The best thing about “Blue is the Warmest Color,” for me, was the treatment of food. In most of the scenes centered around socializing, food is an important element: one of our first glimpses of the protagonist is at dinner with her family; Adele’s first date with her high school crush is over gyros; Adele and Emma have an interesting meal with Emma’s mother and stepfather that involves some pointed talk of oysters, countered by a more modest meal at Adele’s family home; Adele cooks for Emma’s friends at their celebration of Emma’s art.
Food represents different character or plot elements in many of these scenes. In the first two scenes listed above, our attention is drawn to the voraciousness with which Adele consumes her food. That voraciousness is a recurring theme in the film and extends to her sex life and the emotional dynamics of her relationship with Emma. The “meeting the parents” dinner scenes highlight class differences: Emma says something like “Simple, but delicious” as she slurps up Adele’s father’s pasta, a hearty, working-class dish that stands in contrast to the expensive shellfish the group consumes at Emma’s family dinner, accompanied by talk of art and wine. In the dinner party scene, Adele makes the aforementioned pasta dish. It’s a hit amongst Emma’s cultured friends; the camera lingers on their enjoyment of the meal, but the scene also establishes the passive, servant-like role Adele has taken on in her relationship with Emma, a role that she relishes but Emma resents.
The food scenes struck me because I think food, and what if signifies, is largely ignored in American film. Certainly, there are memorable food scenes in American films (I always loved the pasta sauce scene in The Godfather), but food is often most prominent in airy montages in Nancy Meyers movies. In those scenes, food is prepared amongst the glistening appliances of sprawling Southern California or Hamptons kitchens, but never consumed. In these rom-coms, the joy is in the preparation, and the food is presented as an indulgence. The chick flick may be the genre most associated with food, but if American audiences equate food with one actor, it has to be Brad Pitt. Many a YouTube montage has been edited to highlight “Brad Pitt eating scenes,” but what is the fascination? The unlikely picture of one of modern cinema’s Adonis figures actually, well, eating onscreen is notable to American audiences because in most of our films, actors shuffle food around on a plate despondently, trying to trick the audience into making it look like they’ve consumed something.
There are obviously cultural differences at work here. “Blue is the Warmest Color” takes place in France, where leisure is valued rather than stigmatized. Indeed, scenes centered around food would seem out of place in certain American milieus; the greatest fantasy in “Sex and the City,” after all, wasn’t Carrie’s wardrobe or Charlotte’s apartment, but the idea that four friends would have time for that many meandering brunches in a city where meals are often seen as a means to an end. But even if American culture deemphasizes downtime to a certain extent, food is still an integral part of our cultural and familial dynamics. It can be a signifier of myriad things, yet it’s often ignored onscreen. Perhaps standards of beauty are partly to blame for the exclusion—do we not want to see our matinee idols stuffing their faces? Do actors and actresses refuse to shoot multiple takes of a dinner scene for fear of loading up on deadly carbs? I don’t know the answers, but I’m certain that for some viewers the most shocking scenes in “Blue is the Warmest Color” won’t be the graphic lesbian sex scenes; they’ll be the scenes of unabashed calorie consumption.