Blue is the Warmest Colour is gratuitously dramatic – much like life itself

I’ve often thought that sex is just a series of humiliations punctuated by orgasms, and this film is a confirmation of that.

In the Odeon lobby, The Lesbians are gathering. Middle-aged bespectacled butches shoulder to shoulder with young, undercut-sporting Dalston debutantes are awaiting their first peek at the biggest event in Sapphic cinema since The Kids Are All Right

“Three for Blue is the Warmest Colour, please,” I mumble, avoiding eye contact with the girl behind the counter. Two friends look on, probably wondering what the hell my problem is. But having just been warned about the film’s seven-minute sex scene, I can’t help feeling like I’ve just slid a slightly sticky twenty across the counter for a screening of Horny Lezzers Go Mental rather than a Palme d’Or winner. Yes: the girl who writes about wanking all the bloody time is embarrassed. As with every other lesbian-themed film ever, no one has shut up about this one’s sexual content since its debut. This isn’t helped by the fact that critiquing girl-on-girl sex scenes is a lesbian pastime right up there with hockey and vegan baking. And that enjoying “lesbian” porn is a straight male pastime right up there with having a penis and having testicles.

I’ve often thought that sex is just a series of humiliations punctuated by orgasms. Blue is the Warmest Colour confirmed this for me. The heavy breathing to the point of hyperventilation, the groaning, the grabbing fistfuls of one another’s flesh; it’s all a bit silly, really.

I have no doubt that the sex in the film was directed with that old favourite, “the male gaze”, in mind. Lesbians don’t actually scissor, for starters (it’s something that some pitifully unimaginative men decided we do). But let me throw in some context. Adèle is a teenager on the cusp of discovering her sexuality; Emma is a lesbian art student with blue hair. They meet. They discuss Sartre. They eat. They shag. They smoke. They fall in love. They discuss Egon Schiele. They eat. They shag. They smoke. It’s all incredibly French. 

But the gratuitous sex, which includes a slightly retrograde close-up of a shaved pubis, doesn’t detract from what is essentially a rather sweet, sad love story. The characters are complex and realistic; the dialogue is sharp. Adèle’s struggle to come to terms with her sexuality reminds me of my own, so I’m her buddy right from the start. In fact, when she has tedious and unfulfilling sex with a boy at the beginning of the film, I have to stop myself from standing up and shouting out, “Yes! That!”

While watching I ask myself repeatedly, “Is this an important film?” Well yes, it is. Unfortunately, a simple lesbian romance is inherently political. Woman falls in love with woman; drama ensues. Sadly, such a plot is still taboo-busting, groundbreaking stuff.

I was afraid I’d like this film. Everything I’d heard from other gay women suggested it was voyeuristic, exploitative and riddled with clichés. I wanted to loathe it. Annoyingly, it moved me. When the two protagonists weren’t at each other like a couple of sex-starved bonobos, their story was told with great sensitivity. But hey, maybe a three hour feelings-orgy is just my thing. And for anyone who can’t stomach a couple of hours of lesbian drama, you should try an entire life of the damn stuff.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.

This article first appeared in the 04 December 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Burnout Britain

David Cameron attends a press conference with Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron rules out military action in Syria without Labour support

A downside of Corbyn for the Conservatives.  

Many have written that Jeremy Corbyn's likely election as Labour leader will give the Conservatives free rein to pursue their desired politics. But with a majority of just 12, their room for manoeuvre is more limited than suggested. In an Evening Standard column in July, I noted that Corbyn's success could deny David Cameron the Commons majority he needs to extend military action against Isis to Syria. 

Speaking in Spain today, where he is discussing his EU renegotation, Cameron said that he would "only pursue going further on this issue if there is genuine consensus in the UK". That is a signal that military intervention would require bipartisan support. The Prime Minister is still stung by his defeat over the issue in 2013 - the first time a government had lost a vote on a matter of peace and war since 1782. Having previously opposed the extension of air strikes from Iraq to Syria, Harriet Harman said in July that Labour would look "very, very seriously" at any proposals to "tackle the growing horror of Isil".

But Corbyn, to put it mildly, does not share this view. Asked during last night's Sky News hustings by Liz Kendall whether there were any circumstances in which he would approve the use of armed force, he said: "Any? I am sure there are some. But I can’t think of them at the moment." He went to argue that interventions required UN backing to be legitimate: "We should have stuck with the UN and given far more support to the UN," he said in reference to the Nato action in Kosovo. "Surely we want to live in a world that is based on the rule of international law. the UN is quintessentially part of international law." 

As well as the potential that a Corbyn leadership has to shift the terms of debate leftwards, forcing the Tories to adopt a more centrist position, this is another reason why not all Conservatives relish the prospect of his victory. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.