We all know about the meet-cute, when the main characters collide, and we know they’ll later have a romance. In Norah Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally, for example, Sally Albright (Meg Ryan’s character) is sitting waiting in a beaten-up Beatle car filled with junk to give a lift to Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) while he gives a prolonged snog to his latest has-been. Here Hannah Fiddel is more in Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita territory with middle-aged literary professor Humbert Humbert having a sexual obsession with his stepdaughter, Dolores Haze, and English school teacher Claire Wilson (Kate Mara) having an affair with her pupil Eric Walker (Nick Robinson).
The first couple of episodes set things up. Claire Wilson arriving at Westerbrook High and Eric Walker and his school buddies looking on and saying how cute she is. But, of course, she’s ‘a teacher’ and they’re eighteen-year-old boys. They know the difference between fantasy and reality. Twelve-year-old Lolita, for example, has still a lot of growing up to do in comparison.
We’re a long way from Texas, but in Damian Barr’s autobiographic Maggie & Me, with Motherwell as a backdrop, he tells the reader how as a spotty sixth-year pupil, one of his teacher was giving him the heavy-come on. Prattling on about her problems at home and how her husband didn’t really understand her. Giving him a lift home. Does this sound familiar? She didn’t realise he liked boys. Perhaps that would have made a more interesting drama.
Usually, as we know, far away from News of the World type exclusives, around 99% of cases it’s the male teacher leching after the female student. Age does matter. Who does what to whom shouldn’t matter. But for this kind of drama, phew, every schoolboy’s wet-dream onscreen. You might want to watch how it develops and how the protagonists don’t live happily-ever- after over ten episodes. Two short and colourful episodes was enough for me.
Wow, Mary Whitehouse, this was a sizzler. To think back in the 1970s I used to get red faced watching The Sweeney, when they showed a bit of tit. This would have been a swift case of spontaneous combustion and my charred remains found glued to the false leather settee. Whoopee, finally, a blue movie on the telly, but I’m too old for it now!
But if you cut away the nudity, which I gawped at and enjoyed being a voyeur for a few hours, this was a tremendous film. Honest in a way I recognise in the best writing and could—honestly—say that could have happened. Emma ( Léa Seydoux) is a fifteen-year old Parisian schoolgirl who likes books and reading (Jane Austen’s Emma, like many of her protagonists is in love with the idea of being in love). Our first glimpses of her are in the classroom, discussing—you’ve guessed it, love at first sight—and there’s a play on this theme. Thomas (Jérémie Laheurte) fancies Adèle and her girlish friends are soon letting her know, hinting that the senior schoolboy isn’t Brad Pitt, but isn’t bad and he’d be good in bed. Emma is part of the queen-bee school set, a French Mean Girls, with sex and more sex a constant topic. Emma’s unsure, but she plays along. She agrees to date Thomas. But her head is literally turned when she sees Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos) a young woman with eye-catching blue hair in the street, with her arm flung around another young woman. They are obviously lovers. Emma’s and Adèle’s eyes briefly meet. Love at first sight, definitely, maybe.
When Emma masturbates in her bedroom it’s not Thomas she fantasises about, but the girl with blue hair. She does have sex with Thomas, but that soon fizzles out.
One of her girlish school friends teases her with a kiss, but when Emma follows it up, wanting more, she’s shunned as a dyke. But her best friend at school, Valentin (Sandor Funtek) is gay (that old trope of Hollywood movies) and takes her to a gay nightclub. Emma wanders away to another club, following a gaggle of women into a place that is a lesbian-hang out. Here’s where the meet-cute takes place.
The law of the meet-cute is nothing happens, but everything happens. Camera work tries not to beautify but make Emma uglier and therefore more human, emphasising her teeth or the way she plays with her hair. It works by not working. She’s a stunner. Adèle isn’t as pretty, but has a girlfriend in tow. She pays for Emma’s drink at the bar, and tells her girlfriends that they are cousins. She knows she’s underage, but gets her phone number.
She appears outside Emma’s school and Emma gets into a fist-fight when her school-girl friends hassle her about being a dyke. She denies it.
Adèle is a fine art student on the cusp of graduation. They hold hands, but Emma wants more, needs more, and when they kiss for that first time you know she’s going to get it. Boy does she. Only it’s not boys, it’s girls. The camera doesn’t miss a trick.
We play a game of meet the parents. Adèle’s parents are solid middle-class, unfazed about sex and their daughter and step-daughter, respectively, having a girlfriend and not a boyfriend. Emma said she hates seafood, Adèle says something like shellfish tastes like pussy, so she loves it. Anyone for oysters?
Emma’s mum serves bolognese. She is grateful for all the tutoring Adèle is doing to help her daughter’s grades improve. Her dad asks Adèle about what kind of jobs she can expect to do when she finished swanning about with a fine-arts degree and what her boyfriend does. Adèle plays along and tells him, her boyfriend is a businessman, and she doesn’t know what she’ll do after graduation.
Emma, beautiful, nude, Emma is Adèle muse for her graduation and her up-and-coming exhibition. By this time they’re living together. While Emma does the grunt-work of keeping the house running and doing the dishes and at the end of the night, wants a kiss, a real kiss, Adèle turns away.
Emma is also working in school, training to be a schoolteacher. One of her male colleagues obviously fancies the pants off her. You know when she goes along to one of the teacher’s night’s out, well, you know. But it’s off camera.
Adèle finds out and they split. It’s messy because it’s no longer about sex, but love. Emma is eminently loveable, but she admits to having fucked up. We root for her. We want her to succeed. But you know, Adèle, older, wiser, we want her to bend a little. That’s how much of a good movies this is. We want characters on a screen to be more unlike characters on a screen, or in real life, because we’re not really sure.
They meet again. Don’t know where. Don’t know when… And Blue Is the Warmest Colour… Great film.