This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
Sometimes what I like to do is recall all my shatteringly painful life experiences. Often, my go-to is the time—while attending university in a grim coastal town—that I got my head kicked in outside a club by a balding, middle-aged thug in front of my then girlfriend. My head was split open and I had to go to the hospital, the physical pain accompanied by the humiliating realization that I'd been completely unable to defend myself.
My mind also occasionally returns to 1994—a youthful, more optimistic time in my life—when my dad took me to watch Chelsea vs. Manchester United in the FA Cup Final. I was ten and Chelsea hadn't won a trophy in 23 years. It ended up pissing it down with rain—Eric Cantona scored twice and Chelsea lost 4-0. I left in a flood of tears.
Finally, I recall when I had mumps in my early 20s. My nether regions swelled up to grapefruit-like proportions and I degenerated into a state of dehydrated delirium, a sweat-bathed figure talking in nonsensical riddles and vomiting for a fortnight at my mum's house. I lost a load of weight and my head felt like a giant, pulsing boulder. That really, really sucked.
I didn't get beaten up, lose the cup final, or get a viral disease watching Blue Is the Warmest Color, but I'd be lying if I said seeing it wasn't one of my most painful, draining experiences I've ever been through. Director Abdellatif Kechiche spends three grueling hours painting an incredibly intimate picture of a relationship, from the fuzzy beginning, through the wobbling uncertainty in the middle, to the dismal end.
Before its release, Blue Is the Warmest Color was hyped intensely. Many people focused purely on the sex , labeling the film a gratuitous lesbian romp. Some critics, though, lauded it for its power, honesty, and intensity. Either way, both column inches and word of mouth earned the film a level of infamy that put me in a state of anxiety before I'd even seen it.
After the opening credits rolled, I tried to figure out what I'd been scared of. I watched the film with my then girlfriend, and I suppose my initial and fairly pathetic concerns were that the intimacy between the two women, and the abject misery of their break-up, might make her decide that men simply weren't as good as women in bed, and that our relationship itself might not be the best on offer.
I was also worried that I'd see something far more intense and real than any lesbian porn I'd encountered on my trawls of the internet, and that—as a heterosexual man—I would somehow be eavesdropping. Then I remembered that this was a film, too. An incredibly intense and realistic one, but a work of fiction nonetheless.
Once I had left the theater, it dawned on me: What scared and affected me most about Blue Is the Warmest Color was its warts-and-all depiction of a human relationship. Its French candor, its unwavering camera, and the way in which it captures exactly what it feels like to ache for another human being.
Like most relationships, everything is taut and exciting at the beginning. When Adèle and Emma first meet in a Lille bar there's an immediate energy and spark. Yes, it's a romantic cliché, but the connection between the two characters is palpable and, as they fall in love, you can't help being reminded of how it feels to meet someone you really like: as though you are the only two people in the world. The strength of this connection radiates off the screen, and the sex scene—while explicit—is necessary to illustrate the passion between the two.
The good stuff doesn't last. Toward the film's end, when Adèle desperately tries to seduce Emma in an empty bar, begging in vain to rekindle their sexual and emotional connection, it becomes ever clear that this film really isn't about sexual orientation. The scene reminds us that, once we enter a full-on relationship, we emotionally put ourselves on the line. Gay or straight, if we lose someone and want them back, we will do whatever we can—we will forfeit our dignity, if that's what it takes.
The idea that two people who love each other that much can put each other through such pain really got to me. I thought of my parents, their terrible fights and eventual divorce, of my relationships and how it felt to hurt someone and be hurt by someone I loved. I was reminded of times I deliberately said things I knew would cut people, knowing how shit it would make them feel, but doing it anyway. I remembered cowardly trying to justify past actions while exes cried—or, in some cases, threw things at me. I thought of my incredulous anger, confusion, and frantic questioning when I myself had been mistreated, wondering how something that was meant to be good could make me feel so hopeless.
Watching Blue Is the Warmest Color , I realized that most of the time we treat each other like shit because we're terrified of relationships. It also occurred to me how often I've wondered whether long-term relationships are really worth the hassle, given that the bad times and break-ups are such an ordeal.
We live in a time where most of us demand instant gratification. We are accustomed to getting what we want, how we want it and when we want it. Living in the massive cesspool of ambition, greed, and "luxury apartments" that is London, everyone is obsessed with their jobs, their friends, and their incredibly important lives. Nowadays, if we want to have a relationship, we go on Tinder, have a swipe, have a chat, get drunk, have sex, fuck off.
We do a runner as soon as emotion rears its head, because that's not why we're here—we're here for a good time. We don't want anyone with "baggage," and we don't want honest assessments from others about our flaws. We want to ignore our own problems and avoid having our vibes killed by hearing about anybody else's. We want the fun of flirting followed by the endorphin rush of sex. Not the visceral tugging of heartstrings.
As a cynic, I never thought I'd find myself writing this, but the main lesson I took from Blue Is the Warmest Color is to seize the day and be unafraid of intimacy. It shouldn't be seen as a cautionary tale to put people off relationships, but rather an honest portrayal of their meaningful ups and downs. You can't be scared of relationships just because of their potential to cause pain when they end.
Adèle's pain is heart breaking to witness because it is born from the joy she felt when things were going well. Not getting involved in committed relationships, marriage or otherwise, because of a fear of them coming to an end is a cop-out. If we were to use this logic, what's the point in enjoying anything? We may as well be on our own, never meet anyone, or do anything we enjoy because we'll only end up being disappointed.
Watching Blue Is the Warmest Color demands introspection and self-analysis. This isn't a film about super heroes, mafia bosses, or Wall Street traders. It's about everyday people, and banal scenes like the family dinner at Adèle's house—filmed with such care and intimate, close up camerawork—made me think this could very easily be my life, and that the same question applies to both me and Adèle: "Who wants to sit around risking nothing, feeling neither pleasure nor pain?"
The hysterical reaction to the film from people who haven't even seen it suggests it's not the sex that people are scared of, or the fact its story concerns two lesbians—it's the fact that, like all great films, it delivers a truth that many would rather ignore.
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