girl, so why not the, presumed, perfect sex? This doesn’t necessarily excuse the fact that it is not in the same vein of realism as the former, but it’s certainly a possibility. Nevertheless it still doesn’t really offer a decent excuse for the scene outside of being a contrast to the following one. It’s just shoved in between two sexual experiences that are far more realistic and in tune with the film’s notion of reality over fantasy.
The third, possibly the one I found myself relating to the most regardless of the impact the first had on me, was one of pure laughter. There’s a bullshit notion that is supposed to be a big serious matter, only to be done between mature people looking to get down to business, and that’s so crazy. Real sex isn’t business, it’s pleasure. Most of the best sex I’ve ever had has come from moments where I was enjoying myself with another person. Sometimes it was all about the passion, much like the first sex scene between Emma and Adèle, but other times it’s about the fun. You laugh because something silly happens; getting hair in your mouth or having to stay quiet so no one in your house hears you. You’re having sex, but more than anything, you’re enjoying the company of the person you’re with by not entirely dismissing the notion that you’re still the same ridiculous people during this moment of intimacy.
Now, what does all this dissecting really say about the movie? Nothing really, outside of it having a couple of sex scenes that aren’t particularly risque outside of a whole lot of ass grabbing (and who doesn’t enjoy an abundance of that). It takes no genius to flail their arms in anger in complaint that this is not a lesbian film – poorly marketed as such considering it’s more so an exploration of a young woman’s sexuality and one particular relationship – but it also doesn’t take a genius to break the movie down to the basics in an attempt to relate to it, like I’ve done here. Just because they’re naked doesn’t mean it’s pornographic. There’s beauty in the sensual if you take a minute to appreciate it, and Blue is the Warmest Color deserves to be appreciated.