As part of working on my book, I’ve been re-watching a few of my favorite movies about love: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Weekend (the U.K. one, not the French one), and Before Sunset, among them. The one I love most is Blue Is the Warmest Color.
I am writing about it today because I realized I wanted to officially declare it my movie of France. I won’t summarize the plot beyond its most basic points: Two women fall in love. Complications ensue.
I loved it when I first saw it, because I thought it was remarkably clear-eyed about a certain kind of love. I believe that with love, although we have a spectrum of choices, most relationships of some duration fall into one of two categories: relationships of convenience and true, crazy, harrowing love. This film, obviously, is about the latter.
I personally don’t place much stock in the former, which I believe is mostly used as a shield against loneliness: I’d rather be with him than with no one. This position, I believe, is most often employed by people who do not realize that our time is finite, and that there are so many amazing things to do on this Earth. I think love (of either variety) requires compromise and encumbrance, and I do not think relationships of convenience are worth it. Get a dog, as Joy Behar would say.
I do think, though, that true, crazy, harrowing love can simply be too much — too scary, too wild, too destabilizing. (SPOILERS COMING.) I think it can also be sacrificed on many altars — as I believe it is here, when Emma (Léa Seydoux) pulls away from Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) in search of a companion who is a partner, a sounding board, a support: She chooses Lise not because she loves her more but because she values, above all else, her future as a painter, and because Adèle can give her love, but she cannot match her artistically, intellectually, creatively. Lise can. (I put no stock in the ostensible cause for the rupture — Adèle’s “affair” with her fellow teacher — as it was clearly a product of Emma’s preemptive dismissal.) Emma admits as much when she meets Adèle after some time apart, when she is living with Lise and Lise’s child; she expresses an enthusiasm for the child that is less evident in her feelings for Lise. I don’t believe she is shielding Adèle from the intensity of her love for Lise; I believe she is admitting that she chose stability over something that was scary, wild, and destabilizing as much as it brought her world to life.
What I loved most about rewatching the movie was taking in its two beats of a happy ending. I didn’t realize how cute Samir was; he might have taken the wrong turn when he chased her out of the gallery at the film’s conclusion, but he’ll track her down; he is portrayed as warm, kind, caring, and in step with Adèle’s passions — for New York, for films — in a way that Emma is not, since all Emma can do is appreciate her own needs. Adèle’s happy ending with Samir will happen off screen, in the future, but it will happen.
Immediately prior to that, though, is a moment that was a revelation to me — something I completely missed the first time I watched it. I believe, only, in love, not in convenience, although I know that convenience — that comfort — often wins out, because the alternative presents two people with much to lose. Adèle seems, reasonably, to sob for a calendar year after Emma leaves her.
What I had missed the first time I watched it was the film’s own endorsement. It comes when Adèle sees Lise at Emma’s gallery show, and Lise tells Adèle the truth: “You are still here.” She is referring to Emma’s paintings of Adèle — that they are still in the show, that this relic still hangs — but of course not only that: She is saying that Adèle persists, is atomized, into everything Emma does, including her relationship with Lise. You’re still here. Lise admits that she reckons with Adèle’s ghost long after Emma has ostensibly moved on. Emma may have made the decision to trade true love with Adèle for the comfort of a less passionate relationship with Lise. I am not so sure that Lise understood the bargain being made on her behalf until it was too late.
Adèle, of course, did no such thing: She lived and breathed and wept for love; she would not have traded it for comfort. She, unlike Emma (at least for the film’s foreseeable future), will have another chance at it — perhaps with Samir, perhaps someone else. Emma may paint, but Adèle is the true artist, la courageuse.