Let’s get it out of the way: this movie is three hours long, in French with English subtitles and has graphic sex scenes that resulted in an NC-17 rating. It caused a huge stir at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Palm D’or (best picture award) and, since it’s the story of two women in love, controversy has followed it everywhere. It’s also wonderful, drew me in from the first scene and has so much more to offer than ample views of “the horizontal mambo.”
Newcomer Adele Exarchopoulous stars as a Adele, a well-read teen undergoing a life-changing junior year. While she has the attention of “the best looking guy in our grade,” as her friend describes him, Adele has an initially indescribable obsession for Emma (Lea Seydoux), a college student with hair dyed blue. Once Adele boldly confronts Emma, she finds her social standing in question but experiences the kind of love, passion and fulfillment she only read about.
Nothing about Adele’s journey ever feels inevitable, not even her becoming a lesbian. Director Abdellatif Kechiche uses the color blue to suggest Adele’s change in identity gradually taking place. He also has borrowed a trait of the late director John Cassavetes, who’d let the camera roll on scenes long after they were finished, just to see what would happen. It often resulted in the actors finding deeper truths than what they planned and giving audiences the strange feeling they were trapped and living in a scene that felt organic instead of carefully planned. This approach is both an asset and a major problem for this film, as it provides us with sequences that feel stunningly authentic. It’s also the culprit and justification for this being an unnecessary three-hours.
Let’s be honest, sex scenes rarely help a movie or are even necessary to advancing the plot. Rob Reiner once helpfully pointed out that his A Few Good Men didn’t have a sex scene, even though the script certainly provided an opportunity for one with his attractive stars, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. Reiner was right, the movie didn’t need it. In the case of this movie, Adele’s journey is a sexual one and it’s arguable the lovemaking scenes couldn’t be suggested. On the other hand, the sex scenes, like most others in the movie, go on longer than needed. The notorious bedroom sequences are certainly more graphic than most are accustomed to but they’re more emotionally intense than anything else. These scenes make this hard to recommend for mainstream audiences but the movie is so much more than a couple of “naughty” bits.
The most erotic scene is Emma and Adele’s encounter in a park, when they stare at one another, exchanging looks of desire and deep affection. Even though the running time should have been tighter, the pace is brisk for such a long movie. It feels like it doesn’t know how to end, as the unsatisfying final scene lacks the closure of the penultimate sequence that came before it. The focus turns away from the bigotry Adele experiences in school, an unfortunate side-step that somewhat undermines her side of the story.
I loved the two lead performances, which felt captured, not acted, ever. Minus the distraction of being a western melodrama (Brokeback Mountain) or a farce (I Love You Philip Morris) to soften it, the emphasis is on the beauty, power and mystery of the female form. In exploring the complex relationship and attraction between a same-sex couple, this is a landmark film.
Score: *** (1-5 Star Score)
Blue Is The Warmest Color screens at the First Light Film Festival on Sunday, Dec. 29 at 6pm. Screening takes place at the Castle Theater in the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (One Cameron Way, Kahului; 808-242-7469). For more information visit Mauifilmfestival.com.