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.