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

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

/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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