I just finished watching Blue is the Warmest Color (again). It’s this totally NSFW erotically charged lesbo coming of age drama with shit tons of cunnilingus and sapphic sex that won the Palm d’Or at Cannes but that description doesn’t quite capture the entirety of the film. This is my second time watching it and the first time I saw it, I had just graduated college after having spent the past four years of my wayward youth dazed but not entirely confused.
I went to a small private liberal arts college tucked away between Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles with a student population smaller than my high school. Out of all of the college programs I had gotten into, this particular school was not bad but it wasn’t the most prestigious school I had an acceptance letter from. I chose it more out of necessity than anything else. My dad who works for the postal office and my mom who worked several odd jobs throughout my upbringing struggled to buy a home and often also struggled to pay mortgage but they made it work and even bought a sweet car – mainly because of my mom’s careful financial planning and thriftiness (funny how women are usually the ones who are more responsible and get shit done and yet the world is still run by men right?).
All the big shiny brand universities that I got into didn’t give me any money. These places are where people who are not current students, are not alumni, or even have relatives who go there would buy random paraphenilia from those schools. So for me it was either scholarship or bust. Or go to my in-state university where most people ended up.
The thought of spending another four years in my hometown seeing more or less the same people and the same bullshit was not something I wanted to do. No thank you please. Not that there was anything wrong with where I grew up or the people who I grew up with. It’s just that I wanted to leave.
I remember that time in my life really well and it all happened really fast. I was a really different kid back then and felt really confident about everything. You lose a lot of who you were and I’m alright with how I am now but I miss that spark I had back then. Feeling like nothing could touch me. I’m older now and still don’t back down from things when it’s worth it but it’s more of an inner quiet confidence of learning from trial and error the limitations of my abilities. No longer do I have the feeling of invincibility I had when I was 18.
And I think college was the first time I actually really felt and thought long and hard about class struggle, class consciousness, and race consciousness. And not only because we had to read Marx and The Communist Manifesto (along with Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations to provide fair intellectual balance of course!) but I think this was the first time I felt in my life an actual physical divide between a lot of my friends that I made who like me also came from comfortable but modest backgrounds and to put bluntly, rich white kids.
Sure my school had rich black kids, rich hispanic kids, and a shit ton of filthy rich Asian kids but somewhere along these lines the rich white kids especially just didn’t seem to get it. They’d talk about politics and revolutionary ideas without them themselves and their lives being revolutionary. They reminded me a lot of Lea Seydoux’s character in Blue is the Warmest Color.
Emma comes from a well off family and studies art in college. She is free to be brash, provocative, and push those around her intellectually because that’s all she has known her entire life without any fear of repercussion. Her behavior is encouraged by the society that has raised her. She comes from a world where there is luxury to indulge in existentialism, ideas, and the arts. She talks about revolution but nothing she does is revolutionary. All these ideas about how the patriarchy and the oppressiveness and fascism of capitalism mean shit because she, when push comes to shove, sells out and is complicit in maintaining an exploitative status quo. You see this in the movie when she dies her blue hair for a more conservative natural color when she sees it benefitting her and her career.
On the contrary, there is Adele played by Adele Exarchopolous. Her family is working/middle class and dinner conversations are tied to the very real corporeal mundane banality of life. The price of a pound of beef. Whether the electricity bill was paid yet. Whether a Korean actress got another nose job. How much money is left over after the house payment, cellphone bills, and internet are all paid. Something you would typically hear in my house. A typical conversation you would hear in a lot of people’s homes – which is why I never thought twice of my upbringing. I just thought this was how everyone lived.
Adele throughout the movie slowly comes into her own. She is unsure of herself. She is working class. Like in the beginning, she timidly stumbles into a lesbian bar and in the last scene when she literally Gets Out. If Adele’s character development is an inwardly focused bildungsroman, mine was going from excess to the understated (though not understated enough by normal people’s standards for sure).
I was confident because that was all I had. Imperturbable optimism combined with an attitude that I seemed like I don’t care. Throughout the years meeting so many different people I have become a social chameleon. I’d code switch and change in different social contexts and with different people. I have adapted to speak multiple tongues. Not languages in the linguistic sense but that of class difference. So fast forward to me tonight. After going through a private liberal arts school education where a lot kids’ parents paid full sticker price (my year was the last year that my alma mater retained need-blind admissions. fascist capitalist pigs), after almost having gone through a fancy graduate program and working in a fancy workplace, I have come to the realization that that small microcosm with clustered class difference in undergrad is the same bullshit everywhere. I no longer code switch because I don’t care what you think about me anymore. I don’t pretend how I should act anymore. Socially and financially I may no longer be but at my core, I am working class and if you associate working class with crassness, that’s your problem and not mine.
The final scene in Blue is the Warmest Color to me is the most interesting. Adele sees her images displayed in an art gallery because Emma has painted and exploited Adele’s body for her personal gain for her exhibition even though they are no longer lovers. Adele runs into a Tunisian-born actor Samir who she had met at Emma’s previous party. He has a small part in the movie but an important one. He is also blue collar and has also been exploited. He tells Adele earlier that he was offered roles as a terrorist in a big budget Hollywood movie and that Americans love it when he says, “ALLAH-U AKBAR!” So when these two meet again at Emma’s gallery opening, it almost seems that this is the start of something new between these two working class characters. But it isn’t. Adele runs. She walks away from both the gallery and Samir and I think this is supposed to mean that she chooses her own destiny which transcends class struggle.
To me, revolution is not just about signing petitions or marching in a street to say NO to a war or to say NO to austerity measurements or say NO to patriarchy. Revolution to me is my existence and someone like Adele’s and our struggle to find a place for ourselves at the table. We don’t know how Adele’s story continues but you bet your bougie ass that now that I’m seated at the table, I think I’m going to cut myself a bigger slice of that pie. But in the meantime, I guess I’m going to just have to finish drinking this chocolate avocado smoothie.