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/vent: 'Blue is the Warmest Color' is Not a Lesbian Film

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by /bent
May 2, 2014 8:04 AM
17 Comments
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/bent readers aren't at a loss for opinions. The comments section is obviously always there to articulate them, but sometimes it's not enough. So here's /vent, a chance to write in and sound off about whatever claim we or anyone else has made about queer film that you find insufferable, inspiring or simply wrong. The point is to spark debate. The LGBT movement has always been about the grassroots, and some of the best discussion of queer issues still comes in unheralded (or under-exposed) blog-posts by invested members of the community rather than simply from journalists or academics. The same is true for queer film. If you have an opinion you want to sling out there email us, Tweet us, or Facebook us and pitch a /vent. 

First up is filmmaker Paulina Plazas with a new take on (what we've been calling a) lesbian film "Blue is the Warmest Color". Let us know where you stand in the comments.

"Blue is the Warmest Color" is not a lesbian film

Paulina Plazas 


"Blue Is The Warmest Color" was recently added to Netflix's library under the Lesbian and Gay section. But is this a lesbian film? It seemed to have gone completely unnoticed by critics and audiences alike that Adele, the young woman at the center of the story is not gay. She is in fact bisexual. But bisexuals don't get a category in Netflix. Heck, as far as most people are concerned they don't even exist! Bisexuality is widely seen as an exploration not an option. By missing that this is a film about a bi-sexual woman, critics have missed that bi-sexual erasure is central to understanding Adele's particular sense that she does not belong as she comes of age.

The film begins with a classroom discussion: Adele's assignment is to think about the idea of predestination and love at first sight. As destiny would have it she crosses paths with Emma, a mysterious blue haired beauty: amazement registers on her face, time stops and voila, it is love at first sight.

And yet Adele then starts dating a boy named Thomas. One might think that she dates him due to peer pressure but director Abdellatif Kechiche makes sure we follow Adele's point of view as she "checks him out". She is attracted to him but their first sexual encounter is disappointing at best. Adele can't get Emma out of her head and climaxes while dreaming of her. Struggling to come to terms with her own feelings she becomes depressed and what follows is one of the most heart breaking scenes in the movie: Adele is aggressively confronted by her friends who suspect she might be a lesbian. Her reply? "I won't admit to something I am not". Is this just repression of her "true" lesbianism, or is it in fact an authentic attempt to defend her attraction to men and women?

The way the film plays out suggests the latter. We might think her choice not to "come out" is a reaction to this attack, a safer option than to expose herself to further hate. But it seems more complex than this. As we fast-forward a few years we find Adele now living with Emma. She does not talk about her partner with her co-workers but this choice doesn't appear to be simply the product of a hostile environment. Could it be that Adele simply doesn't see herself as a lesbian? She is madly (and passionately) in love with a woman but that doesn't mean she has ceased being interested in men. Perhaps, again, it is public judgement about bisexuality which stops Adele from saying anything.

This raises another important point: How does a bisexual come out of a 'Narnia' sized closet? It isn't enough to declare who you are; you must then justify your own existence to the world. Adele chooses not to explain herself but in the process remains an outsider to both gay and straight cultures. From her first visit to a lesbian bar to the home-cooked meal she makes for Emma's friends she remains on the fringe of her partner's universe. The major conflict in the second half of the film develops as this disconnection proves to be too much for their relationship. Emma becomes interested in another woman and Adele cheats (repeatedly) on Emma with a man, ending their love affair.

In a society that loves to oversimplify, one can see Adele’s relationship with men as cries for help: she is a lesbian in denial who deals with this by sleeping with men. But describing her in such a way would be diminishing what it is to have a sexual preference in the first place. Defining her story as a lesbian story is stripping Adele of her own choices. She is not confused, she is bi; every turn is part of the same road.

Think back, then, to the opening scene, and the question of love and predestination. Viewed through the lens of bisexuality, "Blue is the Warmest Color" looks like a film pointing out that for some people, the gender of their eventual partner is never preordained.


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17 Comments

  • Martina | May 3, 2014 6:24 PMReply

    The article is about the bi erasure and that's what the comments doing. As if coming of age as bi would be without confusion! Varan: You are doing the same thing as the writer, trying to prove your point ignoring some facts: she checks Thomas out before her friends tell her to do so and she clearly has chemistry with Samir! How can you say you don't get why people would think she is bi, she has sex with 3 people in the film, 2 men, 1 woman. Why can be her choices legitimate? Adds to the narrative that bi people are just confused, not ok.
    Anyway I think you are both wrong because the movie leaves it open to interpretation.

  • varan | May 4, 2014 12:40 AM

    Martina, you should interpret a film by what is shown and not the fanfic in your mind. If the film is over and over and over showing a woman A) who is hesitant and embarrassed to be affectionate at all with her girlfriend around even that girlfriend's family and friends B) who lies to friends, family and coworkers about being with a woman C) who expresses her happiness is just being with Emma while stating she cannot expose herself to the world and D) whose two flings with men to be disappointing, clearly without sexual attraction at all, and done for ulterior motives that do not involve attraction - well then maybe it is not best to shove it down people's throats how they are doing bi erasure or being biphobic or being misleading about the Adele on screen fitting a lesbian.

    That you reduce it to she has sex with 2 men and only 1 woman means she must be bi shows a lot. It shows a complete rejection of watching the film and the context of those acts. It completely omits that she is overwhelmingly attracted to Beatrice sexually and that she states that sex with Thomas feels like she is lying to herself. You reduce a film in which the romantic travails are 95% about Adele's feeling to Emma to a bisexual coming of age film through this nonsense and then treat others as if they are fools for finding this nonsense ludicrous. You want to know why almost everyone sees Adele as a lesbian. It is because when they watched the film they actually paid attention instead of forcing an agenda. Even the straightest people in the world know Adele does not mess with the colleague to fill some long brewing attraction or because she has wondered about men sexually. Did you even watch the film?

    By the way, it was Paulina's post which was hostile to people. How dare they watch the film as is instead of create an agenda driven fantasy. Good night indeed.

  • Martina | May 4, 2014 12:00 AM

    Well Varan, that escalated quickly. Everyone must interpret the film in the same way or they are superficial and lazy? What about those (including the director) who said the film's conflict is not sexual identity but social class? What version did they watch? Films are open to interpretation, they are about empathy. I didn't say you were wrong. What worries me? Your assumptions... (Example: "Adele is conflicted about being attracted to women. What a joke"). Please do tell... Do you think bisexual women aren't conflicted when they first realize they are attracted to women? Is that the joke? It's not like bisexuals who relate to Adele's coming of age have a secret evil agenda to shape the film into what they want it to be.
    We all shape the films we watch with our experiences (I read that Frozen's song "Let it go" was about coming out of the closet... If someone wants to read that into it, so be it!), that is what makes for an interesting discussions. Your assumption is that you are right and anyone who disagrees with you is wrong (lazy, stupid, superficial, arrogant, a joke) ... Unfortunately that's the end of any interesting discussion. Good night.

  • varan | May 3, 2014 8:31 PM

    By the way, bi erasure is problematic. What is also problematic is the arrogant belief that if a woman who loves women is not a gold star she must be bisexual. The comments aren't for bi erasure. They are ridiculing, and rightfully so, persons who disregard meaning, context, and intent so they can push an agenda. And anyone who sees the character of Adele as bisexual is someone who is looking at BITWC in the most superficial, lazy, and obtuse manner as possible.

  • varan | May 3, 2014 8:22 PM

    Martina,

    The character of Adele shows no romantic interest in Samir at all. You say she has chemistry which I suppose means you wish she got with Samir. Why? Because Samir is clearly sexually interested in her? Is there some obligation from Adele. Adele looks at Emma nonstop with jealousy over Lise during the 1st Samir sequence. In the 2nd, it is revealed that Adele is again looking repeatedly at Emma. In both cases Samir initiates Adele, Adele seems to zone out as the conversation continues, and Emma is her focus. At the end, Samir is called away and Adele, after looking at Emma, is out of there in a heartbeat. No goodbye to Samir. No exchange of numbers. Zero interest. No looking back. Yet some how you misconstrue this as chemistry which seems to ignore the woman's interest and only focuses on fantasy.

    As with Paulina, you thoroughly and absolutely disregard context, disregard sequences, and make up an agenda driven fantasy in which Adele is confused about bisexuality. Apparently you must have watched an edited 1 hour 45 minute version which left out all the sequences which explain how Adele is conflicted about being attracted to women. What a joke.

  • bobeau | May 3, 2014 7:48 AMReply

    If the writer wants netflix to change their wording, great, agree, but she will not get there by being tedious.

  • varan | May 2, 2014 11:58 PMReply

    This is a rather weaktake on the film which revises what is depicted to fit an agenda. In that case, the agenda is to state Adele's sexuality is bisexuality by revising what actually occurs and disregarding the context of sequences on screen.

    It relies on one of the more problematic declarations in the LGBT community. That is that a woman who has sex with a man or even men cannot be a lesbian because she does not fit goldstar status. While the character of Adele may end up seeing herself as bisexual, the reality is that Adele does not, when it come down to it, display a bisexual sensibility in the film. In terms of want, we only see her express carnal desire towards two women, Beatrice and Emma.

    Paulina has two horrible reads in watching the film. The first concerns Thomas. Adele is prompted to check out Thomas by other girls. Those other girls ask Adele to check him out. Adele does as she is told. Thomas comes on to her and she fulfills the mandate the other girls have given her that she should date Thomas. On her way to her first date with Thomas, she sees Emma for the first time. This is also the first time we the audience see latent sexual desire. With Thomas, she is coerced by other girls to view Thomas as an object of sexual attraction. With Emma, there is no coercion. After a date with Thomas, Adele achieves orgasm by thinking of Emma ravishing her. She is disturbed by the dream and further worried about her sexuality when the same girls bring up sex with Thomas the next morning. They prompt Adele over and over about sex with Thomas. As Tom (comment on May 2 at 9:53 PM) points out, Adele is "fleeing to her default" which, in this case, is based in heterosexist standards which are represented by her female friends who continually coerce her - to check out Thomas, to date Thomas, and to have sex with Thomas. Two things are evident in the sex sequence with Thomas. The first is that Thomas is experienced and the second is that Adele cannot achieve interest in the sex no matter how much she tries. She zones out as the sex occurs and breaks down later around her gay male friend. She breaks up with Thomas.

    Paulina then leaves out a crucial passage (a problem throughout this review). A girl from school named Beatrice comes on to Adele and kisses her. Adele is smitten. Her parents realize something at school has made Adele ascend into complete joy. Kechiche even has an overhead shot in which Adele shows bliss at the dinner table. The next day, Adele sees Beatrice and comes on to her heavy in the bathroom. She kisses her all over expressing deep carnal desire until she realizes Beatrice is not reciprocating. This devastates Adele.

    We then jump forward to Adele having started seeing Emma and the confrontation at the school. Paulina leaves out something very, very important. The two girls that confront Adele about whether she is a lesbian are the same two girls who coerced her into checking out Thomas, dating Thomas and having sex with Thomas. Simply put they are symbols of pressure for women to conform to heterosexuality. This scene proves crucial during a breakup with Emma years later. It is made explicit. Adele is not scared of her heterosexist friends seeing her as being someone who is interested in women. It has zilch to do with a fear of biphobia.

    Paulina then leaves out another crucial part of the film which is the dinner with Emma, Adele and Adele's parents. It is here we find out how deep the heterosexist standards are ingrained by her family and that her parents would never approve of Adele being with a woman.

  • Varan | May 3, 2014 2:06 AM

    3rd part

    What is perplexing is how Paulina misses this. When I saw this film, there was a discussion afterwards and the first comment came from a straight, married Grandmother of 5 who noted how the breakup shows that Adele's cheating with the colleague comes from a fear of losing Emma and her own closeted being which came out of how she was raised and the fear of being rejected for being with a woman. In the breakup, the first thing brought up is how Adele has kept her romance with Emma a secret from everyone else. As the grandmother said, to paraphrase, Adele says she was afraid of people blabbing and we, the audience, now realize what an effect losing certain high school friends, such as those bff's who become bullies, has had on Adele. Adele states the reason for her cheating is loneliness and also states the sex with the guy was meaningless. She cannot even remember if it was 2 or 3 times. The director feels it is so meaningless that he neither depicts it nor gives the guy another line in the movie (he is only seen dancing in the background in a sequence designed to show Adele is devastated over Emma and has zero feelings for the colleague). How in the world someone gets Adele is bisexual out of what Kechiche depicts is beyond me. He explicitly is stating that Adele acted out of loneliness, fears, and self-loathing (Kechiche intriguingly has Adele kiss the colleague in public earlier which is crucial considering how Adele is loath to kiss Emma around other people - even around Emma's parents she is shy).

    At the end of the film, we find out Adele has never moved on from Emma. At a gallery opening, Adele begins to break down. Samir begins to talk to her. Adele looks to her right 8 times. We don't know what she is looking at. Finally Samir is taken away and we are given an angle which shows Adele was glancing at Emma. Adele is distraught and leaves. Samir goes the wrong way which is a rejection of the heterosexual rebound for the lesbian. That is it.

    I appreciate Pauline writing her feelings but it is vital when watching a film to observe everything. As a cop would say about a crime, don't make a story fit the evidence but make the evidence tell you the story. By excluding important sequences, misreading others, and disregarding dialogue, we could make this the story of a bisexual girl. But as Tom says from what we are shown it is most definitely "a film about a lesbian."

    As for media about bisexuality, I highly recommend "Young and Wild" and the Imogen character on Degrassi (well she is pansexual but still worthy of viewing).

  • varan | May 3, 2014 2:02 AM

    Concerning the fellow teacher.

    We then jump forward to Adele having started seeing Emma and the confrontation at the school. Paulina leaves out something very, very important. The two girls that confront Adele about whether she is a lesbian are the same two girls who coerced her into checking out Thomas, dating Thomas and having sex with Thomas. Simply put they are symbols of pressure for women to conform to heterosexuality. This scene proves crucial during a breakup with Emma years later. It is made explicit. Adele is not scared of her heterosexist friends seeing her as being someone who is interested in women. It has zilch to do with a fear of biphobia.

    Paulina then leaves out another crucial part of the film which is the dinner with Emma, Adele and Adele's parents. It is here we find out how deep the heterosexist standards are ingrained by her family and that her parents would never approve of Adele being with a woman.

    We jump forward years and again Paulina leaves out a lot of information. Adele lies to a male colleague about plans after school and it is evident she is in the closet. It is also evident this has zilch to do with a fear of biphobia (Adele herself will state later why she is in the closet at work). As with several other times in her review, Paulina has no support at all for her readings of Adele being fearful of being seen as bi. This does not come up in the film one single time. We find out that only Emma's friends know Adele is with Emma. When Emma kisses her at a party, Adele immediately wipes her lips in embarrassment just as in an earlier sequence at a pride parade Adele is unable to get comfortable kissing Emma even around other LGBT individuals. In a sexually open crowd, Adele feels shame and it is magnified when a guy named Samir plays on heterosexist queries. When the party is over though and everyone else is gone, Adele is immediately all over Emma. Adele all but begs for sex with Emma. We now have another crucial part which Paulina does not touch on. Emma discusses Adele's writings and says she should share it with the world. Adele says she cannot do that. In a sequence which is fairly explicit in it's intent Adele says she cannot expose herself to the world like that and that all she needs for happiness is Emma. Emma's rejection of her that night plus Adele's concern that Emma has fallen for another woman leaves Adele unable to sleep.

    When Emma begins staying out late with Lise and Adele realizes that Emma may be falling in love with Lise, Adele falls into what Tom nails as a "default" mode that is about filling a void. As Helen Eisenbach sharply said, it is a preemptive move by a person who recognizes they are losing their lover who they cannot imagine life without - that it is has nothing to do with Adele's sexuality but a person going backwards to what is expected out of them instead of what they desire.

  • tom | May 2, 2014 9:53 PMReply

    In a movie intended to mark almost every single thing in day to day life, including love sex and food, as being anything other than black and white I can see why so many people take their confused or all or nothing standpoints as valid arguments.

    Anyone who's gay, straight, or human should know better than to pin sex as a done deal, especially as the age the protagonist Adele is at. You could also make the argument that she's fleeing to her default that, at the beginning of the movie, was recognized for her by society and her peer group as the necessary route to go down.

    Having sex with the guy is not something she finds fulfilling or an attribute of her being bi-sexual, but another attempt to fill the void that Emma is fading from in the second half of the film. That same void she attempted to fill at the very beginning with a man, and which proved to be a failure.

    It may not be a "lesbian" film, whatever that means, but it most certainly is a film about a lesbian.

  • Helen | May 2, 2014 11:45 AMReply

    Great - thanks for writing! I would say, however, that Blue isn't an LGBT film at all because it is made from a hetero perspective and is fairly cliched, 1D, and doesn't contain anything new or interesting for LGBT/queer cinema.

    Nevertheless... I read a great blog post by someone once which correctly pointed out that Brokeback Mountain isn't a film about gay cowboys at all - it's about bisexual shepherds.

  • Blah | May 2, 2014 10:11 PM

    Oh god, shut up. Utter nonsense. It's shows a relationship between two women, it's a lesbian movie.

  • Rick | May 2, 2014 12:01 PM

    So if a gangster movie is made from a law-abiding person's perspective and doesn't contain anything new or interesting for the gangster genre, is not gangster movie?

  • AnnaB | May 2, 2014 10:13 AMReply

    I agree, Adele was bisexual. I think that bisexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation and calling it anything else is erasing it. It's not shallow to ask people to not call bisexuals gay, or is it?
    And I just checked and Netflix does not have LGTB label. I see Lesbian and Gay but not LGTB.

  • Z | May 2, 2014 2:04 PM

    No disrespect intended, but isn't this just hair splitting? Blue has lesbian content (two women in a sexual scenario). That content is a predominant part of the movie (whereas the male-female sexual content is barely there). Ergo, lesbian movie.

    I don't see we have to bring all this politics into it.

    Best,

    An L

  • Rick | May 2, 2014 8:52 AMReply

    Putting any movie into a genre will oversimplify it. Trying to analyze it as it relates to that genre will probably get you nowhere or just to a pretty shallow conclusion. If you are simply trying to categorize it to make it easy to browse for, I do not see any problems calling it a "Gay and Lesbian" film because it is still about homosexuality and questioning one's own sexual preferences. Even if the character comes out the other end as straight or bisexual, it seems hasty to say it doesn't add anything to the discussion of homosexuals in reality and in art.

  • benxpete | May 2, 2014 8:51 AMReply

    So its just an LGBT film then. Get over it. Would it have made her avoid writing this try-hard piece if Netflix simply had it under an LGBT label?

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